You can improve your time management skills by using these practical tools, tips, and techniques. Change begins with a commitment to time management. As long as you are committed to taking action, time management will be easy. You can improve your time management and train others by better planning, prioritizing, delegating, and controlling your environment.
Planning and protecting planned time is the key to effective time management. Those who claim to have no time are either not planning or failing to protect their planned time. You will always have time if you plan and stick to your schedule. It is important to condition or recondition your environment. Time management is a diplomatic way to manage the expectations of other people, especially if they have been put under pressure by others. This includes managers, supervisors, customers, and others. It is more important to control your environment than to let it condition you. You can encourage time management pressures by accepting interruptions from others and not questioning them.
The impact of time management on organizations and the economy is enormous. On the page with time management tips, you can see the staggering statistics of ‘wasted’ time.
This matrix can be used to improve time management in a very simple and quick way.
Time management skills training
This simple rule will improve your time management skills. You can turn off the notification that pops up or makes a noise when you receive mail. This is the biggest time-management obstacle for many people.
Check your email regularly at specific times of the day. For example, you can check your email when you first arrive at work or when you start your day. You could also check it just before you eat lunch and then again an hour before the normal business closing time.
You decide when you want to check your email. This control shouldn’t be in the hands of everyone who sends you emails (or even those spreading spam and viruses). Try to suggest that your company review its policy if it insists on you being constantly interrupted by emails. Involuntary notification by email is one of the biggest time-wasters in the world.
Be ready to make radical changes. Find and try new ways to do things. Question your habits and routines and how you defend your time to others who try to tell you what you should do. The Pareto principle (80:20 rule) is an easy way to assess where you spend your time and identify where it could be better spent.
Think about what you do with your time. Keep a log of your time for a few days if you are not sure. Keep a time log of everything you do over a period of a few days. If you have variety in your schedule, you can even keep it for a full week. You will be surprised at how much time you can work in between interruptions. Most managers can’t work for more than six or five minutes. You need to change if this is you.
It is important to challenge anything that can waste time and effort. This includes routine tasks, meetings, and reports where the responsibility has been passed down or inherited from above. Do not assume that ‘we have always done it this way’ is still the best or necessary method. Consider why you do things and if there’s a better way. In the section of free online resources, you can download and view a time management assessment tool that will allow you to evaluate your time management and identify underlying problems. This tool can also be used to prepare for time management coaching or training.
Prioritize your tasks based on your short- and long-term goals. Plan time for preparation and creative thought, especially when it comes to long-term projects. They need this. You will never prepare if you do not plan ahead. All the work is left until the last minute. If you don’t plan ahead, the urgent short-term task will take up your entire time.
You can use a diary and an activity planner for scheduling. Publish or display the schedule and stick to it.
You should create a weekly schedule that shows your activities and the time slots you have allocated for them. This will help you explain and justify to others why you must prioritize and schedule demands from others when it suits you, not other people. This tool is essential for explaining and justifying to others the need to prioritize demands and schedule them when you want to.
Weekly activity schedule
These are just a few examples of different activities. If you want, you can include exact timing. You don’t need to know what each time slot will be filled with, especially if your schedule is unpredictable, like most people’s. The important thing to do is plan for the unexpected and the activities you predict you will have to perform at specific times. Plan time slots for unexpected activities. You’ll know how much time you’ll need. You should plan time slots to check your emails and posts, but don’t respond to each one immediately. Most urgent situations are communicated via phone or email, so consider the expectations of the original sender.
You can schedule your responses to emails based on urgency and importance. Don’t wait until you remember or feel like doing it. Plan your time slots to return and make phone calls. Plan and schedule your tasks logically and sensibly—kill two birds with one stone. Consider how to best use your lunchtimes. Don’t try to work through them all. You need to relax and take breaks from time to time. After you have created your first weekly schedule, it is easy to continue. Many of the slots are repeated. Also, you’ll notice patterns in the monthly schedule. You’ll need to plan further in advance if you are a senior manager.
Time management matrix for urgent and important situations
Good time management requires the ability to judge whether an activity is urgent, important, or both. People who are inexperienced and not very good at managing their time or their environment tend to spend the majority of their time on boxes 1 and 3. Poor time managers are more likely to prioritize tasks and their time according to the loudest and last person to shout (interestingly, loudness is usually correlated with seniority, which discourages people from asking questions and probing about the importance and urgency of tasks given by senior managers and bosses). Most people spend their spare time in Box 4, where they engage in non-productive and aimless activities. Box 2, the area most important for success, self-determination, and development, is where people spend the least amount of time.
Time management: Other tips
Make a list when you have a lot of tasks to complete. Each piece of paper should only be handled once. Under no circumstances should you pick up an assignment, work on it for a few minutes, then return it to the pile. Don’t start too many jobs at once.
Keep a strict time limit for all meetings, phone calls, paperwork, and visitors. You will be able to see the amount of time wasted if you keep a time log. Take control. You can control your time by keeping a weekly schedule of activities.
Set up your workspace, including the layout, IT equipment, and other aspects, to maximize efficiency. Keep your workspace tidy and all paperwork filed unless you are working on it. Organize your desk, but do not obsess over it. Do not spend the entire week changing screensavers.
Give 25% of your responsibilities to your successor, if you have one.
Delegate as many tasks as you can to others.
When you need some time alone, go somewhere else if you cannot stop the interruptions. You should fight for your right to uninterrupted work when you need it.
Check all regular reports that you receive and write to determine if they are useful and recommend any changes. Create a template that you can use for your regular weekly or monthly reporting, so you don’t have to enter the same figures and narrative each time. Why reinvent the wheel every time?
Get a good secretary, assistant, or PA.
Sharpen up your decision-making. Don’t let the situation sit. Decide what you will do (e.g., consult, gather more information, delegate, etc.) if you cannot decide. Keep in mind ‘JFDI.
Saying “no” politely and constructively is a skill you should learn. Do not make yourself a target. Accepting sideways delegation from your peers can be dangerous. You can justify your refusal by citing business reasons. For example, “I know this is urgent for both of us, but for the sake of the company, I need to deal with other priorities first.” Show people your schedule to show how you manage and prioritize your time.
Ask for deadlines and find out the truth. People will say “now” when later today would be acceptable. You can appeal to their own sense of timing. It’s impossible to be successful without the ability to plan ahead and prioritize.
Break down large tasks into smaller chunks. Project management is a good idea for big jobs.
Choose at least three tips from the list above—or more if possible—and implement them.
These are some suggestions for training in time management.
Concentrate on practical issues. Practicality is key to time management training. The theory of time management is hard to implement because problems are usually caused by habits and environments. Training should focus on helping people make necessary changes to routines, planning, and their responses to others. It is important to recondition the environment in order to achieve successful time management. This is especially true for staff who work on the front line or within internal services.
Explore the templates, tools, and examples of time management here and see how you can adapt them to your people’s benefit.
Line managers must support the commitment of the delegates to making changes. Follow up by providing one-on-one coaching and mentoring (and involving the managers to gain their support).
Small groups of colleagues (maximum 4 training delegates) from the same department can achieve excellent improvements in time management. Small groups and short sessions of up to two hours each allow for a practical approach and results-based focus. Fortnightly sessions allow for follow-up, identification of changes, and next steps.
Time management is a long-term process. It requires constant follow-up, or else it will remain a theory. The trainer can identify and coach the solutions to time management problems, their causes, and their difficulties. The trainer will then help the delegates identify practical improvements and formalize their commitment to making changes.
Consider the basics, such as diaries, wall planners, places to work on big tasks without interruption (like at home), and better systems for controlling and using them, like mobile phones, Outlook, email, etc. They can undermine time management when they become tools and not masters. Daybooks, updating daily priority lists, planning time slots (for projects and regular activities), and protecting the time slots are all examples. Use flow charts to plan and establish time slots for repetitive tasks.
It is important to involve colleagues to protect time slots and reduce interruptions. It’s in the managers’ interest to support and understand changes. Managers are often at the root of time management issues because they do not respect staff time planning and protect slots for big tasks or projects. Time management is about reconditioning the work environment, not letting the workplace condition you.
When people are able to identify and solve their problems, they will find success in time management training. They can also agree on a commitment to change and get support from both the team and managers.