There is no silver bullet when it comes to improving work efficiency. Professional productivity varies throughout each day, week, and month. However, using time management strategies can help you better manage your schedule, your energy, and your attention.
Here, we highlight some of the best time management strategies available. In addition to giving your productivity a lift, these helpful practices may help reduce stress, boost your energy, and free up more of your time.
Reflect on how you use your time
Making the most of your time often starts with self-reflection. Use the following questions as a guide to better understand your current processes.
You can use your answers to help you choose time management strategies.
When are you most productive and alert?
Our internal productivity clocks follow a rhythm that can impact how productive we are during certain times.
Think about when you feel most alert and ambitious and schedule the most important tasks during this time. These peak productivity periods should be filled with focused deep work.
What are your distraction habits?
Many people are surrounded by distractions that make it difficult to focus on work. To combat these interruptions, you must first understand your distraction habits.
Think about what distracts you most, when distractions tend to strike, and your energy levels when they do.
Where do you place your time, energy, and attention during the workday?
Honestly evaluate how you delegate your time, energy, and attention. Think about what you commit to completing tasks and what you give to your breaks.
While breaks have health and productivity benefits, too many breaks whittle away at your working hours. Figure out how things currently work in order to make improvements.
Do you need better boundaries?
When thinking about how to improve your focus, you should analyze your boundaries at work. Do you make yourself freely available to your coworkers? What about your friends and family?
While certain contacts need instant responses, you may need to put off responding to emails, calls, texts, and social media messages to better manage your time.
How do you spend your time before starting work?
Finally, you should assess your morning routine. Think about what you do to prepare yourself for work and consider what type of headspace you are usually in to start your day.
Do you wake up and go, eat breakfast, or exercise? Does your commute relax or stress you out?
Time management strategies you can start right away
After answering those questions, you should have more perspective on your work habits and processes. You can now implement time management strategies to improve your productivity and take control of your day.
You know yourself best. If one of these options doesn't work for you, try something else.
1. GTD method
Productivity consultant David Allen created a method called Getting Things Done, which helps professionals organize and order their time. Allen highlights five necessary steps to this method:
Record everything that grabs your attention throughout the day.
Clarify whether the attention-grabber requires action or not.
Organize all attention-grabbers into categories, such as actionable, trash, or hold.
Review these categories, attention-grabbers, and distractions regularly.
Engage this system to make better decisions with your time.
2. Set monthly and weekly priorities, which will inform your daily priorities
Prioritizing your weekly and monthly tasks by importance and urgency can help you figure out how to plan your individual days and stay on track. Try to complete the most important tasks long before they're due. Work on them during the times that you are most productive.
This will ensure that you get the necessary jobs done while you still have energy. This also leaves you time to sprinkle in the leftover tasks as your schedule frees up.
3. Plan out your day
Laying out your daily schedule can help you focus on the tasks at hand without worrying about what else you need to do. At the end of the workday, write out all the duties you have to complete the following day. Or you can do this each morning.
In addition to freeing up your brain, planning your day in this way can help you prioritize and avoid procrastinating or forgetting a task altogether.
On paper, large tasks look daunting and can be challenging to start. To fight back against procrastination, try breaking these up into smaller, more manageable pieces. These smaller tasks will be easier to start and complete.
Bonus: Checking off the completed items as you go can feel rewarding.
Time-blocking your day is a popular time management strategy. This method has you set aside chunks of time for related tasks, such as administrative duties, deep-work assignments, emails, breaks, meetings, and planning.
This strategy may help you focus on tasks and ward off distractions, knowing that you have a scheduled block upcoming for other things. Time-blocking also helps you prioritize and visualize your tasks and your day.
6. Batch similar tasks together
When laying out your daily tasks, consider grouping similar duties together as an effective time management strategy. This will help you avoid context switching, an unproductive method of mentally juggling multiple tasks.
By task batching, you can more easily move between tasks that require the same or similar skills. Your mindset will be consistent and your actions more deliberate when switching.
7. Limit checking email and work messaging apps (unless it's a core job duty)
Many professionals get regular emails and messages throughout the day. Constantly checking and responding to these could create real productivity issues. Unless responding to emails and messages is a primary part of your job, you might want to limit how often you respond.
Consider snoozing your email and message notifications as a time management strategy. Set aside time to go through and respond to all the contacts you received up to that point. This eliminates a possible disruption to your focus.
8. Stay organized
When your desk is unorganized, it can be difficult to focus on one thing. It's the same for your brain. Your brain can only focus on a few things at once, so mental clutter takes away from important tasks and productivity.
Mental clutter can be minimized with proper planning and organization. Spend some time writing out all the things you need to do that day and schedule time to complete it. If you find your brain getting bogged down with new things to do, pause and write those out as well.
9. Avoid rapid task-switching and half-working
Multitasking and task-switching may seem like a productive time management strategy, but it may actually do more harm than good. According to the American Psychological Association, switching between tasks slows us down by creating small mental blocks after each shift.
Over time, these small blocks build up and result in mental fatigue and a great deal of wasted time. Avoid this by committing effort to starting and completing a task.
10. Find productivity tools that work for you
Productivity apps help you manage your time and your tasks. They keep you organized and help you plan out your days and projects. By providing you with time management strategy assistance, these apps help you manage your to-do lists and schedules more effectively.
With many great options available, find one or two that fit well with your style and best accommodate your needs.
Embracing a healthy attitude toward time management
Implementing time management strategies is a process that may take time to come together. You will never achieve perfection because unexpected interruptions and circumstances are part of the typical workday.
The important thing is to develop practices that will gradually and collectively improve your schedule and productivity.
While it's important to commit to these time management strategies, you also need to be forgiving and fair with yourself. There will be times when your productivity drops, so try not to be too hard on yourself when this happens.
You need to give yourself time to break and recharge as well, which can help you avoid getting burnt out.