Time is precious. Poor time management could lead to stress and anxiety, and may impact your relationship with others. Here are my favourite time management techniques that work wonders for me.
1. Wake up early
Waking up early is certainly one of my favourite time management tips. I really have to thank my biological clock for this one. Everybody in my family is an early riser. Whether it is because of nature or nurture, the end result is that I have been a morning bird for as long as I remember. I love seeing the sky in the early morning gradually turning from dark to bright blue, and I love hearing the morning birds (not me, but the actual birds) singing.
Waking up early when most of the world is still asleep gives me the much needed quietude to get stuff done. I know the world is moving towards open space and constant social interactions, but at the end of the day, I still cherish the little bit of solitude left. In the early mornings, my thoughts run much more freely, and my focus is much sharper. My productivity is definitely way up in the morning when I am alone in my room with no distractions. By the time the sun smiles, I have already gotten quite a few things done. Exactly which things, you may ask? Check out my morning routines to find out!
2. Respect your biological prime time
Our energy levels change throughout the day. I am an early riser. However, for others, late nights may be their most productive time. You want to schedule your important strategic items to coincide with your most productive time so you can maximize efficiency.
The right time management technique is not to follow the most popular theories. You want to make sure that the strategies work for you.
3. Prepare the night before
Of course, my ability to get things done quickly as soon as I wake up is inseparable from the to-do list that I compiled the night before. Okay, it is a bit of an exaggeration to say “as soon as I wake up”, because I have to spend at least 5 minutes opening my eyes…I am definitely not able to spring out of my bed and immediately start working. But it’s close.
How do I accomplish that? Every night before I go to bed, I have the habit of checking my calendar and mentally note down what exactly I will need to do tomorrow. I also have my to-do list on my desk, so it is the first thing I see when I wake up.
4. Use Google calendar to schedule every task
Speaking of calendar, I really have to give credit to the Google calendar. It deserves the centre stage for another one of my not-so-secret tips to manage time and plan my daily schedule.
I was pretty adamant about using a physical calendar for almost two decades, until one day I decided to give Google calendar a try. Needless to say, I have never gone back to carrying a physical calendar since, even though I love how pretty the calendars are in the local Chapters. What I especially love is the “repeat” functionality. It has saved me time because I no longer have to write the same thing down in my calendar over and over again if it is recurring.
Writing down things in my Google calendar gives me clarity on what needs to be done. It has also helped me with prioritizing tasks now that I have everything in sight. My Google calendar is filled with every big to small, from doing laundry to going for a run.
I am grateful for my calendar, because it keeps me accountable. I have the habit of deleting the tasks after getting things done, and I enjoy seeing a blank day at the end of the day after I accomplish all the things I set out to accomplish for the day.
5. Make a list
Even if you don’t want to use Google calendar, to reduce stress and use your time wisely, you may want to create a weekly or daily to-do list. It helps you visualize what needs to be done. You can also cross off items after you are done. I guarantee that you will feel a sense of accomplishment while crossing the items off.
6. Prioritize tasks
Have you heard of an important principle known as the 80/20 rule or the Pareto principle? The idea was formulated by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto.
The principle states that, for many events, roughly 80 % of the effects come from 20% of the causes. It’s an uneven distribution that can be found in countless life and business situations.
A popular time management technique is to prioritize your daily activities so you finish the most important and urgent tasks on your to-do list every day (the 20% that will lead to 80% of the effects). If you don’t manage to finish your less important tasks (e.g., potential time wasters like emails, social media, etc.), that is completely okay, because you got the high priority stuff done.
There is an interesting theory called “pickle jar theory” that is also related to this concept. This theory, also referred to as The bucket of rocks theory or The jar of life theory, was developed in 2002 by Jeremy Wright with the notion that time is a finite space that has limits. Basically, the jar represents our typical day, while the rocks, pebbles, sand and water represent everyday activities. We can fill the jar with different tasks and activities. But, we need to respect a specific order and time estimate on each activity. Therefore, the pickle jar theory helps us estimate how long a piece of work will take to complete, and in what order they should be completed.
7. Set SMART goals
You can’t speak about great time management methods without talking about using SMART goals. The SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. You should try your best to define these parameters when you set goals to help ensure that your objectives are attainable within a certain time frame.
8. Use the Rapid Planning Method (RPM)
Motivational speaker Tony Robbins developed this simple system that teaches you how to plan your day and manage your time. The acronym RPM stands for results, purpose and massive action plan. This is a way of thinking for conditioning your brain to focus on the outcome and result that you’re after.
9. Use time blocking: Create 25-minute time blocks for tasks I do not typically enjoy
A good time management system does not mean that you work non-stop: it means that you have an effective schedule mixing work and rest. With the help of Google calendar, it is easy to section my days into blocks. 25-minute chunks work best for me for tasks I have difficulty starting, such as reading my 100-page-long notes for my tests, or writing an essay. You can also use free time tracking apps and softwares to help you track how much time you have for each task.
The benefits of setting time constraints are trifold:
- I know that I only need to work on this task for 25 minutes before I can take a break. This is a much easier way to trick myself to start on these tasks I do not typically enjoy. I also know that I have set time aside for relaxation. This makes easier for me to start knowing that I can relax in a bit.
- I know that I only have 25 minutes to work on this task, so I BETTER START NOW!
- During this one time block, you only need to stay focused on the task at hand. This blocks out other distraction and improves your ability to concentrate on this particular issue.
Of course, 25-minutes of intense work followed by a 5-minute break is what works best for me. Some people may prefer longer time blocks such as 45 minutes to an hour with a 10 minutes break, or even shorter ones (though I do think 25 minutes is on the short side already). Whatever you decide, the general idea is the same: use time constraint to your advantage!
This strategy is also has a more formal name, the pomodoro technique.
10. Tell myself this is a one-way street
This method may seem a little bit cruel to myself, but let me tell you, it really is one of those tips to manage time that actually work! The mental image of me going down the only one-way street within sight is a strong incentive for me to stop procrastinating and start working.
I procrastinate the most when there is an assignment that will take me at least 10-20 hours looming. It is very difficult to start on such a task even though I have lost count on how many of these huge assignments I have completed to date (Yay student days!). By leaving myself with no alternative, I no longer have a choice to “not do the task”. The task becomes a “must”.
By using this effective time management strategy in conjunction with the previously mentioned method of creating 25-minute blocks, I have been able to reasonably efficiently finish all the must-dos I have had to deal with so far, even though I wince sometimes.
11. Eat the frog
Mark Twain once said: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
Of course, you don’t need to actually eat frogs to use this important time management tip. In reality, your “frog” is your biggest, most important task. It is the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it.
So, “eat that frog,” is another way of saying that if you have two important tasks before you, start with the biggest, hardest, and most important task first. Don’t eat two frogs at the same time, but rather one at a time.
Discipline yourself to begin immediately and then to persist until the task is complete before you go on to something else.
12. Go to bed when I genuinely don’t feel like doing anything
Yes, it happens. When I am stuck on a math question for an hour, or when I am just so tired at the end of the day from work that I have no heart nor the brain cells to start another essay, I will typically just give myself a break, and go to bed.
I do this because I know when I am in such a mental state, it is not possible for me to be genuinely productive anymore. I used to try to coax myself into working a little bit more (even trying the 25-minute block trick), but I always ended up wasting my time doodling or browsing the internet.
Now, I listen to my body. When my body says it is tired, I will just go to sleep. I’d much rather wake up early the next morning than staying up all night trying to solve a puzzle.
What’s interesting is that oftentimes, I gain more clarity in the morning after I wake up. A difficult math problem becomes much easier to solve, and the essay that I had so much trouble starting just appears as I type away in the morning light.
So yes, if you are tired, go to sleep. Your body and your brain will both thank you.
13. Develop routines
Many people say daily routines are the secret of successful people. Although I am by no means successful, I can at least say that routines has certainly helped me manage and find a bit extra time in my day. Once you do a certain sequence of tasks enough times, you are very likely to find ways to become more efficient. For example, you may learn to put your clothes in the washing machine first, and do you Sunday batch cooking while the washing machine is running.
Having routines in my life has also given my life structure. Although some people may complain that it is boring that everyday is the same, I’d say structure is critical for managing my time, and useful if you are looking to squeeze more time out of your life.
People often say it takes at least 21 days to form a habit. This may be daunting, but once you have your habit in your life, executing it becomes so much easier – you will basically be on autopilot.
14. Batch cooking
One routine that I have developed over the years to help me manage time is batch cooking. I am not very particular when it comes to food, especially during the week. To me, food during the week is mostly only for sustenance. If you are like me and don’t mind eating similar food every day, batch cooking is the way to help you manage and find more time during the day.
One of my favourite simple tips that help you manage time even further when you batch cook is to do sheet pan meals. Get your protein (I mostly eat chicken or fish), your root vegetables (carrots and onions), and your starch (potatoes and sweet potatoes), wash and pat them dry, drizzle on some oil and seasonings, and roast them in the oven. I also like to grab a bag of pre-washed leafy greens, add some dried fruits and nuts and make a side-salad. Super easy and super healthy.
Of course, things are different on weekends. I spend a lot more time in the kitchen making something that can be remotely referred to as delicious (e.g., see my homemade scones!). But I swear by batch cooking during the week.
15. Control my emotions
Anxiety, overthinking and excessive worrying are detrimental to productivity and managing time. If I am anxious about something, I have great difficulty concentrating and tend to let procrastination get the best of me in the first place. I end up wasting time worrying about that particular problem instead of spending time on actually SOLVING IT.
Controlling my emotions is a super effective strategy, but I have to admit, it is one of the more difficult tips to manage time that I am still learning how to master. But at least I have identified my triggers and am working towards remaining calm as much as possible.
16. Stop worrying and using the Getting Things Done (GTD) framework
GTD (getting things done), is a popular task management system created by productivity consultant David Allen. The methodology is based on a simple truth: The more information bouncing around inside your head, the harder it is to decide what needs attention. As a result, you spend more time thinking about your tasks than actually doing them. When information piles up in your head, it leads to stress, overwhelm, and uncertainty.
Allen observed that our brains are much better at processing information than storing it (“your head’s a crappy office”). His GTD method lays out how to dump all your mental clutter into an external system and then organize it so you can focus on one big thing at a time (“Deep work”). If you have a lot of tasks on hand, I recommend that you use a project management software to organize your to-do lists and thoughts.
17. Say no to things
As an introvert, too much social interaction is exhausting for me. Of course, I enjoy hanging out with friends sometimes, but being alone is ultimately how I re-charge and find my inner peace.
When I was younger, I used to feel compelled to say “yes” to every invitation, because I worried that saying “no” would be interpreted as being unfriendly or anti-social. But as I become a stronger and more mature individual, saying “no” to things has turned into something that I find empowering.
By saying “no”, I acknowledge my limits, free myself from gatherings that I do not necessarily derive happiness from, and enable myself to properly manage my time and spend it on activities that truly bring me joy. Trust me, parties go on just fine without me.
Saying “no” to things is definitely not a sign of weakness. It is quite the opposite, and I believe it is a form of strength and self-love. None of us has unlimited amount of energy, and one important aspect of maturity is learning how to say “no” gracefully.
18. Surround myself with people who also value time
If you are looking to improve your time management skills in order to squeeze out more time in your day, surround yourself with people who are also motivated to do the same. Because most of my friends value time as much as me, I do not need to constantly wait for people who are habitually late. Additionally, because I know that my friends are not the tardy type, I have also become a lot more vigilant about keeping my own time.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. I’d say the same principle applies to habits as well. Find people who want to be as efficient as you (or at least have the genuine desire to become so), and soon enough you will find yourself picking up the little pieces of time that you never knew existed. Good habits can just be as infectious.
19. Always have some small tasks at hand
Of course, expecting everybody to be on time 100% of the time is too high of an expectation. More than likely, you are just setting yourself up for disappointment, not to mention that you can end up alienating your friends.
As someone who values time, I sometimes cannot help but feel the frustration that rises from the bottom of my stomach when I am impatiently waiting for someone to show up. One time management technique that I have devised to combat this negative emotion is to always have something productive to do when I am waiting. By keeping myself occupied in a task, I am less likely to feel upset, and I get to complete some tasks in the mean time.
With the advent of mobile technology, doing value-added activities on the go is not that difficult anymore. As a blogger, there are many of small things I can do, such as:
- Brainstorming for my future blog posts
- Working on expanding my social media presence:
All of these little things can each be done in a few minutes (or even a few seconds), thus making them the ideal things to do while I wait. By refocusing my attention to these tasks, I am also able to deflect any negative emotion away. I have even come up with some brilliant ideas that has helped me drive some great traffic to my site!
20. If you don’t have time, delegate
How to manage your time when we all only have 24 hours in a day and there are way too many things that need to be done? Why not try delegating some of the tasks to others? This way, you can focus on your priorities without feeling overwhelmed. You will have the peace of mind that other things have been taken care of.
There you have it – my top tips to manage and find more time in my day. I use these time management strategies regularly in my life, and you can, too! Time management skills can be acquired over time. Of course, the best time management techniques are the ones that work the best for you. We can all become time management experts.