Why is time management important?
As a parent, the feeling of having very little spare time is something I can easily relate to. I used to find that I would try and squeeze as many tasks as I could into what little time I had available and still feel like nothing was getting done.
I was one of those typical people you see glued to their phone or laptop, always taking notes, checking emails, making lists etc. I’ve never been short of ideas or projects I’d like to start, the problem I had was that I’d often spend more time trying to work out how to get them done than I would on getting them started.
It wasn’t until I learned to manage my spare time better that I began to realise just how much I could actually get done. Since then my productivity has increased exponentially and I am finally able to plan and complete tasks without having to compromise in other areas of my life.
Effective time management strategies
First off, it’s worth noting that although these tips are ones that I found useful, everyone is different. Some of the tips may not apply to you, or you may want to amend them to suit your needs.
The important thing to take away from this list is that there are many different ways in which you can increase your productivity and manage your time more effectively. Build on this list, make it your own, and become a time management and productivity master.
Remember; there are innumerable hacks and tricks to manage your time effectively. These are some tips that I find helpful, but everyone is different.
Let this list be a catalyst to get you thinking regularly about how to refine your own practices.
1. Tackle the most important tasks first
Sorting your tasks by importance is the golden rule of time management. Each day you should select a few tasks you consider to be crucial and do those first.
Once they’re complete, you’re already off to a great start. If you have time to tackle some more, then identify the most crucial of the remaining tasks and move onto those. However the day goes from here, you’ve completed the essentials, so the day is a success.
2. Focus on the task at hand.
Remove all distractions, put phones on silent and close any browser windows that aren’t part of the task. Try and find somewhere comfortable to work, for many this will probably be a quiet environment.
Concentrate exclusively on this one task. Block out everything else and immerse yourself in it.
3. Start early to avoid procrastination
Almost all of us can be guilty of procrastination. It’s easily done, you’re going to complete the task eventually, so what harm will come from starting later?
As someone who has been terribly guilty of this previously, it’s so much easier and less stressful to work on something when you are ahead of schedule. Don’t aim to meet deadlines, try and stay ahead of them.
4. Set a time limit to complete the task.
Don’t just sit down to work on a task without a goal for when it needs to be finished by. Instead, set a deadline, or a timeframe for when you want to have the task completed by. Be realistic and make sure you allow enough time to get the task done, but don’t overcompensate either. The deadlines will force you to be more efficient and focus on the task at hand.
5. Take a small break between tasks.
Moving from task to task makes it difficult to appreciate what it is that we’re doing, and it can also affect motivation and focus levels.
Giving yourself a breather between tasks can help energise your brain. Whether you decide to go for a short walk, meditate or exercise, taking part in a mind-clearing exercise can help you maintain motivation and focus.
6. Don’t let the small details to hold you down.
I’ve always been a perfectionist, and as a result, I find I take much longer than I need on a task because I always get hung up on the small details.
It may be tough, but you need to push yourself to not give in to the desire to check over and criticise the work you have done so far. Instead, you should press onward and aim to get the bulk of the work completed, and then go back and revise things later.
7. Don’t worry about the size of your to-do list.
Looking at a massive to-do list can be daunting. Just thinking about it can cause you to feel overwhelmed.
Don’t worry about the size of the list as a whole, just focus on the task before you. Work through this single task, and when it’s complete mark it as done and move onto the next. Before you know it, the task will feel much more manageable and you’ll be well on with your project.
8. Be organised.
If you’re looking to be more productive, organisation is the key. You don’t need to be the most organised person, but applying a few simple organisational systems will make an impact on your productivity.
Create filing systems for documents, and make sure that everything is in stored in its correct place. Use calendars to keep track of deadlines or meetings. Unsubscribe from email lists that you don’t need so you are less likely to be distracted. The key is to simplify and streamline your workflow.
9. Don’t waste downtime.
Most of us have a lot of downtime, even if we don’t realise it. Waiting rooms, queues in shops, time on the train or even time spent at the gym can all be considered downtime.
During this time why not find something productive to do? Your task list will include some items which are easy to complete whilst on the go. Use your downtime to work through some of these items and add another level of productivity to your day.
10. Make regular tasks habitual.
If you find there are some tasks that you need to do regularly, the best way to be productive with them is to turn them into habits. Applying a routine to these tasks makes them easier to complete.
Whether they are bigger tasks such as writing an article, or smaller tasks like checking your email. If you can work these into your routine you’ll they stop feeling like tasks, and just become part of your normal day.
11. Be aware of TV/Internet/gaming time.
Any time you spend browsing social media, watching TV or gaming can be a drain on productivity.
Try to be aware how much time you actually spend on these activities, it will be more than you realise. Once you are aware of how much time you are wasting on these activities you’ll be able to reduce it.
12. Maintain a healthy lifestyle.
There are plenty of studies available that show a link between a healthy lifestyle and work productivity. Eating well, exercise and getting enough sleep all help to boost energy levels and help keep your mind clear allowing you focus better.
13. Commit to your plan.
You know your end goal, and you have a plan how to get there. Now you need to commit to it. By that, I don’t mean giving up everything else in your life to make it happen, but you do need to be rigorous.
Having a strong will to complete the tasks you set out for yourself will help you to achieve your goal.
14. Locate related tasks and complete them together.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re knuckling down and focusing on a task your productivity rate goes through the roof and you can get so much more done?
Different tasks require different types of thinking. By grouping similar tasks together you’re reducing any disruptions to your minds flow, allowing it to work more efficiently. This will help you breeze through similar tasks much easier than if you were to keep switching between different types.
15. Eliminate the non-essential.
Far too often we get bogged down with things that don’t actually matter. I have often found myself getting carried away with an idea, imagining all the possibilities that come with it, which leaves me with a to-do list full of unnecessary excess.
By locating and removing any non-essential tasks you instantly free yourself up to work on the bits that actually make a difference.
16. The final tip (and probably the most important)
If there was one tip that needs to be mentioned, one thing that you should take away from this post, one final tip on how to be more productive, it would be this;
[quote]”Make sure the end goal is something you enjoy.”[/quote]
Named after the Japanese word for improvement. The kaizen method is an approach where a person or a business would look to continuously improve something. Using the Kaizen method when approaching tasks can be very productive. Instead of trying to finish a project up to completion, the approach is to do the bare essentials needed to get the project ready and then build on top of that in time.
In terms of an e-commerce website, that could be to get the site design up to a useable standard and uploading the core products before launching. Improvements to the site’s design or product range can be added incrementally over time.
By following the Kaizen method you cut out a lot of the ‘fluff’ or excess that can be added to a project. It’s always nice to have an end goal in mind, an idea of how you want things to be when they are right, but getting wrapped up in all the minor details can be a major distraction. Taking the kaizen approach means you cut out a lot of the distractions and focus on what is needed to get a project off the ground.
This approach also allows you to test things as you go to make sure that your original preconceptions are in line with the reality of the project.
Productivity apps & tools to improve time management
Trello is one of my first ‘go-to’ apps when starting any type of project. Trello uses Kanban boards to help you organise tasks visually. It’s incredibly simple and very flexible, making it useful for almost any type of project.
If you’re like me, and you like to make lists, then you’re going to love ToDoIst. Using ToDoIst you can create projects and task lists which you populate with tasks and subtasks. It can be used via the web interface, but its true beauty lies in the chrome browser extension and the mobile device app. That way you can update tasks or create new ones from almost anywhere easily.
Evernote was one of the first apps I ever download and since then, I’ve found it incredibly useful. Over time the functionality has been improved, turning it into an almost ‘swiss army knife’ like app for note keeping. Whether its notes, pictures, audio, videos or web pages, Evernote allows you to easily save items and sync them across devices. It’s packed full of great features too, making this an incredibly useful and flexible app for time management.
Block Site (Chrome Extension)
Possibly the most effective Chrome Extension for avoiding distraction during work hours. It works by blocking selected websites between selected hours. If you try and visit a blocked site during the specified time, you’ll be redirected to a different website of your choice (tip: set the redirect to your to-do list). You can block sites, pages or even set keywords making it very versatile at tackling procrastination.
What sets this apart from the other extensions is the level of thought that has gone into making this extension actually challenge you. For example, with most extensions, if you want to quickly bypass the extension you can just jump into incognito mode. Not only does Block Site work in incognito mode, but it also has password protection and uninstall protection making cheating a huge hassle.
Stayfocused (Chrome Extension)
Stayfocused works in a similar way to Block Site, but instead of completely blocking access to all non-work sites, Stayfocused gives you a time limit. Once you’ve used up your allowed time it blocks access for the rest of the day. There are plenty of configuration options available, so you can lock down your browser as tight as you feel necessary.
Strict Workflow (Chrome Extension)
This extension works in the opposite way to Stayfocused, instead of you being allocated a set amount of ‘browse time’, with Strict Workflow you need to earn this time by doing work. For every 25 min of work you complete you earn a 5-minute break. The app comes set up ready to block many popular distracting websites and is very easy to customise further.
RescueTime (Chrome Extension)
This extension allows you to log the amount of time you spend in Chrome and online so you can see just what you have been doing all day. Although this site doesn’t block your access to distracting websites, by showing you exactly how you have been spending your time it might be the motivator you need to get back on track.
Free productivity planner
Need a little head start on getting more productive? This free productivity planner is a simple spreadsheet-based to-do list that allows you to group tasks based on their importance and due date. It’s not a terribly fancy or an overcomplicated system by any means. Just add your tasks, set the priority, date and status values and that’s it.
You can easily order and filter tasks by their priority, due date or status using the drop-down icons at on the top row allowing you to easily locate which tasks need tackling next.
If you have any suggestions or improvements to this sheet please feel free to get in touch via the comments and let me know and I’ll try my best to include them if possible.