How to Improve Time Management: 20 Tips to Help You Master Your Schedule
Time. It’s the one resource we all have the same amount of. But, while some people seem to be able to achieve great things at work and still head home by 5 p.m. each day, the rest of us are left stressed and frazzled just trying to get everything done on time.
Below, we’ll dive into our top 20 tips on how to improve time management to help you take control of your schedule, before it takes control of you.
What is Time Management?
Time management means managing your time in the most effective way possible. That involves minimizing distractions, delegating tasks, prioritizing what you do spend time on, and — ultimately — getting more done, in less time, with less stress.
Why is Time Management Important?
Time management is an important skill to have for both work and your personal life.
It can help you:
- Get all your work tasks done, so you don’t need to stay late or work weekends.
- Hit all your deadlines on time or early.
- Never forget about or be late for a social engagement again.
- Increase your productivity, so you can get more done and excel at work.
- Feel in control of your schedule, helping manage your stress and anxiety levels.
How to Improve Time Management: Our Top 20 Tips
Want to develop your time management skills? Here’s what to do.
1. Take Time to Plan Your Week
When you’re busy, the last thing you want to do is stop working on your to-do list and spend time planning your week. But, a few minutes spent planning at the start of the week can save you hours in the long run.
Set aside some time either on Monday morning, Sunday evening, or Friday afternoon — let’s be honest, you’re probably not getting much work done here anyway.
Use this time to look at the upcoming work week and plot out any meetings, deadlines, and social events you have coming up that can’t be moved.
Then, plug in things you want to get done — such as working on a bigger work project that isn’t due straight away, brainstorming business ideas, or reaching out to new sales leads, for example.
When each day comes, you’ll have already planned how you want to spend it and what you have set in stone, so nothing gets missed.
2. Prioritize Your To-Do List
Your to-do list shouldn’t be an endless list of everything you want to get done in life.
Instead, pick out the non-negotiable things that have to get done each day.
Consider picking three “must-dos” and then having a separate list for other things that need to get done, but aren’t as urgent.
This will help you work on the most important tasks each day, instead of getting caught up doing things that could wait until later in the week.
3. Prioritize Key Tasks in Your Week or Month
As well as picking out three important things to get done each day, consider doing the same for the week or month.
This could be something you discuss with your boss or team as well.
By picking three priorities for the week or month, and reminding yourself of these priorities each morning, you’ll ensure you don’t get sucked into working on low-priority tasks or unimportant admin and meetings.
It’ll force you to look at the big picture and take steps toward your bigger goals, too.
4. Use an Online Calendar
It doesn’t matter if you use Google Calendar, Apple Calendar, or another app entirely. The point is, even those who love their pen-and-paper calendars, or those who think calendars aren’t for them, should consider using one.
Using an online calendar means you can access it from your laptop, work desktop, or from your phone when on the go.
You can add deadlines and appointments to do it wherever you happen to be, and you can double-check it before committing to anything.
Pick a calendar and commit to using it to capture important dates, deadlines, and to-dos.
5. Give Yourself Fake Deadlines
If your time management weakness is missing deadlines, start giving yourself fake ones.
For example, if a report is due on Friday, add the deadline to your calendar as Wednesday, or sooner if you want more of a buffer.
Then, try to forget about the real deadline. Aim to get all your work done and submitted by your fake deadline instead.
This will give you some buffer time should you get close to or miss your made-up deadline, and push you to work ahead of schedule.
6. Give Yourself Tight Deadlines
Work will expand to fit the time you give it.
If you tell yourself you have to create a webinar in two hours, you won’t have time to scroll through social media or hover in your inbox. You’ll have to get moving if you want to hit that deadline, even if it is self-imposed.
So, when setting yourself deadlines, make them intentionally on the shorter side to help beat procrastination.
7. Try Time Blocking
Time blocking is a productivity technique that can help you get more done in less time.
You divide your day into blocks of time, assigning each block to one particular task. You then work only on that task in the block, ignoring distractions or any other tasks you have to do.
Plus, by giving yourself a time limit, you should work faster to stay on schedule.
For example, if you have a report to write, a sales pitch to create, and emails to respond to on one particular day, your day could be spent bouncing between those three tasks.
But each time you switch, you slow yourself down. It takes time to get back into a writing mood when you’ve been researching, for example.
With time blocking, your day could look like:
- 9 a.m. – 10 a.m.: respond to emails
- 10 a.m – 1 p.m.: work on the first draft of a legal report
- 1 p.m. – 2 p.m.: lunch and walk
- 2 p.m – 4 p.m.: create a sales pitch for a client
- 4 p.m. – 5 p.m.: emails and final admin for the day
This keeps the tasks relatively separate, helping you get into the zone.
8. Try Batching Similar Tasks Together
Time batching is similar to time blocking, but it goes one step further. You group together tasks that are similar and work on them one after the other.
For example, if you’re a writer, you might reserve Monday as your research day, Tuesday as your writing day, and Wednesday as your editing day.
You might be working on several articles across those days, but doing the researching, writing, and editing for each article on different days to group the similar tasks together.
By batching similar tasks together, you can work faster and more efficiently by not having to switch your thinking too much.
Time batching can also be useful when you have a bunch of small admin tasks to get done.
Instead of sprinkling these throughout the week, breaking up your deep work time, set aside an hour or two once a week where you whiz through those small annoying tasks like sending follow-up emails, logging your expenses, or collecting sales numbers.
9. Turn Off Notifications
Who can resist the ding of a new message or swoosh of an email coming in? But, if you get a lot of messages and emails throughout the day, you’ll be pulled off course a lot. And every time you try to go back to the task at hand, it’ll take time for you to get back into the swing of things.
Put your phone in “do not disturb” mode, and, if possible, turn Slack notifications off and close down your email inbox.
Work solidly on a task for 30 or 60 minutes, then check on all those messages that have come in at a time that suits you.
10. Take Breaks
When you’ve got an ever-growing to-do list, the last thing you want to do is stop working on it. But taking breaks can actually help you manage your time better.
If you don’t take a break, your brain will take one for you and start not performing as well. And the urge to scroll through TikTok instead of working on a tricky work problem will only get stronger.
How many breaks you take is all down to you. Experiment with working for 90 minutes, then taking a 30-minute break; or working for 25 minutes, then taking a five-minute break.
Use your breaks wisely, too. Step away from your desk and grab some water, go on a brisk walk, or do some stretches.
11. Find Out Your Most Productive Times of Day
Maybe you’re a morning person who whizzes through work until lunch, only to slump in the afternoon. Or, if you’re a night owl, you might be the total opposite, with your brain not really switching on until the late afternoon.
Most of us sit somewhere in between these two extremes.
Spend a week tracking when you feel more productive, creative, and alert each day, and when work flows most easily. You should start noticing a theme.
Once you’ve got a rough idea of your most productive times each day, avoid doing low-priority tasks during this time. Work on the important things, and save emails and admin for when your brain needs the mental break.
If you have control over when meetings are set, schedule tricky meetings and presentations for when you feel your best, and easy team catch-ups for when you’re in a slump.
12. Delegate Wisely
It doesn’t matter how good your time management skills are, you can’t fit 80 hours’ worth of work into a 40-hour work week. This is where delegation can help.
Look over your responsibilities and see if there’s anything another team member is better or faster at.
If you manage a team, see if you can hand the reins over to someone else on a certain project, or at least get them to help with initial research or brainstorming, for example.
If you run your own business, outsource tasks you’re not an expert in, like accounting or content writing, and focus on the tasks only you can do.
13. Find External Accountability
No one wants to admit they suck at time management, they’ve been procrastinating all afternoon, or they’ve dropped the ball on yet another deadline.
Build accountability into your life while you build these new time management skills.
For example, if your boss asks for a report, tell them you’ll have it ready by Friday. Creating the deadline will hold you accountable, whereas not having a deadline at all might mean you put the task off, or take much longer to get it done.
You can also find a friend or close colleague who you can set daily or weekly goals with. Check in on each other at the end of the work day or week to see if you hit the goals or not.
Knowing someone will learn about your poor time management may be all it takes for you to improve it.
14. Beat Procrastination
Sometimes, we do have enough time to get everything done, we just don’t get started on tasks until it’s too late.
But there are many different types of procrastination. You might be putting things off because:
- You’re scared of taking on a difficult task
- You don’t know where to begin on a big project or goal
- You don’t have all the information you need to get started
Figure out which kind of procrastination you’re feeling and take steps to solve it.
Maybe you need to break a big project into smaller steps or give yourself a pep talk about taking on a task that feels too difficult for you.
15. Try the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro technique involves working on one task — and one task only — for 25 minutes before taking a five-minute break.
Once you’ve done four “pomodoros,” or 25-minute work sprints, take a longer break of 20 minutes before diving back in.
This technique can help you focus on the one task at hand and resist procrastination, as you know a break is coming up in a relatively short amount of time.
Plus, those enforced breaks will help keep you feeling fresh and more productive throughout the workday.
16. Track Your Time
Use an online time tracker like Toggl, Harvest, or RescueTime to see how you’re really spending your time.
This will help you find out how long certain work tasks take you, and even just the act of knowing you’re tracking your time can make you spend it differently.
For example, you might not want to see you spend four hours in your inbox by the end of the day, so you speed through emails more efficiently and get back to deep work on an important project.
Time tracking can also help you see the tasks that take you much longer than you think they do, so you can better schedule your week and ensure you always agree to a workload you know you’ll have time to complete.
17. Set Up Time-Saving Templates
If there’s a task you do every week, see if there’s a way you can create a template for it.
Instead of creating a sales report from scratch, for example, have the headings you always use written out in a Google doc that you can copy into a fresh document each week.
If you send a lot of cold emails, have a template you can personalize in your inbox drafts.
18. Use Meeting Scheduling Software
Meetings are a huge time suck, but they are — usually — necessary. Save some of the time associated with meetings by using a scheduling tool like Calendly or Doodle.
This allows colleagues and clients to pick an available meeting time from your calendar, illuminating the need to go back and forth trying to find a time you’re both free.
19. Experiment with Where You Work Best
Some people need the accountability of an office, others need the silence of home, and others need the buzz of a coffee shop.
If your job allows, experiment with different workplaces to find one that helps you get into the zone and get more done.
You may even find you need to go to different places depending on the task you’re working on each day.
20. Remember Your Goal
When you’re working on small tasks, up against deadlines, and generally in the thick of a stressful work week, it’s easy to forget time management.
Remind yourself daily of your goal to get better at this essential skill. Stick a Post-it note to your desk, set a daily reminder to ping on your phone at 8:59 a.m., or write it at the top of your to-do list each morning.
Reminding yourself each day that you want to get on top of your schedule will ensure you think of methods like picking priorities, the Pomodoro technique, and delegating, even when work is busy.