From an early time in his life, Chris Bailey became passionate about learning more about time management skills and productivity. Instead of taking a job after graduating from business school, Bailey decided to dive into the subject of productivity and share what the experts thought about it. Through his blog, he detailed his own experiments with becoming more productive and shared what he learned about time management. Bailey would go on to write several bestselling books, including The Productivity Project and Hyper Focus. Needless to say, the urge to learn more about how to manage time effectively drives him every day. It’s from his work where many points in this article come from, as you will see.
Time management skills are what many people need in an increasingly hectic world. According to research from Atlassian and numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker spends up to two hours every day trying to recover from distractions. The same research shows that most employees will spend only three minutes on a task before moving to something else.
These numbers show we’ve become used to wasting time, even when we recognize the need to focus on the task at hand. A lack of effective time management leads to missed deadlines and poor productivity. As these problems fester, workers may experience higher stress as they rush to meet their deadlines and quarterly goals. Time management can be helpful in avoiding these situations, but when people don’t know the skills behind it, they can feel lost or left behind.
The time has come to improve your time management, and that starts with learning the skills that will help you make the most of your day. Doing so will help you meet your deadlines, produce excellent work, and feel like you’re spending your time accomplishing your purpose in life.
What Are Time Management Skills?
Time management skills are skills that help an individual make the best use of their time, whether it be for an hour, a day, a week, or longer. The time management skills people can obtain require practice, effort, and determination. Some of the most common time management skills include the following.
- Prioritization: This skill enables you to determine which tasks are important and which can be left to another time. Urgent and important tasks will naturally take priority and eat up the bulk of your time. Prioritization ensures you tackle these tasks first.
- Planning: Another good time management skill includes being able to plan ahead for what you need to do. A plan can include the tasks you intend to complete for a day or more. Through planning, you make sure that you won’t waste time wondering what it is you should do next.
- Organization: Those who can stay organized will find their ability to manage time enhanced. Think of how much easier it is to find an object in a carefully organized room compared to one that’s cluttered. The same applies to time. The more organized you make your time, the more effective you’ll be in getting stuff done.
- Boundary-Setting: Part of time management is knowing when and where to set boundaries. If you take every task that comes across your desk, you’ll soon find yourself drowning in projects. Learning how to say “no” will help in your efforts to be more efficient with your time.
- Delegation: On the same note, delegation is a skill that helps you shift tasks to others who can take care of them better. This isn’t the same as saying “no.” Rather, it still ensures tasks get done, but it helps you spread out responsibilities so you can concentrate solely on the things you are best at.
- Goal-Setting: One of the most important time management skills involves setting goals. When you know what your goals are, you can then plan out how best to reach them. Doing so helps you make the most of your time since you won’t be working on tasks that don’t help you reach your goals.
How to Get Better at Time Management (With Examples)
It’s easy to list out the time management skills people need. It’s another thing entirely to figure out how to get better at them. The following time management tips and time management examples can help you become more productive and achieve bigger things in your life.
1. Reverse Engineer Large Goals Into Daily Tasks
Everyone should have a major goal they are reaching towards. This is the destination they want to arrive at—something that pushes them to be better and perform at higher levels. Sometimes, though, looking at that goal can feel intimidating and overwhelming. How can you reach that goal when it seems so far away?
The trick is to reverse engineer the goal. When you know what the goal is, you can begin breaking it down into more manageable goals and tasks. For example, if you have a goal that’s a year off, create quarterly and monthly goals to shoot for. Then break those down even further into weekly and daily tasks.
Chris Bailey writes about this process. As he puts it, “One of the best things you can do when undertaking an ambitious goal or project is to track your progress in achieving it—especially when you measure against a predetermined pace.” Bailey describes a three-step process you can follow as part of your reverse engineering effort.
- Pick a specific goal you can measure.
- Select a realistic completion date.
- Design a chart to track your progress.
That last step is where you will determine the smaller tasks you need to complete to reach the overall goal. Bailey explains that tracking your progress helps you to set the right pace and keeps you accountable during the journey. As you do so, you can make any necessary adjustments to ensure you’re right where you need to be.
2. Setting Aside Time to Work on Your Schedule
Schedules don’t just pop into existence from nothing. Most people understand this, yet many seem to think that they can manage without creating one.
Annie Dillard once gave some excellent advice on the importance of schedules. She wrote:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.”
Set aside time each week where your sole focus is on strategizing how to reach your goals. Your schedule should reflect the plan you have for obtaining specific objectives. At the same time, take care not to overload your schedule. Make your schedule work for you, not you work for your schedule.
Tips for creating a weekly work schedule:
- Review past schedules to see when you were most productive and when you could have spent your time better.
- List out the priorities you have for the week.
- Record your schedule so you can refer to it regularly.
- Don’t plan every minute of every day. Allow gaps to provide you with some flexibility.
- Think of backup plans in case your original plans fall through.
3. Spending the Most Time on High-Priority Work
You only have so many hours in a day. Have you ever taken a step back and looked at how you’re spending them? Leaders can’t spend their time on just any task. They need to spend most of their time on things that move the needle that only they can do.
Time management can be helpful in determining what can be eliminated from your schedule. For example, if you’re constantly interrupted by email, phone calls, and other distractions, they can interfere with what really matters. You need to take extra steps to protect your time, possibly by hiring a virtual assistant.
Protect and prioritize your time by making sure you focus solely on what matters. The trick then becomes identifying your priorities. In her book Grit, Angela Duckworth writes about a technique she learned from Warren Buffett about how to sort out what truly matters. The steps are as follows:
- Write down a list of 25 career goals you have.
- After careful consideration and meditation, circle only five that you believe to be the highest priority.
- Look at those you didn’t circle and avoid them and any tasks associated with them at all costs.
With these steps in mind, you can determine if the task you’re working on matters. As Chris Bailey writes, “Becoming more productive is just as much about what you don’t work on as it is about what you do. The most productive people don’t only manage their time, attention, and energy—they’re also ruthless in defending their time against less important commitments.”
4. Using the 80/20 Rule to Delegate Tasks
One of the most valuable time management skills you can use is something called the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 Rule. This rule, developed by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, states that 80 percent of all outcomes come from 20 percent of input. For example, 80 percent of sales might come from 20 percent of the effort, or training the top 20 percent of workers will result in 80 percent of the company’s leadership in the future.
Another way to understand this rule is to say that only a portion of your actions will result in the vast majority of your results. So, a small number of your tasks has a much higher value than the rest. Those few tasks that deliver more than others should be considered the highest-leverage work activities. As Chris Bailey writes, “When so much of your results come from so few activities, it’s worth thinking about what the highest-leverage activities in your work are.”
The important thing when it comes to time management skills is to identify those high-leverage activities. Bailey points to author Brian Tracy, who wrote the book Eat That Frog. In this book, Tracy provides a guide for identifying the most important activities.
- List out all the tasks you normally do for a month and identify which ones you’re mainly responsible for.
- Think about your tasks and pick one that, if you did it all day long, would add the most value.
- Identify a second task that adds significant value to your business.
- Then pick a third task that adds the next most value.
Once you have identified the most valuable tasks, you can proceed to delegate or even eliminate the other tasks as they add little noticeable value to your company.
5. Developing Time Management Strategies and Systems
What is time management if not a way to maximize every moment you’re working? But it can’t be something you occasionally dabble in. You need to make it a habit—something you’re continuously practicing every day.
That also means implementing time management strategies and systems at an organizational level. You may start by looking at your own strategies and see how they might fit in with what others do. Could your methods apply to the company as a whole? If so, they could end up benefiting more than just yourself.
Encourage others to think of their long-term goals and what they need to do to reach them. Teach them the time management skills you have developed. In addition to that, you may also choose to adopt the following strategies and systems as outlined by Chris Bailey:
- The Rule of 3: This involves taking the time at the start of the day to identify which three things you’ll want to accomplish.
- Daily Review: Again, at the start of the day, go over your upcoming tasks and your calendar.
- Weekly Review: At the start of the week, remind yourself what you intend to accomplish and schedule time when you can focus on bigger projects.
- Accountability Partner: Work with an accountability partner, which is someone you regularly correspond with regarding productivity. Tell this person what you plan to do for the week, then follow up at the end to tell them how you did.
- Accomplishments List: Instead of just keeping a to-do list, keep a list of everything you’ve accomplished for the week. It can serve as a nice boost to see all the work you got done.
Making Time Management Skills Count
Time management skills are some of the most important skills you need to develop as a leader. From your overall general happiness to your company’s profits, there’s not a facet of your life it won’t touch. Try out some time management activities to help get you thinking about how to improve.
Those with good time management can expect a more balanced life. They’ll feel productive as they accomplish everything they want to accomplish. Those without time management skills won’t just feel like they aren’t getting enough done. They’ll feel rushed, stressed, and out of alignment. Work burnout, work stress, and increased anxiety are too often the result. If you’re suffering from these conditions, check out the articles below on how to handle them.