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Natalia Rossingol

Time Management Skills 101: Core Skills to Help Manage Your Schedule

Time - it's our most precious resource, and we never have enough of it. Fortunately, we can develop core time management skills to make the most of what we have.

The ability to use your time effectively is not a superpower – it’s a skill that can be learnt. You can finish your tasks on time. You can produce better results in a shorter time period. You don’t have to stress yourself out. And, what’s important, you can still have enough time for your personal life. This is all possible if you have good time management skills.  

Why are time management skills important?

People who practice time management, both in the workplace and in private life, are typically more productive, less overworked, and generally make better progress against their goals.

Effective time management starts with the understanding that your time is limited and that you have to respect it. By getting control over your time, you achieve goals with more consistency, manage multiple projects with ease, do not stress out over missed deadlines, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

There are several time management skills that can make you the master of your own time. They develop self-discipline and can help you tackle your tasks faster and more productively.

Crucial time management skills to master

1. Prioritizing tasks

If you write a to-do list of everything you need to accomplish, chances are it will be pretty long. However, you should remember that not all your tasks are equally important.

Yes, there are tasks that need to be done immediately. But there may also be things that seem deceptively urgent or important but, in fact, have no impact on your goals.

Think about what really matters to you. Invest your time and effort into something that is worth your attention. It doesn’t mean you have to discard minor tasks altogether. Just make sure you don’t procrastinate with critical tasks because you bury yourself under a load of thousands of smaller and easier things. 

Here are some tips for you how to successfully prioritize tasks:  

  • Figure out what is important to you in the long perspective. Use the 4 Ds of time management technique to understand the urgency and importance of the tasks on your list.
  • Make sure you work on your priorities consistently - include them in your schedule.
  • "Eat the frog". Do the urgent tasks with tight deadlines, or those that require more energy, first.  
  • Practice deep work. Focus on one task at a time, to ensure high quality and get useful insights.

2. Organizing your workday

Of course, little distractions will crop up every day. But when you have a plan, it’s easier to get back on track even when something goes wrong.

The simplest way to get organized is to write a to-do list, either on a sheet of paper or digitally. It’s better to do it the day before when you are not in a hurry. After that, you can use time management techniques, like time blocking, boxing, or batching, to create a schedule and allocate a certain amount of time to each specific task. This way, you will have a plan that will keep you focused.

To organize your day, you can also use the technique developed by David Allen, called GTD – Getting Things Done. This method is based on the idea that the human brain is better at processing information than storing it and for this reason, we should get rid of mental clutter. Allen suggests 5 steps of how to do it:

  1. Capture everything. Write things down so that you don’t forget them.
  2. Clarify the category the item fits in, as well as your next actions.
  3. Organize. Add important details to your calendar.
  4. Review. Revise and update your lists.
  5. Engage. Work on the tasks that matter the most.   

3. Managing information

Information is a valuable resource that enables better decision-making and problem solving. As knowledge workers, we rely on information to do our jobs, and so we need systems in place to record, gather, and organize all the data that is coming in that’s related to our tasks and projects.

However, it’s important to do this efficiently so that it’s easy to access and the relevant information is always “to hand.” If you have to spend hours digging around for some information that you saved, you'll soon become frustrated at the time you're losing.

There are 5 main steps of information management:

  1. Collection. You collect documents, audio or video records.
  2. Storage. Papers should be arranged in physical cabinets, while electronic information can be sorted in databases or cloud storage systems.
  3. Distribution. You must decide when, how often, to whom, and through what resources you can disseminate information.
  4. Archiving. This is the storing of inactive information for future reference.
  5. Destruction. When you’re sure you won’t need particular information, you can destroy it securely.

4. Setting (realistic) goals and deadlines

The difference between dreams and goals is that to achieve goals, you actually make a plan. Setting a goal, you create a vision and decide which steps you need to take. You set milestones – your short-term goals, and you celebrate success once you achieve them.

The reason why we often do not achieve our goals, besides a lack of a plan, is the fact that these are not our goals. They’re imposed on us, or they don’t align with our values, or we simply don’t believe in them. So before you set a goal, ask yourself – will you be happy when you achieve it? Will you be truly willing to contribute your time in it? If not, maybe it’s a false goal.

Goals must be realistic, too. Think if you have all the necessary resources – time, finances, people, information, and so on. Trying to accomplish something impossible, you set yourself up for failure before even starting.

Each goal should have a deadline, too. Without a deadline, you risk dispersing your energy and procrastinating and may end up quitting your goal. Set deadlines for each milestone and try to meet them.

To make sure your goals are workable, you can use the SMART model: check if your goal is specific (clear,) measurable (to track progress,) achievable (realistic,) relevant (reasonable,) and time-bound (with a deadline.)  

5. Protecting your time

How often do you attend spontaneous meetings and then lack time to finish the urgent or important tasks that are on your normal schedule? Does it happen that you agree to take on projects where you shouldn’t be involved? The inability to say “no” can be a huge time drain, and we often fall victim to it.

We often waste time on non-urgent tasks – for example, ad hoc meetings, which is, meetings with no agenda or no time limits. The use of attending these meetings is mostly small, if any, but their damage, on the contrary, can be significant.

Agreeing to work on something that can be done without our involvement, we rob ourselves of our own time. Try to delegate tasks that can be delegated, delay them till you’re available, or push back on them entirely.      

6. Managing your stress

Even though stress is an inherent part of our life, we should try to cope with it. Prolonged stress causes various physical and psychological health problems, like headaches, difficulties with sleep, and even heart issues. Take a look at some recommendations on how to effectively manage stress:

  • Control your behavior. Do not take on more responsibilities than you can handle, or share them with someone else. Manage your workload wisely. In case of workplace conflict, distance yourself from heated situations, or at least count to 10 before responding. Be diplomatic.   
  • Be physically active. Exercises release hormones like endorphins that help you feel less anxious.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Practice relaxation techniques, like deep breathing or meditation.    
  • Review your sleep routine.
  • Eliminate triggers. Identify the factors of stress in your life and avoid, or at least reduce them.   

7. Communicating

Just think how easier it would be if everybody knew that plans change, and priorities are different, and so you didn’t have to waste efforts on something that is not necessary anymore. Think how much time you can save if you get all the necessary information on time. Open communication does save a lot of time, which you can spend on something useful.     

Besides, by sharing your plans and goals with other people, you develop trust, and this means you can resolve conflicts more productively and build an environment of psychological safety.

8. Knowing how to disconnect

We often get to feel overwhelmed with heavy workloads and constant communication. When this happens, time management techniques won’t help – the root cause is not your inability to manage time, but excessive information that your brain simply refuses to process at some point.

The best way to solve this problem is to disconnect temporarily and let yourself recharge. It may feel weird to isolate yourself, but it does help you unwind. Take some time off to relax. Shut down your phone and other electronic devices. Do something you enjoy.

You may feel an urge to check your email or social media but resist it. By focusing just on yourself, you will eventually feel more productive and inspired to keep going. 

Benefits of developing good time management skills

It helps you manage your workload

The scope of our workload may vary at different periods, but the amount of time we have is typically the same. Without time management skills, we can get lost in the number of tasks we have to complete. And, on the contrary, being able to control our time, we work productively, meet deadlines, and manage to do more in less time.  

It helps you achieve better results

By improving time management skills, you learn to deeply focus on the most urgent and important tasks, minimize distractions, and finish your important tasks on time. This positively impacts the quality of your work and, therefore, your performance. You achieve your goals and demonstrate responsibility, so you get a chance for faster career growth.     

It helps you maintain a good work-life balance

Even if we cannot manage our time, it doesn’t mean we will get less work to do. As a result, when we fail to finish work on time, we take it home. This way, the limits between our work and private life get blurred – and it has a negative impact on both of them. Time management skills help you finish work at work, and spend the rest of your day on actual life.

How do you feel when you overwork yourself? Probably not the best. You’re tired and annoyed, and this tiredness accumulates, till you eventually get burnt out. But with good time management skills, you will always dedicate time to rest and relaxation. You know how to set time limits and when to stop.

By managing our time effectively, we develop self-discipline and confidence in ourselves. Time management skills can both help us maximize productivity and be more relaxed. This can improve the quality of our life and help us make things happen.

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