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Fifteen of Our Best Time Management Tips

03 June 2024
An alarm clock with a note on a black background, symbolizing the concept of time running out.

Time management is a crucial skill that many of us struggle with, both on a professional and personal level.  Poor time management can lead to missed deadlines, increased stress, and reduced productivity. 

As Laura Vanderkam tells us in her engaging TED talk titled “How to gain control of your free time”, there are 168 hours in a week. If we factor in working a 40-hour week and sleeping for an average of 8 hours a night, that still leaves us with 72 hours a week for other things.

How we manage this invaluable resource can significantly impact not only our individual performance but also the overall productivity and success of an Organisation. This article aims to provide practical tips to help you improve your time management skills, ultimately reducing stress and enhancing your productivity.

Why is effective time management in the workplace so important?

Mastering the use of our time and the time of others is essential for the smooth operation of any business. It ensures that tasks are completed on schedule, resources are used efficiently, and employees can maintain a healthy work-life balance. By improving time management skills, businesses can boost productivity, enhance employee satisfaction, and increase overall profitability.

Fifteen top tips for time management

To help you master how you use your time and communicate this with others, we have compiled a list of our favourite top tips divided into three categories: Planning and Prioritisation, Time Blocking and Focus Techniques, and Efficiency and Delegation. These tips are designed to be easily implemented and provide immediate benefits.

Planning and prioritisation:

Prioritise Tasks

Using tools such as the Eisenhower Matrix (shown below) can help you to categorise tasks by urgency and importance. This will help you to focus on what truly matters and avoid spending time on trivial tasks.  It is worth noting that any task that doesn’t need to be done should not be on your list in the first place, and that the important tasks are more likely to be linked to your key outcomes.

The Eisenhower Matrix is a 2 by 2 grid consisting of a total of 4 cells. Cell 1, row 1 corresponds to tasks which are 'important' and 'urgent' and should be done immediately. Cell 2 row 1, corresponds to tasks which are 'important' but not 'urgent', and are tasks to plan and prioritise. Cell 1 row 2 are 'not important' tasks yet are flagged as 'urgent'. These are tasks to delegate. Finally, cell 2, row 2 are tasks which are 'not important' and 'not urgent'. These tasks according to the matrix should be deleted.

Set clear outcomes when setting your goals:  

According to a study by the University of Sussex, people who set specific goals are significantly more likely to achieve them than those who don't.  Defining your objectives clearly is easier when you refer to them as outcomes rather than goals.  This will help you to start with the end in mind and then work backwards.

Set some 90-day plans:  

This works equally well for managing our personal time and is actually where we suggest you start with this tool.  Start by asking yourself if you have a minimum of five things in your diary over the course of the next 90-days that you are looking forward to.  This could be literally anything – a meal out with a friend, going to a concert, date night, you name it.  If you don’t, then book something in.

On a professional level, what five things will you and your team achieve over the next 90-days which mean you will look back on that period with a sense of pride and satisfaction?  Follow this method and you will find you end up with some tangible and meaningful outcomes to work from, helping you with your goal setting.

Make a To-Do List

This is as simple as writing down your tasks for the day. Research by the University of Bristol found that people are more likely to achieve their goals simply by writing them down. 

Do however beware of the risk of procrastination when it comes to list writing and be realistic with what you can achieve on that particular day, given that there are likely to be distractions and interruptions.

This leads us nicely onto our second category of tips.

Time blocking and focus techniques:

Time Blocking

This does exactly what it says on the tin, allocating specific time slots for different tasks.  Entrepreneur Richard Branson is known to schedule his day meticulously to maximise productivity, but we are sure that even somebody as successful as Richard Branson has times of the day when he is less creative or impactful.

Be frank and honest with yourself about when you are likely to work best on certain tasks.  If the creative side of your brain tends to kick in mid-afternoon, there is no point allocating three hours in the morning to work on a creative task.

The Pomodoro Technique

This technique involves working for 25 minutes, then taking a 5-minute break. This method can boost productivity by 25%, according to research from the University of Warwick but again this is not a one size fits all approach.  

Consider the nature of your work and your own levels of concentration and productivity.  Taking a 5-minute break can involve stretching your legs to top up your glass of water or get some fresh air.  Try to avoid picking up your phone and scrolling or checking in on emails as this will inevitably take longer than 5 minutes and is technically not classed as a break.

Eat the Frog

This method involves tackling your most challenging task first thing in the morning, leading to a significant boost in daily productivity and reducing procrastination, not to mention giving you a feel-good factor when the task is completed.

Think eating your sprouts first when eating your Sunday roast (apologies to any sprouts lovers out there (you get the gist!)

Getting Things Done (GTD): 

This method by David Allen is designed to help you focus when you organise tasks and projects, leading to clear and actionable steps.

The tool is based on using 5 steps and correlates well with the Eisenhower Matrix above:

  1. Write down and capture anything that has your attention
  2. Clarify if each item is actionable.  If not, remove the item or put it on hold
  3. Organise where each remaining task belongs, i.e. put a reminder in your calendar
  4. Review the list frequently and reflect to retain focus
  5. This is where the magic happens – simply engage and do, making action decisions with confidence and clarity

Now let’s look at the final category of tips, helping you to delegate where appropriate and maximise your efficiency.

Efficiency and delegation:

The Pareto Principle (80/20 Rule)

This is an oldie but a goodie. The principle here is that 80% of something will come from 20% of something else.  

So, for example, 80% of the clothes you wear will come from 20% of your wardrobe.  80% of the music you listen to will come from 20% of your music library.  80% of your sales will come from 20% of your client base etc…

From an efficiency perspective, identifying and focusing on the 20% of tasks that yield 80% of your results will help in identifying high-impact activities and maximise your efficiency.  To use a non-work example, think of a hobby or interest you have such as going to the gym and you will find that if you enjoy that activity, you will make and take approximately 20% of your available time to focus on it.

Automate Routine Tasks

This involves using tools and software to automate repetitive tasks. For example, email filters can save an average of 30 minutes per day.  

If you’re still a fan of written to do lists on paper, ask yourself if it’s time for a difficult break up and an upgrade to an online tool.  Handwritten to do lists can leave you prone to making mistakes and are also easy to lose.  

There is an abundance of tools available on whichever software calendar you are using.  The likelihood is that your colleagues are using an identical system, making it easier to communicate and automate.

Delegate Tasks

Assigning tasks to team members can free up to 20% of your time (that figure again!), allowing you to focus on more critical activities.  

There are many myths associated with delegation, one of which is that you can only delegate downwards if you can forgive the phrase.  The reality is that it is possible to delegate across to peers and colleagues and up to managers and leaders (think handover lists when you go on holiday).  If you work alone or run your own business, consider outsourcing tasks to subject matter experts, allowing you to focus on what you enjoy and where you add the most value. 

If you don’t feel comfortable delegating work to colleagues, check out our dedicated article with tips on how to delegate the right way.

Batch Similar Tasks

Grouping similar tasks together can help to reduce the time lost in context switching and can increase efficiency.

Plan ahead at the end of each day

Rather than procrastinating at the beginning of the day and scanning through which email to respond to first, taking five minutes out at the end of each day can help you to focus immediately at the beginning of each day.  You also have the benefit of signing off knowing that you have a clear focus and plan for the following day.

Avoid starting a meeting time on the hour or half hour

So many meetings run back-to-back, especially since the post pandemic boom in online meetings.  A review of the meetings you have attended in the past week will most likely show that the majority of not all were set to start on the hour or half hour.  Then ask yourself how many of those meetings actually started on time, not waiting for stragglers.

Try to create the habit of setting meeting times for 10 past the hour concluding at 45 minutes to or five minutes to the hour.  You will most likely achieve everything you would have done in one hour, freeing up some crucial space for you to reset before your next meeting.  And please don’t be the straggler holding everyone up!

Ask where you can add value in meetings

Continuing the theme of meeting etiquette, we work with plenty of people who get invited to multiple meetings, only to find they are in a room with many others and play at best a passive role.

If you can relate to this and would like to claim back some time, our tip is to contact the person who invited you to the meeting and explain that you are setting some time aside to prepare for their meeting.  Then ask them where you can specifically add value to the meeting.  Notice the positive use of words as opposed to, do I actually need to attend? which sounds far more negative.

Many of the people we work with find that when they ask this question, they are met with a response that no, there is nothing specific, we are reviewing x, y or z, leaving you with an opportunity to request a summary of the review, attend part of the meeting or delegate attendance to somebody who can take notes.  Where you do have a specific role to play, you can prepare accordingly.

By implementing these time management strategies, you can significantly enhance your productivity and reduce stress. Remember, effective time management is not about working harder but working smarter.

How can our time management training help you?

Our professional time management training offers numerous benefits:

  • Improved productivity by learning to prioritise and manage tasks efficiently.
  • Reduced stress by developing strategies to handle workload with ease.
  • A better Work-Life Balance by achieving a healthier balance between work and personal life.
  • Enhanced Team Collaboration by improving your delegation and communication skills.

It is no coincidence that one of the most popular requests we have is for our time management training.  If you can relate to any of the challenges discussed in this article, rest assured you are far from alone.  

If you would like to learn more about how to delegate or improve your time management skills, click here or give us a call on 01295 675506 for more information and a friendly no obligation consultation.

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