While it’s essential for organizing important tasks, maintaining a healthy work-life balance, and meeting goals, many leaders and entrepreneurs still struggle to protect their most important resource: time. Being busy has become the new normal. The grind, grit, and hustle are often used to describe a work life that’s so busy it must be successful and fulfilling. Yet, many business leaders and professionals are falling short of benchmarks or are left feeling burnt out because of poor time management.
Managing time seems simple enough, but research shows that the majority of the population struggles with it. For example, a 2020 study published in Nature Human Behaviour states that “most people report feeling persistently ‘time poor,’ like they have too many things to do and not enough time to do them.” Additionally, a 2022 survey involving 300 working professionals reveals that 90 percent of participants agreed better time management would reduce stress at work and increase productivity.
Poor time management is clearly a problem. So much so, there’s an entire industry dedicated to helping people purposely manage their time with calendars, webinars, lectures, and more. In fact, the frequency of books mentioning “time management” skyrocketed by more than 2,700 percent from 1960 to 2008.
When it comes to time, you are either using it or wasting it. Figuring out how to make the most of your day comes down to some basic information, tips, and good time management skills shared below.
- Many business leaders are falling short of benchmarks or left feeling burnt out because of poor time management.
- 90% of working professionals believe that more effective time management would reduce stress at work and increase productivity.
- Research suggests that people aren’t choosing their priorities and subsequent tasks wisely.
- Leaders who have mastered time management whittle down and pinpoint their priorities, time block their schedules, and delegate tasks when possible.
- Overworking isn’t the answer. Leaders need refuel incentives and rest to maintain productivity.
What is Time Management?
Time management is the practice of being productive by effectively managing how time is spent each day. It often involves advanced planning and identifying priorities so you can apply the right amount of focus at the right time. Time management can also become a skill you use to get the most out of each moment. When you manage time well, you accomplish more while feeling like you’re making significant progress on your goals.
Benefits of Time Management
The importance of time management cannot be overstated. When you use time effectively, you’ll notice the difference in your personal and professional life. Here’s a rundown of the many benefits of effective time management and why you want to start implementing an organizational process now:
- Improves Productivity: A meta-analysis including 158 studies found that time management enhances academic achievement and job performance. Additionally, the relationship between time management and job performance proved to grow stronger over time, as adults are working in more flexible, autonomous environments.
- Supports Goals: By managing your time, you’re working toward your set goals in an organized and efficient manner. When reaching a goal feels like a massive undertaking, breaking it down into small day-to-day steps will increase your achievability. When you’re using effective time management strategies, you will reach your goals faster and move on to the next one, allowing you to accomplish more in any given day, month, or year.
- Highlights Your Purpose: In an Amazon Insights for Entrepreneurs series, Mark Cuban said, “Don’t follow your passions, follow your effort.” When you’re continuously putting time into something, with tasks related to that project repeatedly making their way into your schedule, that’s highlighting your greater purpose. Pay attention to where you put your attention, Cuban suggests, because it will show you what you’re good at, which will bring you the most success.
- Allows for Leisure and Rest: A lack of time management may not only impact your economic status but your psychological health, too. Research suggests that “time poverty” is linked to reduced well-being and physical health. People may perceive rest and leisure as a waste of time, but it will actually make you more productive because you’re avoiding mental fatigue and increasing motivation by engaging in these wholesome activities.
- Promotes Work-Life Balance: Maintaining a healthy work-life balance will increase work satisfaction and improve productivity. Stephen Gillett, president and COO of Verily Life Sciences, recommends that you “invest in your work-life balance,” noting that “time with friends and family is as important as times at work; getting that out of balance is a path towards unhappiness.”
- Supports Well-Being: Managing your time well will greatly reduce the risk of chronic stress and burnout, which has been named a public health problem that can cause a slew of physical and mental health issues. Scheduling time for rest, physical activity, and engagement with loved ones will promote positive feelings, improve your mood and impact your cognitive health.
9 Time Management Tips That Work
Benjamin Franklin said that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” and that was in the 1700s. In modern times, work intensity and time restrictions have become (much) more prevalent, which is why there’s so much emphasis on time management skills these days. You can search the internet and come across hundreds of lectures and articles on how to manage your time effectively. Most of them highlight these simplified and research-based time management strategies listed below.
1. Prioritize Your Time
With only 168 hours in every week, taking both professional and personal priorities into account creates good balance when managing your time. But how do you prioritize when it feels like everything is important?
Organizational psychologist Adam Grant wrote in a New York Times article that it’s not about time management, but attention management. “Prioritize the people and projects that matter, and it won’t matter how long anything takes,” he suggested. Really, Grant is looking at time management with a different perspective by shifting the focus and prioritizing tasks based on interests and purpose.
Let’s face it, though, you can’t plan your day around just the activities you want to do. There are tasks that need to be done, whether you’re passionate about them or not.
Here are three strategies for prioritizing your time:
- Stay focused on your larger purpose: If a task on your planner is considered a priority, that’s because it contributes to your larger purpose, and that purpose is your motivator. Pay attention to why you’re excited about a project and use that as your motivator to get things done efficiently.
- Keep your end goal in mind: What tasks or projects are going to get you closer to your end goal and help you to achieve your mission? This doesn’t have to be your life mission either. It can be your three-year plan that’s reevaluated annually.
- Create a focus funnel: In a TEDx lecture by Rory Vaden, he asks, “What can I do today that will make the future better?” This question will help you to prioritize in a meaningful and productive way. Vaden calls this a “significance calculation” and it serves as a “focus funnel” when managing your time. Planning should always happen with this in mind.
2. Try Time Blocking
Scheduling blocks of time dedicated to uninterrupted focus on one particular task helps people get into the flow of doing “deep work.” Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, defines this skill as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task,” thus enabling people to “master complicated information and produce better results in less time.”
Elon Musk’s leadership style involves the use of time blocking (or timeboxing). It divides your day into blocks of time, allowing you to focus fully on one task at a time. This is a deliberate time management skill that provides structure and reduces interruptions during important activities.
Here’s how to time-block your schedule:
- Identify priority tasks: First, identify the priority tasks (both personal and professional) for that day, and estimate how long each task will take.
- Block out your time: After pinpointing your priorities, block out a designated time for each necessary task. This may look like one hour of reading and answering emails in the morning, followed by two hours of deep work on a specific project.
- Include time for breaks: There should be time blocked for a break, physical activity, human connection, and any other action that supports your personal goals. Some blocks will be the same every day (like lunch and exercise), while others will change daily.
3. Separate Logistical Tasks From Creative Tasks
Balancing your books is a very different task than writing a proposal or business plan because each requires a different type of attention and energy. Computer scientist and entrepreneur Paul Graham says to separate your “manager” tasks from your “maker” tasks. This differentiates logistical actions from creative ones, leaving space for long periods of creative time (whether that’s writing, programming, or brainstorming) without interruption.
Separate logistical and creative tasks by:
- Time blocking: The first step in planning this out is to determine how much time you need for each type of task. You can separate logistical and creative time by entire days, half days, or even hours—it depends on your work and goals.
- Making it work for you: The point of separating these tasks is to let the work flow easily, allowing your brain to focus on one type of task at a time. Keep in mind how much brain power you need for a certain task and schedule it appropriately. If you’re a morning person, schedule your deep thought tasks then and more mundane tasks (like answering emails or scheduling meetings) for later.
4. Learn to Delegate
When you’re serving as a leader or manager, delegation will create more time for you and the tasks that require your attention. A leader’s time management strategy focuses not only on what you do on any given day but also on what you don’t do. Doing everything is not an option—it will lead to burnout and does not contribute to an environment of trust and responsibility within a company.
In an interview with Steve Jobs, he explained that at Apple, there is tremendous teamwork throughout the company. “Teamwork is dependent on trusting the other folks to come through with their part without watching them all the time,” he said. During his time with the company, Jobs played the role of facilitator or delegator, leading a group of collaborators as they moved the company forward.
Here are three steps to help you start delegating:
- Decide what needs to be delegated: If a task is not within your personal focus at work and another team member can take ownership of it, that’s when it should be delegated. The Eisenhower Matrix time management tool provides a straightforward approach to scoring tasks and creating productive days. To use this tool, assign work to one of the following four quadrants:
- Do first—urgent and most important tasks.
- Schedule—non-urgent but requires completion.
- Delegate—urgent but assignable.
- Eliminate—non-essential or unnecessary.
- Select the right person: When delegating a task, select the right person for each job with intention. Commonly delegated activities are something you should keep in mind during the hiring process to ensure that you have employees who can get the job done well.
- Set clear objectives: It’s a leader’s job to frame success and clearly define the objectives of every task, especially when you’re beginning a new project. Set specific goals and performance markers, which will motivate your employees and provide standards of excellence.
5. Minimize Interruptions
Essentially, time management is all about productivity management. That’s why time blocking is so important. Without planning these blocks and creating the space for them, distractions, procrastination, and lost time will quickly add up. In her research on time management skills, Gloria Mark, an information scientist at the University of California, discovered that it takes nearly 30 minutes to recover from a single interruption. When multiple interruptions happen every hour, time spent being productive diminishes due to a lack of focus.
Productivity requires concentrated focus, so create an environment with limited disturbances by:
- Turning off emails and text notifications.
- Silencing your phone.
- Using your “away” status on communication and management apps.
- Indicating on your public calendar that this time is blocked for deep work.
6. Learn to Say “No”
Time management is time protection and it requires you to say “no” when a task does not fit into your schedule or fall in line with your priorities. Ultimately, a leader must decide what priorities take precedence and how to structure time for focusing on them. Saying “no” to some things clears the way for saying “yes” to what matters most.
Entrepreneur Daniel DiGriz solidifies this point in a Forbes article: “When everything is a priority, nothing has priority. When everything is urgent, all things are equally unimportant.”
Leaders tend to say “yes” because of their natural people-pleasing tendencies, but taking on too much is what leads to burnout, and negatively impacts the business in the long run.
This is how you say “no” at work:
- Decide if a task is necessary: If the task or engagement does not contribute to your goals and overall purpose, then say “no,” and when it needs to be done but doesn’t fit into your well-managed schedule, delegate the task to someone who can handle it.
- Explain the why: Explaining why you’re unable to complete the task will help to create trust and define your boundaries in an open, transparent way.
- Encourage another way: If you aren’t the best fit for a task, then encourage or recommend another solution that will get the job done.
7. Schedule Refuel Incentives
Charles Dickens said, “The mere consciousness of an engagement will sometimes worry a whole day.” If your daily schedule is full of draining (and maybe boring) work, there’s little to sustain motivation.
When managing your time, be sure to include refuel incentives that not only get you closer to your goals but are enjoyable and invigorating, too.
Refuel incentives include:
- Walking or jogging outdoors.
- Having lunch with a loved one, coworker, mentor, or mentee.
- Attending your kid’s sports game or performance after school.
- Journaling or reading for fun and growth.
- Cooking for loved ones.
- Any other activity that lifts your spirits and stimulates motivation.
Don’t think of refuel incentives as wasting time. They can actually be considered time savers because they’ll leave you feeling more energized and ready to power through the rest of the day.
8. Be Honest With Yourself
Leaders tend to think they must always have the answers, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s essential that leaders (workers, parents, spouses) are honest with themselves about what they can accomplish, want to accomplish, and will accomplish.
Tap into your personal honesty in the following ways:
- Reevaluate your tasks: If tasks on your schedule aren’t serving you and the people you serve, then reevaluate why they’re there.
- Go back to your priorities: Make sure that the things you spend time on are moving the needle forward, otherwise, you are wasting your energy.
- Think about why: If you’re having trouble accomplishing tasks that you have deemed important, then be honest about why. What’s getting in the way? Maybe it’s a fear of failure, lack of delegation, too much wasted time, too many interruptions, or a need to rethink your goals.
- Celebrate the small wins: Go back to your planner every evening and be proud of what you’ve done that day.
9. Rest and Restore Energy
Having good time management also means scheduling time for resting and recharging. The human brain isn’t made to constantly yield energy, which we feel in moments of mental fatigue. “Burning up mental resources without replacing them leads to stress, burnout, and poor performance,” writes Joe Robinson for Entrepreneur.
Disregarding the need for regular “pause days,” such as weekends and vacations, increases the likelihood of burnout and exhaustion. Mindfully reserving time for restoration keeps leaders and working professionals more engaged in the work because they feel rested and ready to take on tasks with renewed energy.
Here’s how to rest and restore your body for optimal productivity:
- Get enough sleep every night: Seven hours of sleep per night, at minimum, is recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which suggests that allocating this amount of time for rest will keep you more alert during the day.
- Avoid choosing work over sleep: Pushing into your sleep hours to check items off your to-do list will likely reduce productivity because your brain and body will work much more slowly when sleep-deprived. Consider sleeping an important task that contributes greatly to good time management.
- Exercise regularly: Daily exercise will boost energy and cognitive function. This can be any form of activity you enjoy, like cycling, hiking, weight lifting, jogging, and yoga.
- Eat a well-balanced, nourishing diet: Having a healthy diet will support your overall health, help you maintain healthy energy levels, and boost your mood.
- Prioritize tasks that move the needle forward—eliminate or delegate everything else.
- Time block your day, scheduling tasks that require more brain power when you have the most energy.
- Include refuel incentives and rest in your daily schedule, giving yourself personal time that brings you joy and boosts motivation.
- Be honest with yourself and assess your progress daily. If you’re struggling, ask yourself why, and if you’re succeeding, take a moment to celebrate the wins.
Start Bettering Your Time Management Abilities Now
“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”Michael Altshuler
Are you ready to start improving your time management routine right now? With the tips mentioned above in mind, here’s how you can dive into owning your time:
- Make a list of priorities: A useful exercise is to create a list of what you believe to be your top priorities (jot down 10–15) and then shorten it by 80 percent. Cross off the items that won’t serve you, your goals, and your overarching mission. This will tell you exactly what is important. If you’re having trouble listing your priorities, try Michael Hyatt’s free Strategic Planning Checklist to get you started.
- Create a vision board: A vision board represents your priorities, goals, and mission. It helps you gain self-awareness and, when completed, serves as a reminder of your aspirations. Keep your vision board somewhere that you visit every day, such as your office, bedroom, or bathroom.
- Keep a calendar: Whether you are a paper or digital person, time management requires a detailed calendar that you interact with throughout the day. This is where you indicate your tasks and time blocks. It should also include personal actions, such as time with family, exercise, quiet time, and rest. As part of your evening routine, evaluate what you’ve accomplished that day and set up your schedule for the following day.
- Try time management apps: These days, we’re lucky to have so many time management and scheduling apps at our fingertips. Some of the top project management apps are Monday, Basecamp, Asana, and Trello. If you’re managing a team and want to keep schedules streamlined, using one of these apps may be useful.
Want to test your time management skills? Check out this article on time management activities that can be done as a team or individually.
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