With these time management improvement tips you will feel more in control at work or home and achieve a better work-life balance. This can help with mental health and physical wellbeing.
The problem with time management is that most of the time we’re managing other people's time, not ours, other people's expectations of us, not ours, other people's agendas, not ours. This is why the great intentions for improving our time management can quickly wither away and old habits return. We revert to reacting to events and working on urgency.
The second other big issue with time management, or any other productivity strategy for that matter, is that it feels like something else to do. Time management feels like another task to consider, and we don’t have the time to consider anything else.
The third thing is that time management implies planning and commitment, two things that many people struggle with, understandably so. We don’t know what we don’t know, but when we find out, it may very well spoil our plans and good intentions, so why bother!
And fourthly, to cap it all off, we often plan our time around acquiring more money, more stuff or something bigger and better, not around those things that feed our soul like conversations, relationships, connection and creativity or inner peace. So, it’s no wonder we quickly give up and go back to being a Reactive Roger or Rebecca.
As Emma Donaldson-Feilder, a chartered occupational psychologist for the NHS says, "The aim of good time management is to achieve the lifestyle balance you want."
The productivity benefits of improving time management skills
- Better, deeper sleep, less anxiety and stress. When you know you’re working on the right task, you’ll feel less stressed, less conflicted and better able to say no to other tasks and priorities that will try to interrupt you. Which can only help you to sleep better.
- You'll achieve a better work-life balance, helping you to improve your mental health and wellbeing.
- You’re more likely to achieve something important to you rather than someone else.
- You’re more likely to achieve something significant, on any measure.
- You're less likely to be used as the ‘delegated to’ person all the time, sucking up everybody’s else low-priority or inconvenient tasks.
- Your self-respect and self-esteem will increase, as will the respect of others for you as they see you’re in control, focused and determined.
- You’ll be better organised meaning you’ll be able to do things you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to even think about. New opportunities and surprising opportunities will appear.
- With exponential time management as practised here, you’ll work beyond the tyranny of SMART goals and achieve a feeling of inner peace as you progress your way through each day.
- You’ll have less wasted, unproductive time.
- You’ll be free of being busy just to be busy to feel and appear productive. Likewise, you’ll be more focused on outcomes and less on time, ironically.
- Your reputation will improve as someone who does what he/she says and delivers, and says no, even when a yes would have been easier.
Before we consider how to improve our time management, we have to start with why we are trying to improve our time management. We are managing our time already, but many people are doing it without too much planning or are simply reacting to events as they happen or doing things just out of habit. In this scenario, you’re best to look at your life like a sailboat on the sea of life. You’ll get blown hither and thither, enjoying the view here, surviving a storm there, but not controlling your destination or what happens when and next. For some people, having no great goals or aspirations, or desire to change things for the better, is fine. But most people would like less stress, less hassle, more inner peace and success.
30 time management productivity improvement tips
- There is no need to plan or set any goals! Yes, correct. Just do it, as they say. There is no need for long-term plans, or goals or deciding on your bigger purpose and mission in life and why exactly you were put on this planet in the first place. No plans or goals are required. You only need to increase your awareness of what you’re doing and why, what you’re saying “yes” and “no” to. Do you keep saying “yes” to people when perhaps a “no”, “perhaps”, “why” or “later” would be better? Is there a BHAG, Big Hairy Audacious Goal, you know you should be doing, even though it’s not urgent, and you’re not doing it? Sometimes just getting started is the best way to get started.
- What level of inner peace do you feel? How well are you sleeping? How early are you waking up? How grouchy and grumpy are you? How angry, annoyed and frustrated are those around you? It could all be tracking back to your own conflicted time management, trying to do everything well, but failing on the most important things instead: your health, happiness and relationships.
- What’s critical to you in the long term? As you develop more awareness and control over your day and time management, consider what’s critical to you in the long term. In years to come, would you regret not buying that bigger house or going on that fancy holiday or not seeing the Pyramids? Or would it actually be not saying hello regularly to the elderly neighbour to see if they were okay that would only have taken 10 mins? It can be the little things that matter most.
- You can’t do it all. Prioritise a little more and ideally do this the day or night before, so you can sleep better knowing that you’ve got control of the situation and a plan for the following day.
- How much of your day is spent on reactive vs planned work? How can you increase the planned work? If the day is very reactive, look into the causes of that and how those causes can be removed or reduced.
- Write down your long-term goals, say for the next 5-10 years. Writing them down and considering what has to be done to get there helps to fix them in your mind, which becomes a useful filter when you’re considering what to do right now and what and whom to say “no” to.
- Say “No” more often. You’re now ready to increase the number of times you say “No”. Say this more regularly to others and yourself. Obviously, we need to do this with care, we want to avoid undermining important relationships in pursuing a bigger picture.
- Create a Done List. Perhaps the oldest time management tool known to man is the list, the To-Do list. What happens when you do something that’s not on the list? You write it on the list and tick it off because that feels great. Job done! So perhaps call it a Done List instead. Write all your to-dos on it still, same as before, but now you can focus on your accomplishments, not just a list of things to do.
- Don't be a busy fool. Feeling busy, important and productive, but working on the wrong thing or the right thing for too long. The busy fool focuses on the now and quantity, not the future, outcomes and quality.
- Check-in with your inner peace again. Perhaps when you’re on a break or speaking with a friend, check in with that inner peace – is it telling you that you need to be elsewhere? You may be working late, but that inner peace is conflicted. Others around you may not be, but they aren’t you, so decide accordingly for your own inner peace.
- Increase your confidence. You may feel apprehensive about working on or starting a task if you don’t feel confident in doing it. How can you strengthen your skills in that area? Or can you just get started on it, so you can learn as you go? Again, just getting started can be the best way to get started and move forward.
- Focus on quality. We’re not talking about too much quality here, the idea that perfect is the enemy of the good. But by focusing on quality, you’ll get better at it and enjoy it more. You’ll become faster and perhaps less likely to have to do it again or return to it later.
- Earn those breaks. Set yourself some milestones during the day, or some specific times, and work up to those, so when you take a break you feel like you’ve earned it, that it's a reward, then it feels good rather than a guilty break.
- Get some air and eat well. Keep it healthy with exercise and good, unprocessed food. If you bought some food or a snack in some packaging, a box, bag or tin, simply remove the packing, place the food in a plain bag, cut out the ingredients label and stick that back on the bag. Now, how appealing does that look? Cooking from scratch is healthier, often quicker and delivers that reward vibe.
- Email management. A source of great stress and distraction for many. It’s tempting to keep checking your emails, but depending on your job or role, put some time aside to check emails, rather than continuous monitoring. And then in that time review and highlight the ones you need to read, now or later. Filter out the others, delete or archive them as needed. Regularly, many emails are other people offloading their ‘time-suckers’ onto you.
- Values and principles. When prioritising your tasks, keeping an eye on what’s important to you is key. As you refine your task management prioritisation, keep it consistent with what you value most. If it's time with the kids, time you can’t get back, make that the priority. You can always get another boss, but that time is only here once.
- Track time. Spend a few days, a full week perhaps, just noting down what you do each day. You could even use a stopwatch to time tasks, you may be surprised what you find out.
- Check in again with that inner peace. If stress is on the rise, you may need to look again at your prioritising and goals.
- Don’t stress about the plan. You have a plan now, that's great, but, for whatever reason, you've veered off the plan. Don’t stress, simply replan with perhaps an increased sense of what is realistic and improved assumptions.
- Strengthen your critical thinking skills. This can help you organise things more effectively for yourself, family and work. By recognising the consequences of your choices on an emotional, physical, mental and spiritual level, you’ll be more likely to take the time needed to consider the choices in front of you.
- Use the Eisenhower Method. Use the Eisenhower Method to schedule your important/urgent tasks.
- Focus. There was a time when multitasking was good, now multitasking is bad. It’s far better to focus on a single task than hop about when you’re constantly having to recall, replan and restart tasks, especially with creative tasks. So, don’t multitask, focus instead.
- Pomodoro. Use the Pomodoro technique to break tasks up into bite-size chunks with breaks. This may work for you depending on the type of task you need to complete and how you like to work.
- Build in buffers and breaks. It really helps to maintain concentration and motivation if you plan breaks into your day. It's also a time to reflect on progress.
- Review your environment. Create an environment that is conducive to focus and free of distractions.
- Plan ahead. Plan tomorrow’s tasks today as the final task of the day, plan the week ahead on Sunday, and plan the month ahead at the end of the preceding month. It’s a good idea to compare against planned and completed tasks to see what variance exist and update your assumptions about what can be realistically achieved.
- Take advantage of your most productive time of day. Identify your most productive time of day and use that to focus on the top-priority tasks.
- Use the Pareto method. Use the 80/20 rule to focus on the 20% of activities that will give you 80% of the results you're looking for.
- Block out the start of each day. Block out the start of every day for your routine personal preparation tasks for the day. It could be a taking a walk, reading the papers, having breakfast, a run, reviewing your plan. Whatever works for you.
- Delegate. What tasks might be better completed by somebody else as they don't take you towards your personal, long-term goals?