It’s hard to overstate the importance of time management skills. Effectively using the time you have available in a day is crucial for accomplishing your goals, no matter what they are. Business owners, freelancers, managers, executives, front-line staff . . . we all need to improve our time management skills.
But that’s not easy. We all know that time management is important. And that effective time management is a valuable skill. But when we sit down to work, we get distracted. We prioritize other things.
And in the end, we feel like we’re not using our time well.
This is a totally natural way to feel. Very few people feel like their time management strategies are completely effective. But if you can put a few habits into place, you can significantly boost your ability to be productive.
In the rest of this article, I’ll show you nine time management tips and strategies for making better use of your day. It’s not easy, but with the right mindset and the right tools, you can accomplish anything.
Let’s get to it.
Set smart goals to stay motivated
One of the keys to good time management is understanding why you want to manage your time better. Is it to make more money? Be more efficient so you can spend more time with your family? Be able to do more things in a day?
These are all good reasons to improve your time management skills. Having an idea of what you’re working toward will be really helpful in motivating yourself. For example, if you’re a business owner, you may want to be more efficient with your time so you can work on expanding your company.
If you’re a freelancer, you might want to improve your time management so you can do more business and make more money (maybe even quit your day job). Keeping these goals in mind will help keep you motivated and on track.
Many people find the SMART framework for goals to be helpful. These goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. If you want to always know exactly how you’re doing on your goals, this is a great framework to use.
Then again, some people think SMART goals are far too limiting.
It’s totally up to you. Set whatever kind of goal will motivate you.
And it’s a good idea to set goals for different areas of your life, too. If your only goals are career-related, you’re headed down the path of imbalance. And that will make it much harder to succeed.
Make lists to store lots of information
I’m a huge fan of lists. I have lists all over the place—on my computer, in my various notebooks, on my phone, on Post-Its around my office, and just about everywhere else. Lists are the most basic tool for prioritizing your task list and improving your time management skills.
Because they show you, at a glance, exactly what you need to do. And that’s the first step in effective time management.
Of course, just putting everything you can think of on a list isn’t the solution to all of your problems. It’s definitely a start (and actually one of the central tenets of the Getting Things Done productivity system), but you need to be more strategic if your lists are going to improve your time management.
For example, you might use different kinds of lists. Some people like to keep lists of things they’ve accomplished. We all feel like we’re not getting enough done. But if you can see what you’ve checked off of your list, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re actually accomplishing. You might be surprised to find out that your time management is better than you think.
Or you could keep a prioritized task list. Instead of a big list in no order at all, this puts tasks in order of importance or urgency. Whenever you have time to work on something, you start at the top and work your way down.
There are plenty of other kinds of lists, too. Task lists segmented by area of your life. Lists of goals and the tasks you need to complete to reach them. Eisenhower decision matrices. All of them can be helpful.
You just need to experiment and find the right one for you.
Adopt a productivity system to stay focused
Speaking of which, using a productivity or time management system can be a huge help. There are tons of different systems out there, each of them with their own methods and quirks.
Some of them are all-encompassing life organization systems, like Getting Things Done. Some are simple timing strategies, like Pomodoro. Most fall somewhere in between.
Try a few of them to see which ones help you the most. We recently wrote about 18 different time management tools and systems that can help you boost your time management skills.
Give them a read and find the one that’s perfect for you.
Prioritize and delegate to maximize your effectiveness
Good prioritization skills are helpful in many of the other points on this list. For example, effective use of lists will be easier if you know which tasks are more important and need your attention sooner. Understanding your priorities will help you set the right goals and pursue them more intelligently.
Tatyana Sussex at LiquidPlanner has a great list of things to think about when you’re prioritizing. She encourages people with lots of tasks to collect all of those tasks, identify urgent and important ones, assess their value, and order them by estimated effort.
This gives you a great idea of what you need to get done and which order you should pursue those things in. (We’ve written before about how we prioritize things here at Hubstaff; check it out to learn a bit more about how we’ve been able to consistently grow and succeed.)
Once you’ve created a detailed, prioritized list, you can start moving through it even more quickly by delegating. There are almost certainly at least a few tasks that you can delegate. Maybe it’s to your virtual assistant. Maybe to someone else at your company. Maybe it’s even something you can automate.
But by taking those things off of your list, you can focus on the items that are the most important. That saves you time and mental energy, as well as makes you more effective in the things you need to do yourself.
It’s a win-win-win.
Set and stick to deadlines
Much like lists, deadlines help us prioritize what we need to do. Almost everything that’s important has some sort of deadline. It might be an absolute one that has to be met or you’ll face serious consequences. Or it could be a softer one that you’d just like to meet.
Either way, it’s highly motivating.
But your deadlines need to be realistic. If you’re not going to be able to meet a deadline—or your project will suffer a serious deterioration in quality—it’s not going to be a useful time management tool.
Understanding how long your projects are going to take is a big benefit of effective time management skills. Of course, some of it just comes with experience. After you’ve been in a certain type of work for a while, you’ll be able to better estimate how much time you need.
(Time tracking, which we’ll get to in a moment, will also be a big help.)
And remember that things almost always take longer than you expect. So pad out your timelines to give yourself a bit of extra time. You’ll need it more often than you expect.
It’s also a good idea to use something like Google Calendar, a good task management app, or a project management tool (Trello is a great free option) to keep track of your deadlines. I use Wunderlist in combination with Fantastical. Setting deadlines isn’t helpful if you forget about them. So set up reminders or a visual way of tracking them to make sure you don’t forget.
Avoid multitasking to become more efficient
You might feel like you’re getting more done when you work on multiple things at once. Splitting your time between managing your inbox, outlining a project proposal, and checking in with your employees all at the same time definitely feels productive. And some people can do that effectively.
But the vast majority of us can’t. Most people are terrible at multitasking.
There’s a cognitive cost when you switch from one task to another. And when you’re constantly switching back and forth, that cost adds up.
Instead, focus on one thing at a time. If you’re managing your inbox, just do that. When you’re writing a bid for a new job, focus on that bid. If you’re communicating with your remote team, give it your full attention.
Every task you take on should be your sole focus. You’ll get more done in less time, do better work, and feel fresher. It’s a no-brainer.
Time blocking can be a big help in this. It’s simple, and just like it sounds: block out time on your calendar to work on specific tasks. Everything from project planning to managing email. You can schedule your entire day, and even include an hour here and there for things that just come up.
It’s a great way to boost your focus and your productivity.
Track your time to test your time management skills
The best way to see if your time management skills are improving is to track all of the things you do. Then, simply review your logs to see how much you’ve accomplished in a specific amount of time.
It sounds like a ton of extra work, but it’s really not.
Some people do this in Excel spreadsheets, and log what they’re doing every 15 minutes. Others use their “done” list to see what they accomplished in a workday. We’re big on automation here, so we do it automatically with a time-tracking app.
A time tracker lets you see how much time you spend on each project you’re working on, then creates reports so you can get a really good idea of how efficient you’ve been.
This is great for small business owners—you can see how much time you’re spending on marketing, sales, partnering, research, brainstorming, and so on.
Freelancers can see which of their projects are the most lucrative. I track my own time for various freelance writing projects to see which have the highest hourly rate. Then I prioritize those for earlier in the day so I make sure they get done. Jobs that pay less are slightly lower priorities.
If you’re managing your time well—or not—a time tracker will prove it.
Start tracking your time today
Boost your productivity for free!
Manage your energy to boost your efficiency
This one seems a bit counterintuitive, because it involves not managing your time. Many people might benefit from focusing less on time and more on their own mental state.
Instead of thinking about how much you need to get done throughout the day and how you can manage your time to accomplish it, think about how you’re feeling at any given moment. Are you feeling fresh and mentally alert?
Then it’s a good time to work on something that requires a lot of thought. When I feel this way, I do a lot of my best writing and content planning.
Are you tired and feeling sluggish?
Do something rote, tedious, or less mentally intensive. When I’m feeling lethargic, I do things like send cold emails to potential freelance clients, manage my freelance finances, and do simple tasks that are necessary for upkeep on the Hubstaff blog.
So next time you’re feeling like you need a time management boost, try thinking about your energy instead. Find the times of day when you generally have a lot of mental energy, and take advantage of those times to do as much intense work as you can. (Tracking your time will be a big help in figuring out when those times of day are.)
Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy wrote a phenomenal article about this idea back in 2007—give it a read and start getting more productive today!
Relax to recharge your brain
This is a tough one. Highly motivated people like entrepreneurs and freelancers have a tendency to work a lot. And that’s fine.
But you absolutely need to make sure you have some down time, too.
Your brain can’t constantly run at full speed. You’ll run out of mental energy, burn out, and become much less efficient. Instead, make sure you take time away from work to let your brain recharge.
You’ll feel fresher, have more creative ideas, and feel less resentment toward difficult situations. It’s hard to remember this one when there are hundreds of things on your to-do list. But you need to make time for yourself.
On a related note, get enough sleep. Your brain doesn’t function well without around eight hours of sleep each night (yes, I know that some people can get away with less than that and still be fresh, but most of us need about eight hours).
How do you manage your time?
Time management skills are crucial for success in business, whether you’re a solo freelancer or managing a team. These nine time management tips will help you take back control of your time. Now all you need to do is get started!
And if you’re looking for more great time management tips and strategies, check out our list of seven great time management blogs. They’re packed with tools, tips, advice, and everything else you can ask for when it comes to improving your time management.
What time management tips do you find to be most helpful? Share your suggestions in the comments below!