Four Time Management Strategies That Will Make You More Productive
Jun 3rd, 2019
Try these time management techniques to be more efficient and organized at work and at home.
If you're anything like the other 7.5 billion people on planet earth, you have at some point wondered how you could waste less time. Whether you're at the office, doing the bills at home, or working on a home improvement project, being efficient will help you get some more time back during the day to spend with family and friends.
It's human nature to waste time, and in the age of smartphones and social media where there are millions of distractions at your fingertips, time-wasting has become a daily crisis. A lot of people struggle to work more efficiently because, while everyone learned how to find the hypotenuse of a triangle in high school, nobody was ever taught how to manage their time effectively. As always, we're here to help.
Now, you might think that specific strategies to work more efficiently are actually a waste of time themselves. You know what you have to do, so you just need to bury your head in it and get it done. While sometimes, this might work, it's best not to think like that. It's way too easy to dive headfirst into a project or task, burn out on it, or spend too much time on it, not getting to anything else.
Instead, give some of these time management strategies a try. You might find that have less on your plate to stress over by the end of the day.
A big part of time management is priority management, and if you're someone that has a wide variety of tasks they need to or wish to complete, creating a priority list is a great place to start. Priority lists separate tasks into categories based on when a task needs to be done by and how critical each one is.
A priority list will help you organize projects in order of importance, so you know what needs to be done first. It looks a little something like this:
Things to do this week
- Must have
- Clean the gutters
- Replace windshield wipers on the truck
- Purchase a flux capacitor
- Nice to have
- Powerwash the driveway
- Wash the truck
- Install the flux capacitor
- If I have time
- Plant grass seed
- Paint front porch railings
- Test time machine
You know that the gutters absolutely have to be cleaned this week, and with rain in the forecast, you have to fix the worn out windshield wipers on your truck. It would help if you also had the driveway cleaned, but that isn't as time-sensitive. As someone who always wants their home to look nice, you'd like to do some standard home maintenance such as spread grass seed, but there are more important things on your calendar.
Instead of thinking of all those things as a mess you have to do, now you have them organized, and you can get started.
Next, we have the Pomodoro Technique. This technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. Its name comes from the Italian word for tomato, as Cirillo first invented the method with a small tomato-shaped kitchen timer.The method is all about working in spurts, called pomodoros, with short breaks in between. Here is how it works. Begin a task by setting a timer (it doesn't have to be tomato shaped) for 25 minutes Work on the task for 25 minutes without doing anything else Once the timer goes off, take a 5-minute break Repeat this until the fourth iteration of the timer, when you take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. Repeat steps 1–4
Avoiding distractions is always tricky for those of us who struggle to stay focused on one thing. The Pomodoro Technique is perfect for this, as it doesn't seek to eliminate distractions, instead opting to manage them by building in time slots for such things.
The idea is that you only have to be in a hyper-focused state for a short period of time, and then you can take a break to recharge before starting another short burst of work. It reduces the chances you'll burn out or lose focus on a project, which in turn allows you to get more done. It may seem counter-intuitive, but give it a shot. You'll find that at the end of the time, you'll have more time for yourself.
If you like to have a lot of structure in your workday, time blocking is the time management strategy for you.
Time blocking combines task prioritization with time organization to guarantee that you spend the appropriate amount of time on each thing you need to get done. It works by setting up specific time periods, or "blocks" within each day that you will focus on a particular task and nothing else. Once that time period ends, you move onto the next task regardless of where you are with the current one.
- 8AM–10AM: Write report for the boss
- 10AM–12PM: Work on PowerPoint presentation for investors
- 12PM–1PM: Eat lunch
- 1PM–3PM: Brainstorm research survey questions
- 3PM–4PM: Answer weekly emails
- 4PM–5PM: Complete any unfinished tasks from earlier in the day
Time blocking only works if you follow it strictly, so be sure to define each block specifically. Ping-ponging from task to task always hampers productivity (trust me, I know), and time blocking is a way to mitigate the tendency to do that. You can still block off the last hour of the day for anything unfinished as well.
FE Tip: This strategy can also be combined with other approaches. Set up your blocks so the largest and first ones during the day are devoted to the must-dos on your priority list. Enlist the Pomodoro Technique for each hour as well. Just make sure your long break doesn't interrupt something that can't be delayed.
FE Tip: Elon Musk religiously uses time blocking, and he's a gabajabillionaire. (We would have loved to see the calendar that said "10:30-10:40: Launch a car into space" on it.)
Another useful tool to manage your work items and the time you have to spend on them is the prioritization matrix. There are many variations of this, but the most famous and proven variety is the Eisenhower Matrix, named for its creator Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower’s matrix is an especially useful project time management tool for managers who work with teams that they can delegate items to if necessary.
The 2x2 matrix looks like this.
When you’re dealing with a large number of items you need to complete, assign each item to a square by determining whether it is important and whether it is urgent. Items that populate the urgent and important square go to the top of your to-do list immediately. Items that are important, but not urgent, should be scheduled for completion later on.
On the bottom half of the matrix are jobs that are not important. Things that are urgent but not important should be delegated. Not everybody has somebody to which they can delegate work though, which is why this tool is primarily useful for managers.
Finally, if a task is not urgent and unimportant, get rid of it entirely. If it doesn’t play a role in the completion of the ultimate goal you’re working towards and can be done at any time, then it doesn’t need attention paid to it at that time.---
Time management is one of the least mastered skills out there. Humans are naturally bad at it. If you find that you struggle to keep work organized and work efficiently, try employing one of the methods above. An organized person is a productive person, and nothing is tougher to organize than your time. When you get more done, your life can be a lot less hectic and you can have a lot more time to spend on yourself and your family.