Improve time management skills with these 10 easy steps

  • How to improve time management skills - blog

What is time management? What time management skills you need to possess in order to reach success?

And most importantly:

How can you improve time management and organizational skills?

As you’d probably expect, the answer to improving your time management and organizational skills is to – practice the right skills.

  1. Practice setting SMART goals, i.e. goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound – always ask whether your ideas live up to these parameters before you define any goal.
  2. Practice effective planning, by developing clear objectives, clearly defining tasks, defining the resources you need to tackle them, and determining how you’ll know you’ve succeeded in handling your plan.
  3. Practice stress management by trying out various stress relieving strategies and techniques, to find the one that suits you best.
  4. Practice delegating tasks, by finding the best practices that will help you delegate properly and most effectively.
  5. Practice avoiding all distractions as they appear and become prominent, and identify the strategies you’ll practice to weed them out.
  6. Practice your ability to single-task, and focus all your attention on one task at a time only.
  7. Practice how to say “No”, effectively, but politely.
  8. Practice the 20% effort / 80% results principle, to achieve maximum results with minimum effort.
  9. Practice your ability to beat procrastination, by identifying its causes and combining the best strategies meant to overcome it.
  10. Practice identifying your priority tasks, i.e. the most important and most urgent tasks in your schedule.

But, before we dive into the explanation for each of the listed time management skills you need to possess and implement, let’s first understand what time management and time management skills really are.

What is time management?

The most common time management definition says that it is the ability to use your time effectively and productively, in relation to the workload you go through, and the time you spend on it.

You parse and organize your activities, select your priorities, and then work on your time allocation  – you decide on the time you’ll spend on each activity, note that in your schedule, and stick to that schedule.

Preferably, you’ll aim to allocate the most time to your priority tasks.

But, this time distribution and optimization aren’t only about finding time for work – you’ll also want to strike a balance between work and your private life, and make time for your hobbies, friends, and family.

In addition, you’ll have to find time for regular breaks between work tasks, in order to relax, eat, sleep, stay hydrated, exercise, and, in extension, stay healthy.

Of course, all this is much easier said than done, but it’s important that you streamline your time management in order to lead a more quality life.

Clockify pro tip

Want to learn more about the importance of time management? Check out our blog post about it:

The importance of time management

How do I get better at time management?

In order to get better at time management, you’ll first need to track time you spend on tasks, in order to get an accurate reading on how you’re spending time now.

Perhaps you’ll find that you’re spending too much time on frivolous activities (such as 2 hours answering unimportant emails), instead of focusing on tasks that are important and urgent.

You’ll also need to learn, acquire, and expand on certain time management skills.

How do you explain time management skills?

Time management skills are the skills that help you achieve more in less time – and they’re more varied than you’d think.

You have the primary time management skills, such as scheduling, planning, organizing, and prioritizing – they directly help you perform your work efficiently.

You also have the secondary time management skills, such as eating healthy, exercising, and sleeping enough – they help keep your mind sharp and energy levels high, in order to help you perform better with your primary time management skills.

What are some good time management skills?

There are several primary and secondary time management skills everyone should possess – and here are the 10 best ones:

1. Setting goals

Setting effective goals may be the most important time management skill – goals are your drive, they push you to tackle work in the first place.

Make sure to always set important goals, ones that are likely to motivate you – otherwise, you’ll lose your drive, and likely give up as soon as you hit a bump on the road. You won’t finish your work, and you’ll also have wasted any time you’ve spent on pursuing the said goal.

How to set goals

In order to set effective goals, you’ll first need to make sure they’re SMART goals – ones that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound:

  • Specific goals are clear and precisely defined, so you know what you need to do in order to reach them.
  • Measurable goals let you measure your success and decide whether you’ve reached it.
  • Attainable goals are possible to reach, so they motivate you to push forward, but they’re also at least a little challenging, to motivate you to do your best.
  • Relevant goals have an impact on your life and career, so they actually make a difference when you achieve them.
  • Time-bound goals have a deadline that tells you how to organize your work, and they give you a sense of urgency that helps you focus on your work.

In addition to setting SMART goals you can also make a goal setting worksheet, in order to always have your goals in mind:

  • Write down what you want to achieve – phrase it with “I will achieve this”, and not “I would like to achieve this”, as such phrasing will give you a sense of urgency and certainty that you’ll be successful.
  • Plan the actions that will lead you to goals – compile a weekly to-do list, define your priority tasks, and write down your objectives.
  • Identify why you want to achieve certain goals, and how – write down your goals, your plan for that goal, and why you are pursuing them in the first place.

Clockify pro tip

Interested in goal setting for students? Check out our all-inclusive article on student productivity:

Student guide to productivity

2. Effective planning

Once you’ve set your goals, the next time management skill you’ll need to work on is effective planning – you’ll need to learn how to make an action plan that leads you directly to your goals, and helps you avoid stress and wasted time.

How to plan

When planning, it’s easy to get sidetracked – there are several Barriers of Effective Planning you need to overcome:

  • You don’t know what you want – when you don’t know your destination, there’s no possible way you’ll know how to get there. Work on defining your goals first and the steps you need to add to your plan will become clearer.
  • You haven’t analyzed the situation properly – if you don’t know where you stand at the moment in relation to your goal, you’ll hardly know what you need to do to proceed.  Analyze your situation first, and then decide what steps will lead you to your goals, and need to be included in your plan.
  • Too many distractions – you try to do too many things at once, and you perform subpar on most of them. Give yourself space to focus on your priorities, and discard anything that isn’t important or urgent.
  • Lack of creative thinking – each problem has a solution, and each impossible schedule has a creative interpretation. Think about the best and fastest ways to reach your goals, and write them down as your priorities.

Apart from the listed barriers you need to overcome, there are several guidelines for effective decision making as well as 5 steps in the planning process you can follow:

  • Develop objectives – these are your ultimate goals.
  • Define the tasks that will help you meet those objectives – these are the steps you need to include in your plan to reach said goal.
  • Determine the resources you need in order to reach your objectives  – these are the skills, knowledge, and expertise you need in order to successfully handle these steps.
  • Create a timeline  – this is your way of deciding when you’ll tackle certain steps in your plan. This will require an understanding of the project life cycle and any potential roadblocks you might face.
  • Determine a tracking method  – this is what determines whether you’ve reached your goal.

3. Stress management

About 77% of people experience physical symptoms caused by stress, and about 73% experience psychological symptoms. And when you’re physically and psychologically unwell, you’re probably lucky if you manage to keep up, let alone do more in less time.

So, stress management in the workplace is one of those secondary time management skills that help you perform better at your primary time management skills, and, in extension, at work.

Benefits of stress management include the reduction of many risks, such as the chance of:

  • sleep problems
  • physical problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and stomach problems
  • frequent migraines and headaches
  • mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression

Once you decrease the chance of these problems through stress management, you’ll clear the path to better productivity and time management.

How to manage stress

In order to learn how to manage stress at work, you’ll need to learn how to deal with and relieve stress and anxiety on a whole. Luckily, there are plenty of fun stress relieving activities you can try from time to time:

  • Laughing, even if it’s a forced laugh. Studies show that laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones in your body, such as epinephrine and cortisol.
  • Meditating, for at least 10 minutes. Back in 1968, one Harvard study showed that meditation helps you relax and decrease stress.
  • Eating some dark chocolate. This healthy sweet is a superfood that reduces the level of glucocorticoid, a stress-related hormone in your body.
  • Listening to music. Your favorite music can help you feel less stressed, but also help you increase productivity.
  • Dancing to music. Studies show that dancing reduces anxiety even more than classic exercise and that it also increases endorphins – brain chemicals that increase your pain tolerance, satisfaction, and euphoria.

Once you’ve lowered your stress levels, you’ll be more likely to carry out your work faster, and in a quality way.

4. Delegating tasks

There are several reasons that show the advantages of delegation in relation to your time management efforts:

  • You cannot accomplish everything on your own.
  • Perhaps someone knows a better way to solve a problem you’ve been struggling with
  • It increases trust among colleagues
  • It helps you develop as a leader and assertive professional

So, the importance of delegation in management is simple – once you share the load and delegate less important and urgent tasks to other people, you’ll have more time to focus on tasks that are really urgent and important for your goals.

How to delegate tasks

In order to achieve effective delegation and learn how to delegate work to employees, colleagues, or even friends and family, you’ll need to follow certain principles of delegation.

In gist, the time management technique that focuses on delegating tasks in this manner is called ”Who’s got the monkey”, and follows these short rules, where “monkeys” represent delegated tasks.

who's got the monkey

So, you’ll need to:

Decide what you’re delegating.

First, write down your tasks in a to-do list.

You’ll probably notice that some of the tasks you’ve listed are urgent, but not all that important in relation to your goals.

These are the tasks that need to be tackled as soon as possible, but seeing as they’re not of crucial importance, you don’t need to be the one to do them – so, delegate them.

Choose the right person to delegate the task to.

As the business magnate Andrew Carnegie once said, “The secret to success lies not in doing your own work, but in recognizing the right person to do it.”

Decide what skills are needed to finish the task in the best possible way, and delegate the task to the person who possesses the strongest such skills.

If possible, always delegate front-end development to front-end developers, user experience design to UX designers, etc.

This doesn’t just apply to hard skills – if you need someone to deliver a company presentation at an industry event (but don’t have an official spokesperson), pick someone who’s communicative, creative, and resourceful.

When you pick the right person to handle a task, you can count on optimal end results.

Clockify pro tip

Interested to read more great quotes such as this one by Andrew Carnegie? Check out our list of 90 motivational time management quotes:

Best Time Management Quotes

Make sure the delegatee know the expected results

If you want to achieve the best possible results with a delegated task, you’ll need to explain to the delegatee exactly what you want to achieve.

Provide clear instructions, recommend the best way the task should be handled, or provide advice on the matter.

Unless you do, you may not be completely satisfied with the end result.

Check on task progress

The question of how to monitor delegated tasks is the last you need to answer. The best practice is to provide occasional follow-up on the task, to make sure everything is going as planned.

But, make sure you don’t succumb to micromanagement – after all, you’ve delegated the task, and you should let the delegatee be accountable and in charge of task execution.

5. Avoiding distractions and focusing

Avoiding distractions and focusing are often defined as two separate time management skills – but, if you avoid distractions, this automatically means you’re focusing on a task at hand.

Distractions are many – chatty colleagues in your office, loud music coming from the building next door, the sound of your neighbor mowing the lawn… Even your mobile phone can be a distraction, sitting on your work desk, tantalizing you to go through your Instagram feed every 2 minutes.

In gist, distractions may be various, but they all have one thing in common – they hinder your work performance and slow you down on tasks.

How to avoid distraction (and focus)

If you’re wondering how to improve work performance, the answer is – aim to focus better.

If you’re wondering how to focus your mind and how to stay focused at work, the answer is – avoid distractions.

Considering that “avoiding distractions” seems to be the key, you should focus on it – so, it may be best if you make a sheet for avoiding distraction:

  • Write down your distractions
  • Next to each distraction, write down a sure proof way that will help you conquer said distraction
  • Write down a “To Don’t” list – these are actions you’re considering to undertake, but shouldn’t, because they currently serve as distractions that’ll take you away from your priorities

distraction sheet

You can add more distractions, solutions, and items to your sheet for avoiding distraction as you see fit – it’s only important that you follow through with it.

Once you’ve eliminated distractions, it will be much easier for you to focus – if you’re looking to perfect your focus, you can also try a stay focused app.

Clockify pro tip

Want to improve your focus and avoid distraction when you’re a Mac user? Here’s a list of some great Mac productivity apps worth checking out:

Top 20 best productivity apps for Mac

6. Single Tasking

Although the multitasking myth is prevalent and suggests an attractive prospect – that you can perform more tasks in the time it’d usually take you to perform one task – science makes its case clear on multitasking – simply don’t do it.

According to multitasking research, there are plenty of negative effects of multitasking that show this practice doesn’t work the way you’d expect:

  • It lowers your IQ – a study at the University of London claims that multitasking may make your IQ drop for 15 points, reducing you to the cognitive capacities of an 8-year-old child.
  • It lowers your EQ – multitasking reportedly damages a key EQ brain region, lowering your Social Awareness and Self-Awareness in the process.
  • It damages your brain – a study at the University of Sussex shows that multitasking may diminish your brain density and may damage your brain.
  • It makes you lose time – with single-tasking, you gain momentum as time goes on, and immerse yourself in the task, ultimately reaching a state of deep work. With multitasking, you’re losing time when shifting your focus to one task at another – a study at the University of California shows that this “switching cost” time may build up to 25 minutes.

single-tasking switching cost

In the end, it’d take you more time to finish 3 tasks “at the same time”, than it’d take you to finish 3 tasks you’re working on in consecutive order.

  • It makes you less productive overall – a study at Stanford University shows that you are simply less productive when multitasking than when working on one task at a time.

Ultimately, multitasking statistics show that only 2% of people are capable of successful multitasking.

Considering that the answer to the question “Can your brain multitask?” is a firm “No”, your only option is to practice effective single-tasking.

How to single task

Since single-tasking is the new multitasking, here’s how you can best achieve it:

  • Get rid of distractions – put your headphones on, to block outside noise and chatty colleagues. Set your phone to silent, or simply leave it in another room where you won’t be able to reach it every 5 minutes. Set your devices to the “Do Not Disturb” mode (there’s Focus Assist for Windows, a Do Not Disturb toggle switch on Apple devices, etc.)
  • Designate distraction-free focus time, and stick to it – it’s much easier to stay focused on one task, when you know how long you have to remain focused, so time block your schedule. Science shows you should block 90 minutes for a task in one sitting at the most, but one popular time management technique proposes you work in 25-minute cycles you’ll parse with 5-minute breaks.
  • Take regular breaks and parse your task into meaningful wholes – single tasking doesn’t have to be a boring and monotonous race to finish one giant task in one sitting, no matter how long it takes. You can parse your task into smaller sub-tasks, and you should always leave time in your schedule for breaks. As long as you work on one sub-task until you’re finished with it you’ll still be single-tasking, and breaks will help you recharge.

7. Saying “No”

Saying “No” at work, to family members, and friends are important for your time management efforts – when you say “No” to certain requests thrown your way you’re actually saying “Yes” to your priorities.

According to William Ury, the author of the bestseller “The Power of a Positive No”, it’s difficult for most people to say “No” because they want to maintain good relationships with friends, family, and colleagues, but also keep appearances – which explains why some of us are prone to saying “Yes” to perfect strangers.

How to say “No”

Questions such as “How to say no to friends”, “How to say no to family”, “How to say no politely in business”, and “How to say no without feeling guilty” are probably plaguing you, but they are important if you want to reclaim or save time for your priorities.

In essence, when you find there’s a compelling reason to say “No” – you probably should.

So, here are a couple of ways to say “No” effectively:

  • Simply say the word – Don’t say you’re not sure, don’t say you’ll probably be up for it next time, don’t say you’ll think about it. You can practice saying “No” in front of a mirror if you want to give your words the proper meaning and level of assertiveness.
  • Don’t over explain things – Trying to justify your decision to decline a request may seem like you’re not sure enough. Instead, add a simple reason why you can’t do something – if you attach a “because” to your “No”, research shows you’ll make people more likely to agree with your decision (if that’s what you’re looking for).

And, here are a couple of ways to say “No” nicely:

  • Use the polite alternative – Instead of simply saying “No”, say “No,  thank you”, “Not today, thank you”, or “I’m afraid I’ll have to pass, but thank you for asking”. You’ll make your point clear, but be more polite.
  • Provide an alternative solution – If you’re too busy to tackle a task you’d otherwise be happy to do, then say so. Explain that you’ll be able to handle a task when your schedule clears, and then see your promise through. If you really don’t have the time (or patience) to work on a task, recommend someone else who does have the resources to currently handle said task.
  • Use an occasional white lie – if you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, and you know the above-mentioned methods won’t work, opt for a little white lie. For example, if you don’t like your friend’s caramel candies, say your doctor said you should avoid sweets.

8. Following the Pareto principle

According to Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto and his Pareto principle, 80% of all problems result from 20% of all the causes. More precisely, the Pareto definition states that investing 20% of your efforts in the right place will help you achieve as much as 80% of your desired results.

pareto principle

Here are some Pareto Principle examples, to help illustrate how it all works:

  • 80% of problems in your program come from 20% of all the currently reported bugs.
  • 80% of all your sales come from 20% of your products.
  • 80% of all your customers only use 20% of your app’s features.

In essence, you do less, but achieve more, which saves you time, and brings a boost to your confidence – you’re not trying too hard, but you’re still successful.

How to use the Pareto principle

The use of the Pareto principle in time management is simple – you can work on select tasks first to do less but achieve a greater, more noticeable effect.

If we take the above-mentioned examples in the account and make them more concrete, here’s how the Pareto principle works:

  • 80% of problems in your program come from 20% of all the currently reported bugs. If you have 10 bugs and solve the right 2, you’ll up your program’s performance by 80%.
  • 80% of all your sales come from 20% of your products. It’s best that you don’t expand your manufacture to 20 different products, but instead focus on perfecting the 4 that sell the best.
  • 80% of all your customers only use 20% of your app’s features. Similar to the example above, you should focus first on streamlining your most popular features, and then consider expanding your functionalities.

Clockify pro tip

Interested to learn some more less common time management tips such as this one? Check out our extensive list of various actionable time management tips:

58 time management tips

9. Avoiding procrastination

According to the procrastination definition, procrastination is delaying or postponing something – this can be anything from postponing work on your new project or postponing a visit to your grandmother. By postponing something, you’re essentially losing time through this delay, so it’s important to deal with procrastination – unless you do, you may even suffer chronic procrastination.

There are several answers to the question of why do we procrastinate:

  • thinking you have enough time – your deadline is 2 long months away, so you binge watch Netflix shows or go out every night until you realize that time really does fly, and you now have 1 week to write, proofread, and edit a 20,000-word essay.
  • avoiding unpleasant tasks – you don’t want to think about difficult tasks or challenging problems, let alone try to tackle them. So you rearrange your desktop files and folders by color and alphabetical order instead.
  • feeling overwhelmed with work – you have so much to do in so little time that you feel unable to start in the first place. So, you procrastinate.
  • fear of failing – if you don’t do something, you can’t fail at it.
  • fear of the unknown – if you don’t venture into the unknown, you’ll never be unpleasantly surprised.

How to avoid procrastination

Overcoming procrastination seems daunting, but there are several tactics you can try to help you focus and stick to your work:

  • To avoid thinking you have enough time, make your distant deadline seem more immediate – parse the said task to smaller sub-tasks with closer deadlines, and work accordingly.
  • To encourage yourself to tackle unpleasant tasks, set a short time period during which you’ll focus on these tasks, and simply power through.
  • To ease the feeling of overwhelmedness, parse your workload to more days – working fewer hours during more days will make you feel like you have less to do. So, aim to work at least 2-4 hours on weekends as well.
  • To beat the fear of failing, you should redefine your goals, and lower your expectations – instead of setting “succeed at any cost” as your goal, set “learn something new” as your new goal.
  • To ease the fear of the unknown, you can visualize your obstacles, and make a list of possible problems you may encounter – this way, you’ll make your work process less unknown, and thus less daunting.

Clockify pro tip

Want to learn more about procrastination, including more reasons why we procrastinate, and how to fix it? Check out our all-inclusive post on the subject, complete with a list of famous procrastinators and how they deal with procrastination (George R.R. Martin and his “Winds of Winter” conundrum are included).

Procrastination: why we love it and how to fix it

10. Prioritizing

When you have a number of tasks to do, but don’t know where to start, there’s only one thing you can do to make your time pay off the most – single out your priorities and make plans.

Planning and prioritizing involves deciding whether a task is important/not important, and urgent/not urgent – you’ll work on important and urgent tasks first, and work your way down from there.

How to prioritize

There are 2 main ways for you can handle your prioritization – The Eisenhower Matrix and the “Eat that Frog” time management technique:

  • Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is a prioritization technique that works on the following principle:

eisenhower matrix

First, you divide your tasks into 4 quadrants

  • The 1st quadrant consists of tasks that are both important and urgent – these tasks are your top priority and should be handled immediately.
  • The 2nd quadrant consists of tasks that are important, but not urgent – these tasks are important enough to be tackled next, but not urgent enough so that you make them your top priority.
  • The 3rd quadrant consists of tasks that are urgent, but not important – they should be handled immediately, but as they’re not important, you should delegate them to colleagues.
  • The 4th quadrant consists of tasks that are neither important or urgent – you should eliminate them from your to-do-list.
  • Eat that frog

Eat that frog is a prioritization technique that works on the following principle:

eat that frog

You mark your tasks with letters of the alphabet that indicate their importance and urgency:

  • “A” – your “frog”, or your most important task, the one you should tackle first
  • “B” – second most important task, less important than “A”, but still vital
  • “C” – a task you can do, but it’s not crucial if you don’t have the time
  • “D” – urgent, but less important tasks, ones you should delegate
  • “E” – tasks you can eliminate, as they’re neither important nor urgent

As you can see, both listed prioritization techniques follow the same principle – you prioritize based on the level of urgency and importance, and single out your priorities.

Clockify pro tip

Interested to learn other great time management techniques apart from “Eat that Frog” and “The Eisenhower Matrix”? Check out 16 more effective solutions in this list:

18 time management techniques

In the end, once you learn how to cultivate and improve these time management skills, you’ll also learn how to truly accomplish more of your most important, most fruitful tasks, in less time and with more focus.

By |2019-07-12T11:25:17+00:00May 7th, 2019|Categories: Productivity|