Time management is perhaps one of the most researched, studied, and obsessed over concepts in all of management. Back when physical bookstores were more relevant, you could find entire sections devoted to time management. People travel the world to attend seminars with time management gurus.
If you’re an aspiring or practicing manager, consultant, or business owner, you’ve probably encountered some of this already. The business world does, to some extent, self-select for people who take a proactive role in their own time management. You might even be naturally good at time management, at least on a personal level. Maybe you realized you could save the time you’d spend cooking every day by doing one day of meal prep per week. Maybe you’ve mastered the art of squeezing in a workout while listening to an audiobook in-between appointments.
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It’s certainly an advantage for a manager to be skilled at time management. But practicing effective time management for an entire workforce is a whole other ballgame. You already know how much discipline, self-knowledge, and forethought goes into effective time management on an individual level. When you add a second person to the mix, a new kind of collaborative system is created, and the complexity is essentially squared (see: marriage, or any kind of human relationship). Every new individual or procedure you add to a team or system has the potential to increase the complexity exponentially.
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If you’ve ever overseen a project or team, you know that any collaborative achievement, no matter how small, is something of a miracle. Bodies, resources, and procedures of all kinds must be synchronized. If they’re not, the project is vulnerable to confusion, mistakes, conflict, and other obstacles detrimental to the fulfillment of the shared goal. Almost everyone has had the experience of trying to ride a bicycle with a chain that has come loose. Even the slightest misalignment of an intricate system can render it useless.
In this article, we’re going to take a broad look at the concept, field, and industry of time management. We’ll look at some of the skills successful time management draws on, and the latest resources to help you develop them.
Time Management Definition
Before we go any further, it’s worth taking a step back and asking the rather obvious question: what is time management? First, we’ll establish a clear time management definition. This will ensure we’re on the same page before we move on to the many benefits of time management. For the purposes of this article, when we refer to time management, we mean the strategic use of an individual or organization’s time toward the fulfillment of the individual’s or the organization’s goals.
Time Management Skills
Of course, effective time management doesn’t just happen. Good time management is made of many smaller time management skills, used in tandem with one another. Here are a few key skills you’ll need to manage time effectively.
Time management is all about being strategic with your use of time to maximize the likelihood of fulfilling your goals. Of course, our larger and long-term goals are often made of short-term objectives and needs. Powerful managers of time will recognize which objectives are upstream of others, and work to fulfill them in an appropriate order.
Vision and Goal Setting
Prioritization only works properly if the goals are clearly defined and communicated. There must be a balance between overarching, long-term goals and shorter-term goals.
To-do lists enable prioritization. They force you to get things out of your head and down on paper. When you have extra time and are trying to figure out to do with it, your to-do list system can be referenced. This can help you fill the time you have as productively as possible. Getting Things Done, by David Allen, is one of the most successfully and popular books about productivity of all time. In this book, Allen stresses how long term, medium term, short term, and daily to-do lists can be integrated into a system to help you better manage your time.
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Teams are made of multiple people for a reason. Large projects require more energy, skills, and knowledge than any individual possesses. Good time managers make use of their team by delegating responsibilities for optimal results. You should not be working on something that someone else can do faster or at a far lower cost.
Workforces, operational processes, supply chains, markets, and timetables are all systems with many interlocking and moveable parts. People good at managing time often have experience overseeing the operation of complex and interdependent systems.
Ability to Concentrate
It is natural for the mind to wander. And sometimes, this can lead to creativity. But it’s difficult to be an effective manager of your own time if you are easily distracted from what you need to focus on.
Time Management Tips
In addition to the time management skills listed above, there are some more practical time management tips and time management strategies we’ve collected here.
Our first 3 time management tips are somewhat high level and strategic in nature.
Let Go of What You Don’t Need
This is probably the most important aspect of time management. Nobody gets into business – or at least nobody stays in business – unless they have some combination of stubbornness, ambition, and optimism. You might call this combination of qualities bull-headedness. Bull-headedness can be an extremely powerful quality in some situations, but it can be harmful when it comes to time management. It’s easy to get hung up on trying to fight yesterday’s battle, or to keep pursuing an old goal at all costs. Many managers have found wisdom in an old gambler’s expression: don’t throw good money after bad. That wisdom can be applied to time management. Don’t waste time chasing something unnecessary.
Be Strategic With the Things You Really Do Need
In addition to shedding old goals and processes, you’ll need to learn to properly sort out the needs that remain. Let’s say your team is responsible for overseeing the renovation of a building. It’s true that you will eventually need to choose a paint color, but before that you’ll need to make sure the walls are structurally sound, the electricity/plumbing operational, etc. It wouldn’t make sense to have all your workers prioritize sorting through paint samples before taking care of the other stuff.
Don’t Forget What It Means To Be Human
One thing we often see is people neglecting to schedule self-care. This might come in the form of socializing, exercising, experiencing nature, eating, etc. If we don’t get our physical/psychological needs met, we run the risk of burning out. It’s also true that, on an organizational level, managers sometimes emphasize the needs of the company without considering the needs of the human beings that make up the company. The resiliency of our organizations, and the efficacy of everything we do, will both be improved if we remember to provide sufficient care on a human level.
Now, let’s explore a few more tactical time management tips.
There are note taking and calendar apps that can and should be used to manage your time more effectively. From OneNote to Evernote to something as simple as Google Calendar, there are many time management apps and time management tools to help you be more productive.
Manage Your Calendar
Use your calendar to block off personal time. Use it to block off creative time. Use it to force yourself to spend time on longer term, strategic projects that you might otherwise ignore until it becomes too late.
Plan Out Your Calendar in 15 or 30 Minute Intervals
Have you ever had so much to do that you just didn’t know where to start and eventually waste hours in a state of limbo accomplishing much less than you thought you would? We surely have.
When you organize your tasks for the day and week in 15 to 30 minute intervals and put them on your calendar, it helps you mentally commit to working on those tasks. The shorter chunks of time also make the tasks not as intimidating. Placing these soft internal deadlines on yourself will also help you see how much time you should budget for each assignment and help organize your day. We also suggest organizing your tasks in order of priority so you get the important things out of the way first.
Of course, there will be times when you can’t complete tasks in time, but you can always re-budget your time and move things around in your calendar as needed. The important thing is to commit to them on a calendar and getting to work.
Create the Right Working Environment and FOCUS!
This time management and productivity technique is crucial and easy. We know it’s tempting to check your phone and see that cat meme your friend tagged you in on Instagram. We know and feel your pain.
It may not seem like a big deal, but each small distraction greatly lowers productivity as a whole.
To focus well, you need to create the right environment by putting away any potential distractions. This includes turning your phone off (yes, OFF!), putting food at a distance where you can’t see it, and placing blocks on your calendar so your co-workers know not to interrupt you.
This isn’t a new or novel time management and productivity technique but it is an extremely important one that should not be overlooked.
In one of his recent works, Cal Newport talks about how focus is the new IQ. In our distracted world, the ones that get ahead are the ones who can limit distractions the best.
Set Expectations so You Know When You Are Done
Perfection is would be great to achieve consistently – but we must recognize that more often than not, perfection is an ideal, not a necessity. Setting high but reasonable expectations with each task is important in boosting your productivity.
An author could write and revise a book endlessly but at some point, she needs to put down her pen and publish. The same goes for work.
While spending extra hours on certain things is necessary, spend too much extra time on every assignment is a productivity killer. Understand expectations from your seniors and do the best you can with the limited time you have. Do jobs well, not perfectly.
Manage Your Energy Rather Than Your Time
There are certain times in the day that are better for certain tasks. For example, if you’re a morning person who thrives with creativity energy from 6AM-10AM, then block that time out for brainstorming and strategizing. You don’t want to be wasting that time in meetings or answering emails.
Everyone is different, but if you are a manager at a firm, make sure to speak with your employees. Learn what their best habits are and do your best to accommodate to their periods of productivity. It may make team schedules a little less flexible, but it will likely lead to a boost in productivity.
Take Smart Breaks
It may sound counterintuitive, but taking breaks in a strategic way is actually a very important way to increase productivity. If you feel burnt out, there is no way for work to be done in an effective manner. We recommend taking breaks after a certain interval (i.e. 30 minutes) or after a significant task is accomplished.
Additionally, make sure you are taking small breaks that won’t lead to longer ones. For example, you may want to take a short walk around the office rather than \ browsing through YouTube and risk getting sucked into a black hole of recommended videos.
Time Management Examples
In order to really appreciate the importance of time management, let’s look at some time management examples. Let’s say your goal is to get into an MBA program so you can pursue a career as a management consultant. You have three months until you take the GMAT. That seems like a lot of time. You go into it feeling good about your ability to prepare for the test. However, you fail to schedule in any specific time to do your test prep. You let it slip your mind for several weeks until finally you only have a few more weeks to prepare. But those last weeks are busy, and things keep going wrong. You end up hardly studying at all. What happened? You failed to practice effective time management.
Other examples of bad time management: you pay your employees to sit and do nothing as they wait for a component to be delivered. Your information flow is inefficient and small amounts of regularly wasted time gradually add up. Or you fail to establish a regular procedure for a frequent problem or need. All these examples of bad time management lead to wasted time, and wasted dollars.
Time Management Quotes
Many people find quotes helpful ways to remind themselves of bits of wisdom they might otherwise forget. We’ve collected a few time management quotes below.
“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.”
– Miles Davis
“Time is the most valuable coin in your life. You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent. Be careful that you do not let other people spend it for you.”
– Carl Sandburg
“It is not enough to be busy… The question is: what are we busy about?”
– Henry David Thoreau
“Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.”
– Peter Drucker
“The lost time is never found again.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Time Management Apps & Tools
If you know anything about Silicon Valley, you probably know that the entire digital community is obsessed with productivity, efficiency, and, yes, time management. It should come as no surprise that there are an abundance of time management apps. Some of these are extremely helpful, and you’ll want to put them in your (or your employees’) arsenal of time management tools.
Does it often feel like time just slips away from you? That sense of lost or wasted time is what RescueTime is designed to solve. It tracks your different activities and gives you reports so you can identify where time is being wasted. The app has settings to block distractions and help teams.
Toggl is another useful time management tool for keeping track of which activities actually take up your time. Toggl has an impressive user interface with colorful and intuitive data presentation.
One time management tool you have now heard of is the Pomodoro Technique. As a reminder, it’s a way of organizing time into productive units and break units. This helps many people maximize focus and performance. Focus Keeper helps you practice the Pomodoro Technique.
The proliferation of devices and platforms seems designed for convenience, but it can eat up huge quantities of our time. The difficulty in consolidating all the information scattered across different platforms is a big source of unnecessarily wasted time. Remember the Milk synthesizes tasks and appointments across just about every kind of device or platform you can imagine, so everything you have to do is finally all in one place.
Of course, the many distractions the internet offers are one of the main enemies of productivity and efficient time management. If you’re trying to cut down on your own distractions, Freedom will disable your internet from all function except what you need to get your work done (for a specified length of time, of course).
You don’t get to be one of the richest men in the world without having great time management and productivity skills. This productivity strategy created by the Oracle of Omaha helps you determine your overall life priorities. Essentially, you create a list of 25 of your biggest goals and then out of that list, pick the 5 most important. Those 5 are what you should focus on and avoid all the others at all costs, as they will take away your focus.
Under the Ivy Lee method, at the end of each night you write down your six most important tasks to accomplish the following day – in order of importance. This productivity method motivates you to tackle the most important thing first. This method helps reduce decision fatigue and forces you to prioritize on your goals.
This simple decision matrix will help you take action, organize tasks, and increase your overall productivity. In this matrix, you compare the urgent vs. important tasks you have and prioritize working on the urgently important ones first. The tool is extremely flexible and is applicable to both small and broad plans.
Put simply, the Pomodoro Technique involves setting a timer, and working intense 25 or 50 minute blocks on a given project. When time is up, you force yourself to take a break and refresh. But because you know you are only asking yourself to work for 25 minutes, you are more likely to be productive during that time.
Time Management Books
Long before there were time management apps, there were time management books. And of course, many people still find books an enjoyable natural way to learn. We’ve listed some of the most helpful time management books here.
Title: Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress Free Productivity
Author: David Allen
Book Summary: Mentioned earlier in this article, this book is a classic. It teaches you how to improve time management via a system of goal setting, prioritizing, and associated list-making to be more productive. A key lesson from the book is that, by creating lists, you can become less stressed, but more creative and productive.
Title: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Author: Stephen R. Covey
Book Summary: You may have heard of this book, as it’s perhaps the most popular time management book of all time. This book has helped many people learn to define and organize their priorities so their actions align with what is meaningful to them.
Title: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Author: Greg McKeown
Book Summary: This is a more recent entry. Essentialism takes a more radical approach to prioritization, advocating a courageous and blissful ability to shift attention away from distractions, from past objectives, from old scripts, and from whatever isn’t essential.
Title: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Author: Benjamin Franklin
Book Summary: Long before the post-industrial obsession with time management, there was kooky old Ben Franklin distilling his (quite colossal) business success down into such quaint aphorisms as, “Have you somewhat to do tomorrow, do it today.” Franklin is a largely self-taught example of entrepreneurial success and his autobiography is highly instructive. His careful and logical examination of his own practices helped him develop insights similar to those that seemed revolutionary when called scientific management over 100 years later.
Time Management Matrix
The time management matrix is a tool from the Covey book mentioned above, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This matrix is adapted from a time management tool Dwight D. Eisenhower developed. Essentially, the matrix consists of four quadrants. Each quadrant contains whatever tasks are assigned to it based on its category. The categories are:
- Quadrant I: Important and Urgent
- Quadrant II: Important and Not Urgent
- Quadrant III: Not Important and Urgent
- Quadrant IV: Not Important and Not Urgent.
The power of this tool is it delineates between importance and urgency (which refers to how suddenly a thing must be addressed but not its long-term importance). Covey reasoned that Quadrant I had to be attended to, but that too much time spent there would cause a neglect of Quadrant II, which contains most of the deeply important long-term goals. Most highly effective people try to spend as much time as they can focusing on Quadrant II.
How to Manage Time
The main focus areas of time management are prioritization, organization, and execution.
Prioritization involves defining short and long-term goals so as to define the values by which you manage your time. This is where an app that details what’s actually consuming your time, or a book that helps you map out what’s truly important to you, can come in handy. Organization refers to all the ways you actually strategize how to spend your finite time. This is where a powerful cross platform time-keeping and task-logging app, such as Remember the Milk, can help you. Execution refers to your ability to enact your plans in accordance with the timetables you envisioned.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the goal of time management is to allow for the most effective use of time, energy, and attention. No matter what quadrant the activity you’re doing falls under, bringing real presence to the doing of that activity will go a long way in making the best use of your resources.
Time Management Training
If you’re the kind of person who learns best from formal teaching, then you’ll be interested in time management training. There are many different individual coaches and large-scale educational organizations devoted to training people in time management, including Management Consulted. Contact us today to see how we can help your organization improve prioritization and time management skills.
As we have seen, time management is precisely the art of diverting our resources toward those things most important to us. Our time management skills, therefore, are what determine whether our actions add up to our long-term goals, or whether they take us somewhere else entirely.
The world of 2021 offers an unprecedented array of enemies to our time management skills. But it also offers totally new resources for reclaiming your time and attention. From time management tips, to apps to books to companies that specialize in time management training, there is help available for you if you want it. We suggest taking a close look at how you can improve your own time management skills today.
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