Make the most of your time, get more done, and reach your goals with these 8 amazing time management strategies. Free time management printables included.
First of all, what is time management? Thanks to Wikipedia, we have the following definition: time management is the process of planning and exercising conscious control of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity.
That’s a nice definition. But how do we apply this to our lives? What are specific time management strategies that we- as normal, everyday people- can use to make the most of our lives?
This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I used to be busy all the time. Crazy busy. But I never felt like I was getting anything done.
I had the same 24 hours that everyone else did. Why was I rushing around, but still not making progress towards my goals? It was because I had poor time management skills. I was confusing the concept of “busy” with “productive.” This was wasting my life one busy day at a time.
Then I discovered an amazing goal setting system and the concept of goals vs. systems. With those two things combined, I’ve achieved more in the last two years than the 10 previous years combined. And as I learn more about success, what works, and what doesn’t- I become even more productive. It’s an amazing process that I want you to experience.
Everyone gets the same 24 hours a day. But some people completely rock it! While others get nothing done. And wonder what happened to the day. Good time management allows you to complete more in a shorter period of time, reduces stress, and leads to success.
What are some time management strategies that you can apply to your life? Read on.
1. Have an effective to-do list
How effective is your to-do list? Do you have a prioritized list that helps you get things done? Or is it an endless list of things you don’t do and feel guilty about?
Having a to-do list doesn’t mean you’re going to be productive. You need to have an effective one. There are multiple ways to make your to-do list more effective.
• Prioritize your tasks. This is vital! There’s a theory out there that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. Prioritize your list and make sure you’re spending time on those actions that actually have results. You can letter them “A to F” (with A as being high priority and F being low priority). Or number them 1 through 4. The specific method doesn’t matter. So take some time and prioritize your to-do list now.
• Related to prioritizing your tasks is having more than one to-do list. You might have a household one. Another one for work. Another for personal stuff. Multiple lists aren’t a requirement. Multiple lists might work best for you if you have a lot on your to-do list.
• Be specific. Vague tasks don’t get done. Or they’re done badly and miss key components.
• Use a planner or calendar. Schedule tasks in advance. My planner is constantly at my side. I’m also very careful with what I schedule. Just like with a budget (where you’re telling your dollars where they’re going to go), you’re going to tell your time where to go.
Some examples of good time management strategies:
– I batch errands that take place outside of the house. Instead of making trips on three different days to different things, I schedule to get everything done in one trip. It not only saves on gas, but saves time.
-I have the day planned out the night before. Instead of wasting the first hour I’m awake and most productive figuring out what I need to do, I already have my most important tasks defined.
• Try out different methods of keeping your to-do list. Do what works for you and allows you to be the most efficient. You might prefer paper. An app. Or some combination of the two.
2. Set goals
One of the biggest time management strategies you need to start is setting goals.
• As I mentioned in the introduction that there is amazing goal-setting system I discovered. You can find it in the free planner I put out each year.
You start with a big goal and break it down, step-by-step. Define your yearly goal. You break that down into quarterly milestones and tasks. Then you attack the first quarter and break it down into months. Finally, you take the current month and figure out what specific actions you need to take THIS WEEK to achieve your goal. You continue the process through the entire year. Check out the free printable planner for the worksheets and more detailed instructions.
• Have a “Big Three” for each week (or day). Have three specific tasks that you aim to complete. The “big three” get priority over other items on your to-do list.
• If you’re not setting specific goals, then you’re not going to achieve anything. It doesn’t matter if you’re a housewife or a CEO. There are things we all want to achieve. Setting goals and using a system that works are vital to achieving them.
3. Beat procrastination
Procrastinating is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in effective time management. Whether we do it consciously or unconsciously, there are tasks that we are avoiding. However, we don’t have to fall into the procrastination trap. By recognizing it and taking action, we can STOP being one of those people who always procrastinate.
• Sometimes, a small task that isn’t high priority will start to take up an incredible amount of your attention. It might be something simple, like buying a gift or getting a thank-you note out. But you continually feel guilty about not doing it. But still don’t do it. It’s taking up mind-space and interfering with tasks that are truly important. In this case, just do it. Even if it’s not a high-priority item on your to-do list.
• Clarify your “why.” Why are you avoiding this task? Do you feel incompetent? Is it too overwhelming? Is it boring? Be honest about what is causing you to procrastinate. And then overcome it.
For example, if you don’t feel competent, find out what areas you’re lacking in. And work to strengthen those areas. If it’s too overwhelming, break it down into smaller tasks and attack them one by one. If it’s boring, eat the frog (in other words, just get it done and over with). You’ll feel better.
I also have a post “How to Be Persistent” that you might want to check out. It goes into finding your “why” for doing things. If you have a regular task that you dread or procrastinate on, this post might help you define your why and keep you motivated.
• Eat the frog. Pick the task you are dreading the most for the day. Do it first thing. Everything is downhill from there! You already got the worst over with.
• If it takes less than 5 minutes, just do it now and get it done with. This is a great rule to follow! Cleaning the entire kitchen might need to be planned. But taking out the trash that is overflowing and bothering you every time you step in the kitchen? Just bite the bullet and take it out.
4. Activity priority matrix
First of all, what is an activity priority matrix? (Isn’t that a mouthful?)
It’s a simple diagramming technique that allows you to visualize your various tasks in terms of impact and effort. This technique is most often used in business. But the technique works just as well for students, homemakers, and those who work at home (like me!). Thanks to ToolsHero, EPM, and MindTools for their information. It’s widespread, so I don’t mind sharing it with you. I did want to let you know I didn’t come up with this concept.
In the activity priority matrix, you define the level of effort a task requires (on a scale from 1-10). And the impact of the task (on a scale from 1-10).
Then you chart it on a graph. Here’s an image of how the graph is divided into four sections. There is a also a free printable activity priority matrix worksheet below.
As you can see, there are four categories.
• Quick Wins: These are our low effort, but high impact tasks. These are great! We’re going to focus on doing these first. There is a high return on the small amount of time invested in these tasks.
• Major Projects: These tasks are defined by high effort, but also high impact. While we’re going to prioritize them and do them, we don’t want to let them interfere with our quick wins.
• Fill-Ins: These are our low effort, low impact tasks. It’s advisable to keep a separate to-do list with these activities. Then, when you have some time, get them out of the way. Above we talked about how sometimes a low-priority task can start taking up mind space, though. If one of these fill-ins is starting to interfere with getting real work done, it’s best to just to do it and get it done. These also might be tasks that can be dropped completely. If the impact is close to zero, does the task really need to be done?
• Thankless Tasks: These tasks are defined by their high effort, but low impact. They’re well-named. If at all possible, delete these off your to-do list. Just say “no”. Or delegate them to someone else if you can.
Here is the worksheet (just hit the download button below):
5. Stop Multitasking
The stats are out and the truth is clear: multitasking doesn’t work. Only 2.5% of people can multitask effectively (source). Our brains are wired to focus on only one task at a time. So turn off the news show while you’re working. You’re not absorbing the news in the background…it’s just adding audio clutter that is distracting you from doing your best.
Along with focusing on only one task at a time, you can also set a timer. Setting a time limit helps you become more focused and efficient. It also helps you not to get distracted by social media or phone calls. You’ve got a deadline!
Batch your tasks. Set aside a certain amount of time to answer e-mails (for example). Again, set a timer. When you’re done, you’re done. Don’t be popping in your inbox every hour.
6. Give up on Perfection
This was a serious issue in my life and one I’ve worked hard to overcome.
Not everything is going to be perfect. A flip on the 80/20 rule is be satisfied with 80% done. Keep the big picture in mind, don’t get hung up on small details.
It can be hard at first. I’ve been there and had to fight to say “this is good enough even though it’s not perfect.” But giving up on perfection has saved me countless hours. And has lowered my stress level.
7. Know Thyself
Are you a morning person? If so, get up an hour earlier than everyone else and knock those tasks out of the ballpark. Or are you a night owl? If so, get the kids to bed early and use this most productive time of the day to get things done.
Knowing your body’s natural cycles will help you take the best advantage of your peak time.
Plan tasks that don’t require a lot of thought (such as replying to e-mails) during times that you know you’re not at your peak efficiency.
8. Do a time audit
There is a free printable worksheet below. You can use it in one of two different ways (or you can do both if you’re ambitious).
1)The first method is to divide your day into 100 10-minute blocks.
Your day starts with 1,440 minutes. Assume you’re going to sleep about 7 & 1/2 hours. That will leave us with an even 1,000 minutes.
For the ease of viewing things, let’s break those into 10-minutes blocks. So you’re standing there looking at 100 little blocks, 10-minutes each, that you have to “spend” throughout the day. So you don’t need to track sleep (we already allotted time for that). But when you’re awake, keep track of what you’re doing each 10 minutes.
2)The second method is to divide your week into 100 1-hour blocks.
In one week, you have 168 hours.
• We’re going to give 7 hours a night to sleep. That leaves us 119.
• Let’s give another 4 hours a week to grooming- brushing teeth, showers, etc. Now we’re down to 115.
• Let’s give 14 hours a week to cooking and eating. That’s 2 hours a day dedicated to that! More than generous. We’re down to 100.
So all your time that isn’t dedicated to sleeping, grooming, cooking/eating, you keep track of what you’re doing. How are you spending each hour? Write it down on the worksheet.
Use the worksheet below to track your life and see if you’re spending your time on important things. Or if things like Facebook are stealing blocks from your life that you could be working towards your goals.
If you don’t want to track it on paper, there are apps for that! I used to use an app called “Eternity” to log into and out of tasks. It made fancy charts and showed me how I was REALLY spending my time. I now limit my Facebook usage.
Download the pdf by clicking on the download button below.
apply these time management strategies
Now that you’ve learned about some time management strategies, it’s time to apply them to your life.
Just knowing about them isn’t going to achieve anything. You have to work hard to include these strategies in your life.
Do you have another strategy I didn’t cover? If so, comment below! Or comment letting me know which one of these you really loved.
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