Do you know the single most important asset that best leaders all have in common?
They rarely engage in long conversations.
- They’re approachable
- They’re generous
- They’re respectful
- They’re on top of their games
Importantly, they limit their time spent on chitchatting.
Because they figured out that time is the most precious resource one can have.
If you want to achieve more, you should figure out how you can manage your time more effectively. And it all begins with how you can liberate yourself from endless conversations in the office.
In this post, you’ll learn 10 time management tips that survived the test of time. Make sure that you check the infographic at the end of this post that will help you implement those tips instantly.
Start with a system that you blindly trust …
#1: Have a trusted system
Having a trusted system is a prerequisite for time management.
I know it sounds foolish, but I jot down everything as soon as it comes to mind. Later, I get my tasks sorted along two dimensions: projects (vertical dimension) and contexts (horizontal dimension). We’ll revisit this hierarchy later in this post.
It’s not the system you use that counts but the consistency and trust.
Having such a system in place paves the way for you to implement the time management tips that follow.
#2: Eliminate, automate & delegate
One of the fundamentals of productivity lies in how you can eliminate, automate, and delegate stuff (in that order).
Saying no and delegation were missing from my vocabulary for a very long time. This bullheaded approach to work, however, doesn’t pay off. Believe me—I’ve been there.
The key is that you stop acting out of a habit when it comes to a new task. Always ask yourself whether …
- You can eliminate that task altogether
- You can automate that task so that it doesn’t take that much effort
- You can delegate that task to someone
- You can optimize the process so that it will save you time later
What it requires is a mindset shift. If you’re hard-wired to check boxes like me, it may take long months or even years to become critical minded.
Developing a more critical mindset towards your to-do list is at the heart of effective time management.
Although it takes more effort (and time) upfront to give some serious thoughts to a new solution, you should put things into perspective.
If you want to learn more about elimination, automation, and delegation, Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt is the best resource to begin with. For your convenience, here’s a detailed book summary.
#3: Acknowledge the 80/20 rule
The 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto Principle) assumes that 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of effort.
You should identify the 20 percent of your time that delivers 80 percent of the results. Then you should do more of those high-value activities.
Well, it’s easier said than done …
Richard Koch, author of The 80/20 Principle, recommends that you adopt an attitude towards a more eccentric use of your time:
You are unlikely to spend the most valuable 20 percent of your time in being a good soldier, in doing what is expected of you, in attending the meetings that everyone assumes you will, in doing what most of your peers do, or in otherwise observing the social conventions of your role. You should question whether any of these things are necessary.Richard Koch
The numbers are not set in stone. As you become more aware of the formula, you’ll see the Pareto numbers everywhere.
You might want to set out some time for an 80/20 analysis of your tasks. What are the ones that deliver the greatest results?
Let’s move on to one of the best-known time management tips.
#4: Experiment with the Pomodoro technique
I’ve never been an advocate of the Pomodoro technique, yet it makes perfect sense. In its most conservative form, the Pomodoro technique will teach you how to use a kitchen timer to enjoy a 25-minute focused working session. Then you take a 5-minute break and continue with a new Pomodoro.
If you know that your time is limited, you’ll avoid distractions and push yourself to accomplish the task at hand by the end of the Pomodoro session.
What I particularly like about this method is that it provides a mental and physical framework to achieve more in a certain timeframe.
What is less appealing to me is its 30-minute approach. When you immerse yourself into deep work, 25 minutes may be too short for you to experience what psychologists would call the sense of flow.
Anyway, if you find yourself in the downward spiral of multitasking, the Pomodoro technique will be of benefit to you.
Read on to find out a more lightweight method for managing your time.
#5: Time block your most important tasks
What gets scheduled gets done. If you don’t set out time for doing the important work, you’ll always invent an excuse for not working on your goals.
With time blocking …
- You figure out how to find time for your important projects
- You increase the likelihood of you getting important things done
- You visualize your agenda
- You develop the habit of planning
One of the most appealing concepts in productivity is the ONE Thing model published by Gary Keller & Jay Papasan.
Here’s the point: you identify your ONE thing and make it a priority by blocking out time for it. Your ONE thing is anything that aligns with your internal values and goals. Something that is of the highest priority.
While the authors recommend that you schedule 4 hours to your ONE thing each day, one or two hours of uninterrupted time worked well for me.
If you want to immerse yourself into the ONE thing concept, which I highly recommend, this book summary is a good place to start with.
#6: Batch similar tasks
At the heart of the GTD method, there’s a simple assumption that each task has its own context. The GTD method identifies 7 core contexts:
For example, if you have to make some phone calls, you may want to tackle them all at once. Instead of making a phone call every hour, you could schedule your calls for a time that best fits your agenda.
While this is a good place to start with, I found the GTD categories a bit conservative. Here’re some more ideas to consider for batching:
- Energy levels (high-energy tasks, low-energy tasks—borrowed from Mike Vardy)
- Effort (deep work, shallow work—borrowed from Cal Newport)
- Time (10-minute tasks, 30-minute tasks)
- People (boss, mom, significant other—you name it)
- Unexpected spare time (Free-time-do-this-now—borrowed from Jeff Sanders)
Whether you call them contexts, categories, or tags, most task management tools support batching your tasks. If you want to learn more about how batching works in real life, check this article.
#7: Plan with a safe margin
I’ve learned over the years that showing up in good time requires planning with a margin. Whenever I’m supposed to show up at a certain time, I calculate with a safe margin.
Similarly, a task usually takes twice as long to complete as planned. It’s, therefore, a good practice to add some buffer to your plans.
Tasks usually take twice as long as you expect.
Planning either on paper or with your calendar doesn’t mean that everything is set in stone. You can play around as much as you need.
That brings us to deadlines.
#8: Shorten your deadlines
This is something I’ve learned from Tim Ferriss. By shortening your deadlines …
- You push yourself to get things done in due time
- You stop wasting your time with low-value activities
- You beat your perfectionist self
Admittedly, that’s a tough one. Part of the process is limiting the number of options to consider when it comes to a certain task.
Considering no more than three options is a good rule of thumb in that sense.
Take buying new software as an example. You limit time spent on reading product reviews by committing that you won’t read more than three.
Similarly, you could set a time limit on certain tasks that otherwise might take hours to complete. If you’re like me who loves design work but sucks at it, setting a time limit on design could save you long hours of unnecessary work (and a lot of ink).
#9: Track your time with a daily activity sheet
Tracking your time isn’t the lazy guy’s approach to time management.
The first time I was interested in time-tracking was back in 2016 when I was promoted head of a department. I designed a daily activity sheet in Evernote to track my 9-5.
I tracked my time in half-hour blocks for two consecutive weeks.
The first few days were painful. After some 4-5 days, however, tracking my time felt just naturally and required far less mindfulness and effort.
It was kind of a celebration when I finished with my intensive routine. I got useful insights into (and genuine regrets about) how my days unfolded. It was a useful experience, I could say.
There’s a lazier approach to time tracking, though. Read on.
#10: Use time tracking tools
There’re useful tools out there to assist you in tracking your time.
These tools spy on you and document your time spent across different apps and webpages. They then provide you with a nice report.
It’s really useful to know how much time you spend on email or Facebook. You can assign categories to your activities.
Say social media is part of your marketing work. So, you want to label time spent on social sites as productive time. To go one step further, these smart tools can automatically assign categories to certain activities.
The downside of time tracking tools is that they can’t tell you exactly how productive you are. And at the end of the day, you want to see more than mere statistics.
And this is when the old-school approach (daily activity sheet) comes handy. Combine the two, and you’ll gain unprecedented insight into where your time goes.
Time management tips revisited
Do you remember the single most important asset that best leaders all have in common?
They rarely engage in long conversations.
This can be good guidance above all time management tips discussed in this post. If you happen to avoid all those timewasters, you’ll be surprised how much time you gain.
Use the infographic below as a checklist to manage your time more effectively.
Don’t forget to share this post and the infographic.