What is time management?
Time management is the process of organizing and planning how to spend your time in all activities. It is the method that helps you prioritize your tasks to allocate the perfect time to complete each of your projects. Effective time management at work will increase efficiency and help you achieve a better work-life balance.
Why is time management important?
Time management is important because it helps us make better use of our time and prioritize tasks, which can lead to increased productivity, improved well-being, and better results. It can also help eliminate distractions and enable us to stay focused on the task.
Effective ways to improve time management skills at work
If you ask a CEO or HR manager what it takes to grow a business, surely time management would be among the most important skills. Time management skills apply not only to employees in all departments, as it is an essential skill that sets them apart as reliable and professional people for the job.
For some of us, it all comes naturally, while for others, it can be a hassle. We invite you to read ten ideas for time management at work that you can easily follow to increase productivity.
1. Schedule and plan ahead
Scheduling is defined as the act of planning and prioritizing tasks and events in a way that helps you achieve results in the time available.
You can start by making it a habit – for example, creating your schedule at the beginning of each week, month, or even day. The simple method is to use a pen and paper on a planner that can be downloaded online. Otherwise, if you prefer to go digital, Outlook, Google, or Apple Calendar might be the right tool. Once you've decided, prepare your schedule as follows:
- Identify how much time you have available
- Block any mandatory tasks you need to complete at work
- Schedule priority or urgent tasks
- Block out an emergency time for unpredictable situations that might arise
- Schedule activities that address your career goals in the remaining time.
A popular misconception is that a program limit "freedom," but the opposite is true. A time management program can help you increase productivity and boost your career by efficiently organizing your activities, so you don't have to constantly decide what to do when or forget an important work commitment.
Planning doesn't mean following a rigorous daily routine where you plan every minute. It's about knowing the right time for each task and the deadline for each project to be completed; it's about working smarter, regardless of your position or role.
Scheduling ahead is essential to managing your time at work, as some tasks can only be done at specific times, while others have urgent deadlines. Scheduling your day, week and month will help you tremendously and affect your work and that of others. An excellent example of effective scheduling is breaking broad goals into milestones and milestones into small projects. You also need to be punctual to achieve a high level of programming.
We offer you a series of links with valuable details on schedule at work:
Don't forget to schedule vacations. With LeaveBoard's HR and leave management software, every employee knows who is absent and when and can easily plan their leave or log work-from-home requests. At the same time, managers will receive an email with each leave request registered by employees.
2. The Eisenhower Matrix (Prioritizing Urgent vs. Important)
In our daily life, urgent actions and tasks require instant attention and quick execution. However, not every task is urgent. Addressing urgent issues is critical to your long-term success.
That's why the best time management practice is to start your day by checking your to-do list and prioritizing your work based on urgency. By following this practice, you will focus on actions that are critical and require your immediate action and postpone those that can be put off until later.
This will help you determine which tasks require the most attention and which can be put off for a long time. So why wait any longer? Start prioritizing now! We invite you to read below about the Eisenhower Matrix, a practical strategy to guide you in this process.
The Eisenhower matrix is described as a way of prioritizing tasks according to their urgency. A famous quote from its author describes the basic meaning of this method: "Most things that are urgent are not important, and most things that are important are not urgent." The matrix is a decision-making model that classifies tasks into four quadrants: Do, Decide, Delegate, and/or Eliminate.
- Do: The first quadrant consists of your most important tasks and the activities that need to be done urgently. These types of tasks are generally those that are approaching a tight deadline and require your full concentration. As they may be critical to the management or smooth running of the business, you may prefer to tackle them first thing in the morning.
- Decide: The second quadrant includes important but not urgent tasks. These should be scheduled for later, but ensure you allow enough time to avoid going into the "urgent" category.
- Delegate: In the third quadrant, we can find tasks that, in general, seem to be necessary, while in reality, they do not contribute much to getting things done. You need to think about how to deal with such actions. There are two options: you can reschedule for later or delegate a colleague to handle these tasks for you.
- Eliminate: The last quadrant consists of tasks that do not contribute to your goals and are a source of procrastination, preventing you from staying focused on the most important activities.
There are many ways you can choose to use prioritization. With this matrix, you can categorize tasks into urgent/non-urgent, important/slightly important, critical to success/insignificant to success. Prioritization will allow you to understand that not everything you do is essential (to you and the company as a whole).
3. Reduce interruptions
Interruptions are a common challenge in the workplace, as the open-plan design of offices makes it difficult to focus on important activities. In addition to personal interruptions, we are constantly bombarded with emails, phone calls, texts, and more.
In the following lines, we will try to build a deeper understanding of the biggest time wasters that everyone experiences daily: emails, meetings, and smartphones.
At first glance, it seems counterintuitive, but email is at the top of this list. Why? Since we spend so much time in front of screens, email is probably our most important communication method. Answering emails gives us a sense of progress while receiving emails from our bosses highlights a sense of urgency and importance. Doing the thing you started should be your top priority. Even getting a sound notification for a new email distracts you from that task, and it could take several minutes to get back to it. Among the best practices to save you time are:
The zero inbox policy is a great start. With no unread emails clouding your mind, the idea is to delete, delegate or deal with email messages immediately.
A good alternative is to keep everything in your inbox and selectively reply to only the most important emails.
Other good tips are to check your email only twice a day and try to reply with concise answers instead of getting lost in details.
You can remove the visual and audio notifications for each received email to eliminate the distraction of new messages and the desire to check each message before finishing existing tasks.
In business, when we analyze the biggest time wasters, next to emails, we can add meetings. Over 50% of meetings are useless because they don't have a clear agenda or don't end with a specific action plan. They also need prior preparation, change of location, discussions without a particular topic, exchange of opinions, etc. However, meetings can add value in some instances. Examples of great and beneficial meetings consist of brainstorming sessions, strategic dialogues, business planning, and the culture of building bridges between team members.
Below are some tips:
- Ask for a clear topic for the meeting
- Set a day and location that is convenient for both parties
- If your calendar has loaded, don't hesitate to reschedule the meeting
- Share meeting minutes with clear to-do's
- If the applicant wants an appointment that is too long for you, ask why so much time is needed and try to reduce the time requested.
C. The mobile phone
The smartphone or mobile phone is another tool that surrounds our daily interaction, both at work and personally. Every time we get a text or a call, we stop our core activity and focus on something else (i.e., not multitasking) and go back to work while preoccupied with the latest information received from the caller. Some of the most productive people highlight that they either hang up the phone or put their phones on silent.
- Remove notifications or every social media message (Facebook, TikTok, Whatsapp, Twitter, etc.)
- If you have an urgent deadline that day, you can switch your phone to airplane mode
- Perhaps the easiest method to eliminate distractions is to switch to silent mode.
A common practice among creative industries (writers, actors, etc.) is to leave the phone in another room while they do their work. So when they need a break or lack creativity, the phone should not be the first thing they check.
4. The Pomodoro Technique
Over 2 million people have already used this technique to transform their lives and become more productive and focused. This deceptively simple and life-changing system teaches you how to work with time instead of fighting it.
The basic process of the Pomodoro technique consists of the following steps:
- choose a task you want to complete,
- set the timer for 25 minutes,
- work without interruptions on the task, finish the work when the timer rings, and put a tick on a piece of paper,
- take a short break (5 minutes) again
- every four sets of completed tasks take a longer break (20-30 minutes).
5. Track your time
Time tracking is essential to understanding how you spend your time and how productive you are in a workday. Are you aware of how long it took you to compose all those emails, surf the internet, create several reports or write that business plan? The insights you gain can often be eye-opening.
There are hundreds of software tools to make it easy to discover your digital time spent. These solutions are often available on multiple platforms (macOS, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android) or through a Google Chrome productivity extension, and data can be easily synchronized.
Among the benefits of time tracking are personal and business insights about time spent, learning from experience, increased productivity, improved efficiency, transparency of work processes, and the ability to analyze workflow and make adjustments if necessary.
6. Organize your to-do list
To be more efficient with your time, knowing exactly what you want to accomplish is important. Instead of jotting down ideas on post-it notes, emails, or in your mind, it's more efficient to use a physical diary (we like the ones from Leuchtturm and Moleskine), or if you're a person who prefers digital solutions, you can go to an app where you add your daily tasks, analyze your progress and know exactly what is left behind. Apps like Asana, Things, or Todoist help enormously in being always up to date with priority tasks. Planning those small things or those related to work or family can be ordered by color or according to priority, and with 10 minutes of effort a day, you will have a predetermined list of visually arranged activities that help you focus on the things that it matters.
Also, consider deadlines and a well-established time frame for important tasks. They cannot last forever. For example, you set 3 hours to do the marketing analysis until the end of week 40 (or until October 9) of the year.
Another good practice we can mention when it comes to tasks is to group tasks by categories: For example, those related to marketing (social media, writing articles, important customer feedback), administrative activities (invoicing, discussions with the accountant, receipt review). This way, you will be able to focus on a number of tasks in a category more efficiently.
Try not to complicate things. Think about how that task would be solved in a simple way. Simplification is a concept from minimalism that has been successfully applied in various fields such as software development, architecture, design of everyday things, etc. Find inspiration in this principle that says most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than complicated. Try to apply it in your life. You don't need much to find inner peace and devote enough time to your passions.
7. Eliminate "time-stealing" activities from your life
Closely related to the previous concept, we should thoroughly analyze the things that increase our quality of life versus the things that decrease its quality (waste).
The first category includes things full of positive energy that cause us to reach our potential, unleash our creativity, create strong relationships, and feel healthier and more energetic.
The second category, however, refers to things that bring negativity into our lives, such as bad relationships, too much worry, lack of environmental awareness, etc. Stop spending time with negative elements, and you will have much more time to do the things that make you happy. Be the best version of yourself, or at least try!
Bonus time management tips
In the analysis done for this article, I discovered other simple and effective time management techniques.
You can choose from a wide range of time management techniques, but the most important thing is to decide on the one that works for you. We have some time management tips to get you started:
A. The 80/20 Rule
Starting from the principle developed by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, this technique can be simplified as follows: "80% of the output or results will come from 20% of the input or action". Therefore, to manage your time effectively and best achieve your professional goals, it is recommended that you start with the top 20% of tasks first instead of the bottom 80%.
B. Effective Communication
Another key skill in this time management game. Excellent communication skills will enable you to present your goals clearly and plans to colleagues or managers.
Also, learn to say no. It is not wrong. You don't always have to help others complete your tasks first. Just do it politely.
This skill will also help with delegation, which is the next desired skill.
C. Reduce or eliminate multitasking
Multitasking is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. You might think you're good at everything, but trying to handle all your work yourself will only get you overwhelmed sooner than usual, and the quality of your work will go down a lot. Take a sheet of paper and divide it in two:
This applies mainly to managers and is a very important skill. You can't do everything yourself; you must focus on strategic plans and projects and delegate smaller tasks to your team. You can even outsource some tasks to freelancers to free up your time if your staff is already too busy. Make the most of your time.
E. Manage stress
Work shouldn't be everything, so don't forget about your mental health and overall well-being. If you can manage stress positively, you will have a higher motivation and productivity level. You can do this by taking small but consistent breaks throughout the day or by stopping when you complete large tasks and rewarding yourself.
a. Create a list of things you MUST do yourself,
b. A new list can and should be DELEGATED to other team members.
The benefits of effective time management
There are so many benefits, and you will see that your time management skills will have a positive impact on your day-to-day work activity:
- Increased productivity and efficiency: Having good time management skills will help you get more done in less time and without affecting the quality of your work. You will prioritize your tasks, finish those with deadlines, schedule carefully and be more efficient.
- Less procrastination: Procrastination is a sensitive topic at work and happens when you lose focus, maybe because you're tired or your goals aren't clear. Poor time management leads to procrastination and lots of distractions. Try to identify the causes of the postponement of planned tasks so that you can continue developing them daily.
- Finish work on time: Allocating a fixed period of time to each task will definitely increase your ability to complete them on time. If you have a clear plan for each project, your brain will be focused every day, following that structure. So, time management will enable you to deliver the work on time.
- Low stress and anxiety levels: When you feel overwhelmed at work and tired, you are more prone to anxiety, depression, and all kinds of diseases (burnout syndrome). When you manage your time well, you will automatically reduce unnecessary stress and have better confidence.
- More free time: With good time management, you can do more things you enjoy. Do recreational activities you want, and spend more time with family and friends. All this will create the perfect balance between work and private life.
- Career growth opportunities: organization, punctuality, and productivity will allow you to gain a good reputation among managers. Leaders who are good at time management have better options for promotion.
In the long run, however, being organized and rigorous is the best path to personal and professional success and achievement. The bottom line, there is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the important ones. We wish you all the best in being productive and achieving your goals!