Knowing how to manage your time effectively is important, especially if you want to live your life with intention.
Because time is precious, and we all want to feel that we are using our time wisely.
Like me, I’m sure that your to-do list is long. That you have lots of things that you want (or need) to accomplish in a day.
So how can we manage our time so that we get what needs to be done, done?
How can we get to the end of the day feeling as if we’ve made progress towards the life we want to live?
That we’ve accomplished something?
These 5 simple time management tips will help you manage your time, so that you can get to the end of each day feeling (relatively) calm and accomplished rather than stressed, frazzled or defeated.
1. Know how long things take
Good time managers calculate how long things take and build the time they need into their schedules.– Julie Morgenstern, Time Management from the Inside Out
Knowing how long things take makes it so much easier to manage your time effectively.
When you know how long things take you can:
- create a realistic schedule for your day
- start the day with a positive mindset about what can be achieved rather than what can’t be
When you don’t know how long things take you risk:
- wasting time by procrastinating (eg resist starting a task you think will take 2 hours, when in fact it really only takes 15 minutes)
- taking on more than you can get done (a sure road to frustration, stress, and disappointment)
When we estimate how long a task is likely to take, we often over-estimate for tasks that we hate (unloading the dishwasher) and under-estimate for tasks that we like (scrolling through Instagram).
So work out how long it really takes to do a task, not how much you wish it would take.
Try keeping a time log. Estimate how long you think a task will take, and then write down the time it actually takes.
Be sure to time from start to finish. For example, include travel and unpacking time for grocery shopping, and preparation and clean-up time for making dinner.
2. Plan your day
Time spent planning is never wasted.
I know it can feel easier to jump into your day and just start getting things done. But trust me, those moments you take to plan your day, will pay off.
Make sure everything you need to do is captured (either on paper or in a digital planner).
Don’t try to rely on your memory to recall everything. Writing it down will free you from the worry that you’ve forgotten something.
When you write everything down you’ll be able to manage your time more effectively.
Having everything captured in one place frees up your mind to think more clearly and stay focused.
Set your priorities
What absolutely must get done today? What can wait? Is there anything that you can delegate to someone else? What can be ignored?
A great tool for setting priorities is the Eisenhower Matrix (sometimes known as the Urgent-Important Matrix).
You can use the Eisenhower Matrix to work out what needs to be done according to urgency and importance.
If something is:
- Urgent and Important – do it as soon as possible
- Important, but not urgent – decide when you’ll do it and schedule it
- Urgent, but not important – delegate it to someone else
- Neither urgent nor important – drop it from your schedule as soon as possible
Create a schedule
Once you know what needs to be done, allocate each task, activity or to-do to a specific time in your schedule.
By creating a schedule for your day, you’ll have a clear, realistic view of what you can (or can’t) achieve in the time you have available to you.
A daily schedule will help you start the day with a positive mindset about what you can accomplish, rather than feeling overwhelmed with a list of tasks, wondering how you are going to fit everything in.
While you are scheduling your tasks you may realise that it is actually impossible to fit everything into your day.
If this is the case reassess your priorities for the day.
It’s much better to know at the beginning of the day that even though you won’t get to everything, the most important things will get done.
This sets you up for success rather than failure.
If possible try to allocate tasks to times of the day that match your energy levels. For example, if you know you’ll feel sluggish at 3 pm don’t try to tackle your taxes then.
Allocate a time when you know you’ll have the mental energy to concentrate.
Be sure to allocate time for breaks (see point 5 below).
Oh and one more thing…
There will be times when your carefully made plan for the day doesn’t pan out.
Unexpected things crop up. Cars break down. Illness happens. Things that are out of your control can railroad you.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan.
It just means you might need to alter your plan for the day, or for the week, or for however long it takes to get back on track.
Adapt as you need to and don’t beat yourself up about it.
Tomorrow is a new day.
3. Deal with distractions
Whether it’s external distractions (such as phone calls or email notifications) or the ones you create yourself (as a form of procrastination), there’s no doubt, distractions really do steal your time.
If your phone is a major source of distraction, try disabling notifications. Or at least turn off the sound alerts. Keep it face down, or in a drawer when you want to focus and get things done.
Try keeping a distraction journal or notebook to write down distractions.
The idea is that you can get thoughts or ideas out of your head and get back to them later (so there’s no need to worry about forgetting them).
It also helps you identify habits you may have developed that prevent you from getting things done.
Check out this video which explains more about using a distraction journal:
If you find yourself procrastinating as a form of distraction, also take a look at
Want to develop more focus?
In their book Make time: how to focus on what matters every day authors Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky outline a powerful framework that shows you tune out distractions and make time for the important things. It has four simple steps:
Highlight > Laser > Energize > Reflect
If you want to find out more take a look at:
4. Stop Multi-tasking
This is a tricky one.
Because it really can feel like you’re getting more done when you multi-task.
But there is plenty of scientific evidence proving this really isn’t the case.
Multi-tasking can make you less productive, as well as drain your energy.
When you multi-task you are really just task-switching – quickly moving your focus and attention from one activity to another activity.
In essence, you’re interrupting yourself, making it difficult to tune out distractions, ultimately wasting time and making you less productive.
Multi-tasking isn’t always bad, it depends upon the task of course, and the level of focus you need to do something effectively.
Chatting on the phone while folding laundry isn’t a big problem, but when you need to do something more complex, or the task requires a certain amount of focus it will take you longer to complete it if you try to multi-task.
5. Take regular breaks
It may seem counter-intuitive, but regular breaks are an important part of effective time management.
Breaks help you to refuel and recharge, as well as help you re-focus on your priorities for the day.
And let’s be clear – taking a break does not mean you are lazy!
If you don’t take breaks, you’re more likely to become distracted, stressed or exhausted and be less likely to accomplish what needs to get done.
The key to effective breaks is to plan for them and include them in your daily schedule.
When you plan regular breaks into your schedule you’ll work more effectively, be more creative, and make better decisions. And, you won’t feel completely depleted when you get to the end of your day.
Use breaks during your day to practice self-care.
Get some fresh air, go for a walk, read a novel for 5 minutes.
Do something that will revive and rejuvenate you. Remember, self-care doesn’t need to take a lot of time.
We can’t control the passing of time.
We can, however, control how we manage our time, so that we can accomplish what’s important and make progress towards our goals.
Through utilizing these tips, and making intentional decisions about how you manage your time, you can feel confident that you have spent your time wisely.