Time management is that skill everyone assumes they will learn automatically over time, but actually get worse at if they neglect it.
When you have 50 things to do and have no idea how long each of them is going to take or which should come first, adopting a few time management techniques to boost your productivity is essential if you are ever going to get anything done.
Here are some techniques that will help you master time management and learn to get more done in less time.
1. Blocking out your time
One way to manage your time and stay productive is to have a schedule set up for exactly how much time you are going to spend on each task you have to complete in any given day. This can be an hour by hour plan or minute by minute, if you need to get that specific.
In your head, it is very easy to say to yourself, “I’ll take a break until 11:30,” and not end up getting back to work until way past noon. If you don’t prepare yourself for exactly when you’re going to work and when you’re going to rest, you will lose your sense of organization and probably fall behind.
Here are a few tips for blocking out time for various tasks throughout your day.
- Spend the first 30 minutes of your day planning out what you are going to do before you actually start working.
- Block out time for your breaks to make sure you take them without turning a 15-minute break into a 45-minute Pinterest stint.
- Factor in time for dealing with interruptions so you don’t fall behind.
- Be reasonable. Don’t give yourself too little or too much time to complete a single task.
2. Prioritizing everything
Let’s say you have three tasks on your to-do list today: answer your unread emails, schedule a meeting and draft a report. First glancing at this list, you will probably be tempted to complete these tasks in order as they appear: answer your emails, schedule the meeting and draft the report.
Looking closer though, you have to consider what’s going to take you the longest: drafting the report. This also happens to be due by the end of the day, while both the emails and the scheduling could wait until tomorrow.
Get the report done first, the most important and time-consuming task. Then move on to the smaller, less important tasks once you have finished the first one. You will be able to complete the final two tasks with a much clearer mind if you don’t have the more pressing task still on your mind while you’re doing them.
You have probably heard of multi-tasking – trying to get multiple things done at once, a technique that doesn’t actually work. In fact, trying to do multiple things at once hurts us much more than it helps us. That is why changing the way you work on a task is essential to helping you be more productive.
Single-tasking is simple. Instead of trying to answer emails, listen to a podcast, click over a few tabs to check the news and eat your breakfast all at the same time, slow down. Do each of those things one at a time.
It might seem, logically, like that would take longer and make you less productive. In reality, you’re going to have to reread those emails two or three times before you send them because you weren’t paying full attention when you first wrote them. You’re going to have to reread that news article you were really interested in, because you were only half engaged in the material the first time you read it.
Focus. Do one thing at a time, in order of importance … without any distractions.
4. Eliminating distractions
Have you ever had one of those days when you can’t seem to help but check your phone every 30 seconds, just in case there’s an important message waiting? When you just can’t stop refreshing your email, just in case someone is trying to reach you?
Distractions are everywhere, both online and off, and they kill productivity. When you put your phone on silent, stick to only one tab and don’t let yourself go on mental tangents, you’d be surprised how much more you can accomplish.
Just because your phone is ringing doesn’t mean you have to pick it up. Just because a few new emails roll into your inbox doesn’t mean you have to answer them right away. The most pressing matter is the thing you are working on right now.
If the internet has a way of setting you off course, you can try some of these apps to help you focus on the task at hand without giving in to temptation.
5. Going Pomodoro®
The average person gets interrupted about every 10 minutes while focusing on a task, and it takes over 20 minutes on average to regain the focus they had before they were interrupted. Added together, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for actually getting things done.
If you are constantly breaking your focus and are struggling to get it back, it may be time to give the Pomodoro Technique a try. This technique involves breaking up your work into 25-minute stretches of time with breaks in-between, so that you can focus on one task and not let yourself get distracted too frequently.
You don’t have to get too fancy with it (unless you want to). Pretty much all you have to do is set a timer on your phone, keep that phone just out of reaching distance and work on your task without stopping until the timer goes off. It forces you to keep working without making excuses for stopping in the middle of a task.
Managing your time isn’t as simple as hitting a button. It is a combination of figuring out when you’re going to do everything on your list, organizing that list into degrees of importance and figuring out how to focus and not give in to the temptation to check your email 300 times a day.
Productivity is possible. Use your time wisely.