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Time management skills: a To Do list

8 Tips to Improve Your Time-Management Skills

Last updated: March 23, 2020
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We live in a time when it feels like the whole world is vying for our attention. The news cycle is never-ending. Your phone pings you with notifications and updates constantly. It can be overwhelming.

This is why time-management skills are so vital to survive and thrive. Time management helps you identify what is important, eliminate distractions, and focus on achieving your goals. And there’s a way to do it effectively.

In this article, we’ll go over some time-management techniques that will help you carve up your day, get more accomplished, and even help with your self-confidence.

Why Time Management Matters

Time management is stress management. By effectively identifying what you need to get done, and accomplishing those tasks, you’re not only going to be more productive, you’ll feel more fulfilled.

A major cause of stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed, that there simply isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. Tasks pile up on each other, until they form a seemingly insurmountable mountain of things you can never hope to accomplish.

A good time management strategy lets you fight that feeling of being inundated by helping you identify goals, tasks, and how you can achieve them.

That’s really at the heart of effective time management. Often, it’s not purely about increasing productivity but rather helping you feel that you’re in control. An unfocused person can get a lot accomplished, but it might not be the right things getting done or the most efficient way to go about them. Time-management strategies can help you prioritize, delegate, and know when to step away to recharge. To borrow a cliché, it’s not just about working harder but instead working smarter.

Incremental Steps to Getting More Productive

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Many of us want to manage our time better, but there is a risk in trying to change your entire workflow overnight. Especially around major occasions — a birthday, the new year — people can attempt to remake themselves in one fell swoop. This can set you up for failure. Trying to make too much change in too little time can make the process feel overwhelming, leading to elevated stress levels which you’re trying to avoid.

Take incremental steps in getting there. Start by carving out time every Monday morning to plan out your week’s schedule or setting up a daily to-do list. Instead of saying you’re going to cut out all social media indefinitely, start by removing a couple of apps from your phone.

Improvement starts with self-awareness, and simply recognizing that this is something you want to improve on can go a long way. But don’t worry about changing your entire life overnight. That will make the goal unnecessarily difficult and that much harder to reach.

8 Ways to Improve Time-Management Skills

We’ve identified why time management is important, and how to be mindful in making changes to your life. Let’s get to some concrete, effective time-management tips to make it all happen.

1. Identify Your North Star

This tip may seem very open-ended, but that’s the way it should be. A major time-management skill is clarity of purpose: knowing, in large-scale terms, what you want to accomplish and where you want to go.

We recommend sitting down every once in a while and giving serious thought to your personal strategic planning. This isn’t what you need to get done in the next day (we’ll get to goals and to-do lists), but rather a bigger picture idea about what you want to work on, improve on, and prioritize. It may be “spending more time with family” or “feeling healthier” or “finding a job that lets me express myself,” but the point is, it should be big.

Think about this process as identifying your North Star — it gives you a larger purpose that will help you with all the processes below.

2. Set Achievable Goals

Now that you’ve identified your big-picture purpose, it’s time to get to goal-setting. You can set goals for the next workday, month, quarter, or year. These are more practical ways to accomplish the purpose you outlined above. Make them achievable and measurable. These should be things you can work toward in a concrete way.

You identify the big purpose first. Then dive into how you want to make that happen.

Pick two or three goals that can make that dream a reality. If your North Star is “feel healthier,” your goals might be to work out three times a week, eat home-cooked meals on weeknights, and walk to get coffee instead of driving.

Goals help with time management by giving your week a structure and helping you focus on specific actions you can take to improve.

3. Set Tasks and Prioritize

You’ve got your North Star, and you’ve got your goals. Now it’s time to get to work.

We like working with a task list, but one major aspect of a to-do list that many people forget is that it can’t just be a list of things that need to get done. It needs prioritization.

A task list with 50 items doesn’t help with stress. If anything, it will just overwhelm you. You need to prioritize each item, or otherwise, you’ll feel inundated.

When making a to-do list, identify urgent tasks that require immediate attention or need to be accomplished by the end of the day. Then break off a second tier to your list with things that aren’t as time-sensitive. You have a given amount of time and energy each day — help yourself by identifying what you need to devote that time and energy to.

One last tip: Be cognizant of your personal energy levels, and when they peak during the day. Are you most effective in the early mornings? Designate important tasks for those times. Feel a lull after lunch? Maybe put less time-sensitive items there or tasks that don’t require as much active attention.

4. Eliminate Multitasking

Very few people are effective multitaskers. Bouncing from one task to another may feel like you’re getting more done, but odds are you’re just doing a whole bunch of things not so well.

Good time management requires good decision making. Identify what’s important, and focus on it. Accomplish a task, see it through, and then move on to the next. You’ll get more done, and save time that you used to spend switching between tasks.

5. Delegate When Possible

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A major key to success with time management is knowing when to trust someone else to help you get something done. Work on a team? Have people who report to you? Part of leadership is identifying what others can do and then delegating tasks accordingly.

Effective project management isn’t just about working yourself endlessly to get stuff done — it’s about recognizing the talent around you and empowering others to get stuff done as well. While we certainly don’t advocate just passing along all your work, it’s OK to recognize that you don’t have the bandwidth for some items and to hand off tasks that can be accomplished by someone else.

6. Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No”

This can be one of the hardest time-management skills to learn. We are taught that companies value go-getters who are willing to take on any task. But if you take on projects you can’t reasonably be expected to complete, you’re setting yourself up for failure. One of the biggest keys to managing your time is to know when to tell someone you can’t get something done. Be clear and polite, but set expectations. If you’re overwhelmed, say so, and turn down projects or tasks you can’t handle.

7. Eliminate Distractions … Some of the Time

When setting about improving your time management, it’s tempting to just try and go cold turkey on all the time-wasters in your life. The thinking goes that if people delete all their social media accounts, cut out news sites, and refuse all chit chat in the office, they’ll get more done.

While there’s a kernel of truth there, eliminating all distractions can result in burnout. Believe it or not, you need time to be distracted during the day, to process all that is happening and recenter. Distractions — in small doses — can help you do that.

Try eliminating a few distractions to start. There are tools to help you at first — there is time-management software like Freedom.to that can deny you access to certain sites or limit the amount of time you spend on social media daily. Find a routine that works for you.

8. Recharge

To stay productive, you need to know when to step away. A day or two to yourself or spent with family can allow you to recenter, process, and get reinvigorated about your purpose — your North Star.

Going for a hike, visiting a beach, or even taking a long drive can let you clear your head and think about how you spend your time and ways you can spend it better. Your mind needs rest just as much as your body. Know your limits, and make time to recharge.

Live Happier With Effective Time Management

​Having time-management skills isn’t just about getting more things done — though that’s a nice byproduct. Most importantly, time management lets you feel more in control of your life and all that you want to accomplish.

Identify what is important to you, find achievable goals, and then set about accomplishing those with clear, prioritized tasks. Building that structure and knowing when to say no, take a break, or have someone else step in will go a long way toward helping you manage your time better and live a more fulfilled life.

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