Skip to main content

How to Improve Your Time Management Skills

04 July 2024
man holding clock

The source of so-called ‘poor time management’ varies from untimely distractions, unrealistic planning on the part of ourselves and others, procrastination, being in a role that depends on the timing of others, the list is frankly never ending and varies for each of us depending on our individual circumstances.

For example, a Microsoft study found that employees spend around 57% of their time at work communicating. This amounts to 4 hours and 33 minutes spent managing emails, attending meetings, and communicating via the team chat app.

Regardless of the source, it remains a challenge for so many, even those that claim to be really organised. For businesses and individuals alike, effective time management is crucial for maintaining productivity, achieving goals and some semblance of a healthy work-life balance.

So why is this such a challenge and what are the tools and strategies for improved time management?  

This article lays out some of the common time management challenges and offers solutions to enhance your skill set. By improving these skills, you can foster a more efficient and organised workplace. 

Typical Time Management Challenges:

There are many challenges associated with not managing time properly.  Some overlap and when combined can be debilitating for the individual and the Organisation.  Here are just a few:

Becoming Overwhelmed

Taking on too much at once can lead to burnout, a lack of clarity of thinking and detrimental mental health.  This can happen when an unexpected deadline or problem looms or through a steady build-up of workload, leading to working long and unsociable hours in a bid to cope and keep up.

Struggling to Say No

As the saying goes, if you need something done, find the busiest person. This may well be down to their ability to do the task but just as likely because of their lack of ability to push back and say no without feeling guilty. This is a common trait in many of us and can often be fuelled by the culture of the Organisation we work for and the relationship with colleagues and line managers.

Poor Planning

Without a clear plan, it's easy to lose focus and a track of priorities. This may occur because the plan of the Organisation and/or leadership team has not been communicated clearly or through a lack of individual planning skills.


A famous quote from Tim Urban sums up procrastination nicely.  

Now, the Dark Playground is a place that all of you procrastinators out there know very well. It’s where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the Dark Playground isn’t actually fun, because it’s completely unearned, and the air is filled with guilt, dread, anxiety, self-hatred — all of those good procrastinator feelings.” 

Put bluntly, delaying tasks only increases stress and reduces productivity.

Frequent Distractions

Following on from and linked to procrastination, interruptions can severely impact focus and efficiency. This may have lots to do with your working environment, energy levels, quality of sleep, diet etc…  Some distractions are inevitable but are easily found if we choose to find them.

Lack of Organisation

Being disorganised can lead to wasted time and effort.  This is related to being able to work smarter rather than harder.  For further help with getting organised, check out our best time management tips article.

The Benefits of Good Time Management:

Luckily, the benefits of effective time management are plentiful and can lead to numerous benefits, including:

  • Improved efficiency
  • Reduced stress levels
  • Enhanced productivity
  • Better work-life balance
  • Reduction in errors
  • Greater job satisfaction

The best Time Management skills, and how to improve them:

The ability to plan & prioritise tasks appropriately

It is sometimes difficult to avoid making irrational or emotional decisions when it comes to planning especially if your workload is relentless and deadlines are looming large frequently.  Under such circumstances, the difference between something being ‘urgent’ and ‘important’ become clouded.

A simple way of avoiding this is to set a 90-day plan.  The way this works is that you ask yourself, 90 -days from today, what 5 outcomes have I and/or my team completed which means we will look back on that period of time with some pride? Examples may range from completing a project, launching a new product or service, or a new hire starting.  

Applying Pareto’s 80/20 rule, the next step is to schedule in 20% of your time on these tasks, allowing you the remaining 80% of your time to focus on ‘business as usual’ tasks.

Clarity when Communicating

Unclear communication is the root cause of many work-related challenges and time management is not exempt from this list. For example, consider a typical question ‘how urgent is this?’ We all know the likely outcome of that question! Switching that question however to ‘when is the first opportunity you are likely to have to review this work?’ can often give a different response. Something may be urgent if I am on leave next week and I want to remove it from my to do list but I may not have time to review it until I return.

If there is an opportunity to pick up the phone, this can often avoid a long drawn-out email trail and lead to an immediate response. Seeking permission to clarify over the phone in advance can avoid unwarranted concerns about bothering somebody.

Minimise multi-tasking

The complex world in which many of us live and work means that we are rarely focused on one task at a time, especially with distractions such as email and phone alerts competing for our attention. Yet multitasking is often overrated and leads to confusion.

Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota, developed a system called Kanban to improve manufacturing efficiency. The system takes its name from the cards that track production within a factory. It requires real-time communication of capacity and full transparency of work. Work items are represented visually on a kanban board, allowing team members to see the state of and focus on every piece of work at any time.

Set boundaries

You can be the most organised person in your Organisation but being disturbed by others can sometimes feel like it falls outside of our control and disrupt the best planned of schedules. One way to counter this is to set boundaries. For example, schedule some time aside for you to focus on your priorities. Then rather than tell people when you are not available and risk sounding unapproachable, tell them when you are available.

This works well for people managers who are used to having people come to them with problems on an ad hoc basis. Telling your team that you have set an hour aside for them to approach you with challenges means that you avoid the back-and-forth approach and you may also find that they resolve some of the problems for themselves rather than wait.

Please note that setting boundaries also takes some self-discipline, patience and practice. Be realistic with your expectations that this can take a few weeks to bed in but you won’t regret the outcome once this has become a norm.

Self-awareness of when you are most productive for certain task types

The art of effective time management is to focus on ‘self-management’ in the first instance.  Time is a constant and cannot be managed but we can manage how we use our time, how we spend it and when we choose to do so, albeit within the realms of reasonableness.

To share a personal example, when it comes to creativity, writing the content for this article flows more easily for me in the afternoon than it does in the morning.  The thought of achieving a task by lunchtime is attractive but if your brain has other ideas, it may be more pertinent to be honest and schedule time for a task that suits you best.

Limiting distractions can also be useful here, such as switching off email notifications temporarily or working in an environment free from temptation.  

Understanding the value of utilising breaks to improve efficiency

The value of a quick walk, a cycle or some fresh air should never be underestimated. We all have different levels of self-discipline and concentration levels but just as diet and sleep are essential for our levels of focus, so is the ability to take regular breaks.

Scheduling break times into your calendar or setting meeting times that are not on the hour or half-hour as is traditional, can allow you those valuable snippers of time to invest in yourself and your wellbeing. The challenge here is to create the habit of doing this, without feeling guilty or remaining glued to our phones.

Having the confidence to push back or say no

On paper this is so simple but the reality is that for many, there is a fear that using the word no will lead to a career limiting conversation.  

Clearly there are cultural factors to consider, both in terms of nationality and the Organisation that you work within. The premise of being assertive however, regardless of culture, is to respect yourself and others equally, regardless of gender, age, appearance and so on.  

Here is a useful process on which to base a conversation where you may be required to push back.

  1. Establish the reasonableness of the request by asking questions such as ‘tell me more about what you require from me’ or ‘when is the earliest time you will be able to review this piece of work?’

  2. If the request is reasonable, say yes with no regrets. 

  3. If the request is unreasonable, say no. It is tempting here to over apologise and start to give reasons why you are unable to support them in this task. This plays into their hands completely. Consider a child’s favourite question – ‘why?’ By asking why, the conversation remains in the current and past, meaning through persistence there is a chance you may change your mind.

  4. Move the conversation forwards by offering an alternative solution. For example, ‘I’m unable to complete this task today but I would be happy to make some time for you on Wednesday afternoon’

A flow diagram consisting of 5 items, summarising the steps mentioned above


Delegating Tasks

Delegation is an essential method of managing workload and avoiding burnout. You don’t need to look far for reasons not to delegate:

  • It’s quicker and easier to do it myself
  • What if I make myself redundant by delegating my tasks to others?
  • There isn’t anybody I trust enough to delegate to
  • What if they do a better job than me?
  • It’s the only part of my job that I enjoy so I’m not giving that up

The list is endless but delegation also comes with some key benefits:

  • It prevents single person dependency
  • It’s a great tool for succession planning, both for you and those around you
  • Delegating can aid retention when done well and reduce boredom where tasks are monotonous

There is a myth that delegation involves passing work down to those who report to you but it is equally valid to delegate tasks to peers, your line manager or even to outsource to internal or external experts. At a high level, here is a simple process for delegating tasks:

  1. Decide which tasks can or cannot be delegated

  2. Decide who you would like to delegate to

  3. Communicate the task using an appropriate leadership style to that task and individual

  4. Stay in control with check ins, again in line with the task and individual

  5. Share feedback and reflect on key learning points

Knowing when to delegate and how is a skill which often needs to be learned, supported or encouraged as it’s often incorrectly perceived as a weakness rather than a strength. However, effective and efficient delegation can significantly improve efficiency and wellbeing within a workplace.

If you would like help improving the delegation skills either for yourself or your team, please to checkout our professional delegation training or contact us for a friendly, no obligation chat to discuss the areas you need help with.

Factor in troubleshooting time:

Building in a trouble shooting element to your project or piece of work can lead to potential risks or issues being eliminated before they become a problem.

A simple example is proofreading a document before it is sent out. Tools such as cut and paste are incredibly useful but can lead to awkward conversations and further time if mistakes are made and not spotted in advance.

Monitoring and Measuring Your Time Management Improvements

One of the most important elements of creating and maintaining new habits is to have some tangible evidence that what you are doing is having a positive outcome.

So, what are the outcomes and measures you can expect from applying these techniques? 

Firstly, you should recognise that you have the time and energy to spend on activities you enjoy in your free time. We have talked about the importance of 90-day planning for your professional goals but this is equally important for your personal goals.

Can you for example look in your calendar and identify a minimum of five things you are really looking forward to? Maybe a meal out with a friend, a concert, a family day out or a holiday? If not, it is strongly recommended that you schedule some of these activities in.

Secondly, through impactful planning, you will begin to notice a decline in the number of meetings you attend.  In our time management tips article, we share some tips on the timing of meetings and how to ensure you are only invited to the meetings that you need to attend

Thirdly, through thoughtful delegation and applying the pushing back tool, you will begin to notice that you are receiving fewer emails and more of those that are relevant to you, rather than being copied in on hundreds of emails that require little or no action from you.

Fourthly and by no means least, you will notice that your productivity increases through working smarter, rather than harder and longer. Not only does this have positive impacts on your personal health and wellbeing, it is also good news for your colleagues, employer or clients.

Additional Time Management Techniques and Strategies

Managing our time efficiently has many far-reaching benefits, one of the main factors being the impact of stress in our lives, both the good stress and the not so good stress.

In a future article coming soon, we will explore this topic in more detail, focusing on:

  • The main symptoms of stress
  • Why stress is so damaging in the workplace
  • How good time management reduces stress
  • Some actionable tips to help you reduce the negative stress

How can our time management training help you?

Our 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, give us a call on 01295 675506 or contact us online for more information and to book a friendly, no obligation consultation.

To find out more or to book a free consultation: