Work Smarter, Not Harder: 60 Ways to Better Manage Your Time

By: Angela Escobar, MA, BCC

Effective time management requires a lot of effort and self-discipline. Some people claim that “there is not enough time in the day”. Who hasn’t wished at some point that there was a way to get more time in a day? It sometimes seems that we spend so much time rushing from place to place or task to task that we don’t actually accomplish anything. It can get overwhelming. Adopting and practicing techniques can help us to manage our time better, to help us prioritize tasks, and stay organized overall. They can help us to waste less time doing the things we have to do so we have more time to do the things we want to do. Bottom line, these tools can help us to increase efficiency and productivity when executed properly and consistently.
Feel free to utilize whichever tips and techniques resonate with you. There should be something here you can put into action right away. You might also find it useful to come back to these tips later to see what else you can do to boost your time management skills.
  1. Start by shifting your focus and beliefs about time. First of all, people often talk about not having enough time. We spend time focusing on the fact that there is not enough time in the day. We might even complain about it to yourself and/or others. Begin your efforts to better manage your time by simply shifting your focus and thinking instead about what you do have enough time for. Start talking and thinking about the time you do have instead.
  2. We’re all equal when it comes to time. The second step to managing your time is to face the fact that every single person on this planet has the same amount of time in a day to get things done, or to simply live life. Every single person has 24 full hours from start to finish in one single day. If someone else seems to get more done than you do, it’s not that you don’t have enough time (because in fact, you have the same amount of time as everyone else)—you just need to learn to manage your time more efficiently.
  3. Get enough sleep and eat well. If you’re sleep deprived and eating nothing but junk, it doesn’t matter how many time management techniques you choose to utilize—it’s not going to work. You’ll will always be tired, sluggish, groggy, and irritable (not to mention unhealthy). Start by taking care of yourself first.
  4. Get clear about what time spent well means to you. Ask yourself: What constitutes time well spent? Write a list of five things.
  5. Figure out where you’re killing your time. Who drains your time? Make a list of people who tend to “waste” your time (whether knowingly or unknowingly). What drains your time? Make a list of activities that “waste” your time (whether you enjoy doing them or not).
  6. What drains your energy? Don’t waste another minute doing those things or hanging out with people that no longer serve you. Not another minute.
  7. Plan each day by making a to-do list. List everything you want to/need to do in no particular order—just write them down. Then, number the items from most important to least important, and work from there.
  8. Prioritize a to-do list for tomorrow at the end of each day. At the end of your day, review what you’ve done and make a new list for the next day in order of importance. Don’t forget to transfer any tasks you didn’t get done today over to your list for tomorrow. If you find yourself transferring tasks often, you may need to stop and evaluate how you are managing your time—where is it all going? Why aren’t you getting things done?
  9. Get clear about your priorities. Make sure that what you think is important is really and truly important.
  10. Learn to differentiate between the important and the urgent. What’s important is not always urgent. What’s urgent is not always important.
  11. Carry your to-do list with you at all times. Review your list throughout the day to make sure you are staying on track and getting things done. Check off each task as you complete them.
  12. Assign a time limit to each task. Be clear that you need to finish Task “A” by 10am, Task “B” by 3pm, and Task “C” by 5:30pm. This prevents your work from dragging on, helps to ward off the urge to procrastinate, and keeps tasks from eating into time reserved for other activities.
  13. Work first on the tasks you hate. Do the hardest, least fun thing first. Just get it over with!
  14. Use the 5- minute rule whenever possible. Complete tasks that take LESS THAN 5 MINUTES right away. If you know they’ll take longer, put them on a list and tackle them one at a time afterwards.
  15. Set aside a pre-determined amount of time to complete certain tasks. For example, deal with E-mail at set times each day, if possible. If you need to check messages as they arrive, limit your time to less than five minutes.
  16. Schedule or allow yourself some uninterrupted time each day when you can concentrate on important tasks, even if you have to take refuge in a conference room or at the library. Find an unoccupied room or space where you can “hide” from everyone to get things done. Turn off your phone, put a “do not disturb” sign on your door, and don’t look at e-mail. Without interruptions, you can focus on getting things done and increase your productivity the rest of the day. You’d be surprised: What usually takes you an hour to get done may only take you half that time without any interruptions and distractions at all whatsoever.
  17. For a few days, take an inventory of how you spend your time to find out where and how you’re wasting it. List everything you do and approximately how much time you spend doing it.
  18. Eliminate time wasters and avoid distractions. If personal phone calls are taking up too much time during your workday, turn off your cell. Turn off notifications. You hear a ping on your cell phone from your social media profile or personal email. Before you know it, you’ve spent15-20 minutes on Facebook or going through personal emails. Just more lost time.
  19. For routine repetitive tasks—become aware of how long it takes you to complete them and try to do them faster. Set specific time limits for these routine tasks.
  20. Learn to set boundaries without coming off as asocial or rude. There will always be people who invade your workspace solely to gossip or chat simply out of sheer boredom. If you are busy, and they can see that you are busy, it’s obvious they don’t value your time. You must learn to value your own time and set boundaries. Let them know you’ll catch up with them later. Value your time and other people will do the same.
  21. Don’t over-schedule and/or over-commit yourself.
  22. Strive to maintain a zero inbox. Aim to handle pieces of paper only once. This also goes for E-mails. Read it and deal with it—save it in a folder, respond to it, or get rid of it. Don’t hang on to it for later.
  23. Keep yourself and your workplace organized. There’s should be a place for everything, and everything should be in its place. Don’t waste time looking for things you can’t find. Time spent looking for things adds up. Before you know it, you’ve spent half an hour to an hour just looking for things.
  24. Learn to identify and use down time. For example, while you’re waiting for meetings to begin, take your to-do list out and review it, or read and answer emails. You can get a lot done in half an hour. Don’t just sit there because you’ve only got half an hour until your next meeting or appointment. Catch up on a good book, knock out emails, write, return calls, etc.
  25. Don’t try to be a hero. Many people try to be the “Jack of all trades” at work, juggling several tasks at the same time but performing only at an average level. It’s better to be truly excellent at a few things than just average at many. When and where you can, say no. Trying to do everything everyone asks you to do will lead to failure and burn-out.
  26. Set your own deadlines. Set a deadline earlier than the actual deadline (even if it’s only by a few days). Work against your own deadlines rather the ones other people set for you. You will always remain in control of your time and work, plus you will meet every single deadline (since yours are scheduled early). This will also give you a buffer. Projects tend to take longer than you anticipate. Give yourself a little wiggle room.
  27. Leave some buffer time in-between tasks. Don’t schedule tasks too closely together. Leave a 5-10 minute buffer time in between each task. This helps you wrap up the previous task and start off on the next one. It gives you a chance to shift gears.
  28. Some people think that if they get their work done early, they’ll just be given more work to do, so they hold things off just to look busy all the time. Pace yourself instead. Remember to work against your own deadlines, and use that extra time to review and make improvements to your work before submitting it.
  29. Create your own unique work environment that is customized to your needs. Your environment should be comfortable, geared to suit your own unique needs, and increases the efficiency of your performance. Adjust the lighting, turn off your E-mail pinger, grab a cup of tea, set up a fan if it’s too hot, keep a sweater nearby if it gets too cold, surround yourself with your favorite color, play your favorite tunes, post up motivational and/or inspirational quotes or pictures, etc. Set the stage and get to work.
  30. Decide what not to do. Make a conscious decision about what you’re not going to do. Do away activities where you waste time. Go ahead and create that “NOT to-do” list.
  31. Start your workday earlier. Go in half an hour or an hour earlier than your scheduled time. Use that quiet time to get things done before everyone arrives and the chaos begins. Grab a cup of coffee or your favorite morning drink and enjoy the silence and solitude. More people tend to stay late at work than to go in early. Chances are, it will be quieter earlier in the morning than later in the evening.
  32. Keep work and personal time separate and balanced. Many people take work home and/or take home to work. Taking work home leads to feeling overwhelmed, frazzled, exhausted, and burned out. Taking home to work leads to time wasted and unnecessary distractions.
  33. Take several small breaks when you need them to recharge and refocus. Get up to stretch, take a short walk, get a drink of water, etc. Recent research shows that breaks every ninety minutes improve effectiveness. If you’ve gotten out of the habit of walking away from your work, try inserting a few breaks in your day. You may find yourself more productive by taking a few minutes off from working.
  34. Delegate tasks to others whenever and wherever you can. Big stack of papers you need to file? Find out if there is anyone that can help you with that. Filing takes forever! If there are things that can be better done by others or things that are not so important, consider delegating these tasks. This takes a load off and you can focus on the important tasks, those tasks that are high on your priority list.
  35. Schedule tasks to coincide with your peak (and not-so-peak) performance times.  Schedule demanding tasks for that part of your day when you’re at your peak.
  36. Have a clock visibly placed in front of you. Sometimes we are so caught up and lost in our work that we lose track of time. Having a large clock in front of you will keep you aware of the time at the moment. Try a digital clock with big red numbers—the color red naturally gives us a sense of urgency.
  37. Clock not enough? Set a timer. If you’re finding it difficult to tear yourself away from a task, even if you’ve been at it for hours, try setting a timer to go off after some time. This will help you shift gears and get other tasks done before the day is over.   It’s tempting to just continue working on something till you get it done, but if you have a list of things to do before the day is over, a timer may help.
  38. Set reminders. It’s best to set reminders 15 minutes before and important task or activity. This give you a chance to wrap up whatever you’re doing, mentally shift gears, run to the bathroom, and/or grab another cup of coffee or your favorite beverage before you begin another task or activity. Most calendars have a built-in reminder function. You can use your cell phone, a radio with an alarm, or a timer on the computer. Whatever works.
  39. Work on tasks one at a time. Sometimes, the best way to tackle a list of tasks is to take a “first things first” approach. This is hardest when we have a ton of things to do, and we are feeling overwhelmed. We tend to want to multi-task and juggle tasks in order to get it all done quickly. But, multi-tasking is not always possible. Just make a list and begin getting things done by working on one thing at a time.
  40. Break down large projects into small manageable tasks. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time until it’s all gone. Cut big jobs into small chunks. Order the chunks by importance. Work on one chunk at a time.
  41. Find the right time and place to work on tasks. Believe it or not, people try to get important things done at the wrong times. I learned this the hard way. I thought taking my desk work to a meeting was a smart move—heck, I’d knock out two birds with one stone. Instead, I missed being fully present, involved, and engaged at an informative meeting because I was too busy shuffling papers in a dark corner towards the back of the conference room. Not only that, but I’m sure I made a questionable impression on upper management. Train yourself to become more aware of the appropriate times and places to get tasks done.
  42. If possible, multi-task. If you must, take your reading material to the gym. Read it while you work out on the elliptical. Read and respond to your e-mail between sets of reps. Gym time is my time, so I am not a big fan of taking work to the gym, but sometimes we have no choice. If you take the train or bus to work and back home, go through your e-mail or a stack of papers during the commute. Some multitasking is dangerous and counterproductive. Obviously, you don’t want to try responding to emails while you’re driving. But on the other hand, many activities can be effectively and safely combined. I love listening to audio books on the long drive to work. I love watching a movie while paying bills, or listening to music while grading papers.
  43. Take advantage of commute time. Speaking of commuting, take advantage of that time to get a few things done. If you commute 30-45 minutes each way, that’s anywhere between 1 to 1.5 hours per day, or 5 to 7.5 hours per week that you’re losing by simply commuting to and from work. Find ways to use this time to get some work done (this applies only if you take the train, bus, or carpool—don’t attempt if you are driving).
  44. Enjoy what you do. Ultimately, it’s important that you enjoy what you do. If you absolutely hate your job and/or the work you are doing, you aren’t going to want to do it. You will subconsciously be looking for ways to avoid getting work done. You’ll procrastinate and take forever to make decisions. You’ll lack the motivation and inspiration to get anything done.
  45. Have a sense of urgency. Even if the deadline is weeks away, don’t relax for too long. Always try to have a sense of needing to get things done. Don’t procrastinate. Keep busy on getting your work done.
  46. Maintain your hardware and software. A slow computer means everything else will be slow, including the pace at which you work—this is true only if you rely on your computer to get the bulk, or all, of your work done. Keep your computer clean, maintained, and updated to keep it running as smooth and efficiently as possible.
  47. Use a time management tools and worksheets.   There are tons of time management tools and worksheets on the internet—several free print-outs are available. Try a few. Search for free or low-cost time management software that helps you to stay organized and prioritized. Try free or low-cost time management apps on your smartphone to keep you organized and prioritized on the go.
  48. Prevent disasters. Back up your files and save often. It’s happened before: You’ll spend a good amount of time drafting an email or important document when the lights go out or the computer decides to just….die on you for some mysterious reason. Once, I accidentally pulled my computer’s power cord out of the wall socket with my foot. Lost my work in one second. I had no choice but to do it all over again. Valuable lesson learned, but regardless a complete waste of time!
  49. Avoid taking a long lunch. Long lunches make it difficult to get back to work. Heavy lunches make us groggy and sleepy. The longer and heavier the lunch, the more difficult it is to get back on task.
  50. Make decisions quickly. Some people take days, weeks, even months to make a single decision. Accept the fact that it is impossible to know for sure the consequences of the decisions we make, and sometimes we just need to deal with things as they come. Make your decision and stick with it. If the time comes when you need to make an important decision, give yourself a time-frame and a deadline. Weigh the pros and cons, consider all other options, and consult with someone if you need to, but stick to your deadline. Make your decision and move forward. Going back and forth wastes time—yours and everyone else’s.
  51. Don’t be a perfectionist. Perfectionism, otherwise known as paying excessive attention to every detail, important or not, is a kind of procrastination. While you’re obsessing over potentially minute irrelevant details, precious time is ticking by. Your co-workers have moved on to complete other tasks while you’re still obsessing over the same one. Unless you work in Quality Assurance and/or Quality Control, let it go and move on. It’s really not that serious, unless it is.
  52. Batch similar tasks together. For related work, batch them together. This will create momentum and energy.
  53. Focus on being early every time. When you target to be on time, you’ll either be on time or late. Most of the times you’ll be late. However, if you aim at being early, you’ll most likely be on time. For appointments, strive to be early. For your deadlines, submit them earlier than required. Always plan on being early, and you’ll always end up being on time.
  54. Use an organizer or a planner. I mean the big nerdy paper type. I have been made fun of and picked on by family, friends, and co-workers for carrying around my bulky planner, but I’m the one laughing when they complain that nothing’s getting done in their world, while everything’s getting done in mine. The planner/organizer helps you to be on top of everything in your life. It’s your central tool to organize information, to-do lists, projects, and other miscellaneous items. I staple receipts, post-its, business cards, appointment cards, photos, etc. to pages on my planner. It’s never let me down so far.
  55. Use a calendar. Having a calendar is one of the simplest, yet most fundamental steps to managing your daily activities. I post paper calendars everywhere. I utilize the calendar on my phone and tablet. If you use outlook or lotus notes, calendar come as part of your mailing software. It’s even better if you can sync your calendar to your mobile phone and other hardwares you use – that way, you can access your schedule no matter where you are.
  56. Don’t force things to get done or happen. Some things need to happen in their own time. Are you trying to force things to happen in a certain time frame? Could you let it go and let things happen in their own time instead?
  57. Don’t be a task hog. I’ve heard many people say “If I want something done right, I’ll do it myself”. They don’t trust anyone to help them get things done. Ask yourself: Is there anyone else who could get the task done faster and better? Perhaps it caters to their strengths and/or talents. Give them a chance to shine while doing something they enjoy, and don’t forget to give credit where credit is due.
  58. Reward yourself when you get things done on time. Hold off doing fun stuff until the work stuff is done and out of the way.
  59. Take time off. Don’t fall into the 7-day work-week trap that many people unknowingly slip into. Take time to live life and enjoy things you love to do. Don’t wait till you’re retired to start living. It may be too late by that time. Don’t keep holding off your happiness till the time is right. The time will never be “right”. Do it now!
  60. Recognize and accept that you can’t do it all. Too many of us are stretched too thin and stressed out. Remember, we can do anything, but we can’t do everything—sometimes we need to simply realize and accept that simple fact.

 

 

Photo credit: Anthony Harvie/Getty Images

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This entry was posted in Achievement & Success, Life, Life Coaching, Personal Growth and Development, Self-Help, Self-Improvement and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Work Smarter, Not Harder: 60 Ways to Better Manage Your Time

  1. Haha, Wow, Great long list. You cold make this into a rollodex, spin it at random and then get productive!

    I find setting a very clear goal before every task is a great way to stay productive.

    Thanks for sharing. To reciprocate, I’ll offer some value. Check this out and I hope you enjoy: http://goo.gl/7SzEyY

    David

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