Time management

I need more time. There are not enough hours in the day. Time is flying by. 

Heard this before? Perhaps these are just a few of the things you find yourself saying over the course of a working week – or even daily! If you’re like me, and I think like most others too, then you will find it all too familiar. Time always seems to be slipping away, with one thing after the other tagged on to the bottom of an infinite to-do list.

Well, it’s all about time management. But what’s the method behind the myth? How exactly do we go about managing something as fleeting and elusive as our time? 

Time management table of contents

Defining time management

Time management has become a bit of a buzzword in relation to success, a good work-life balance, and even general wellbeing. It could be easy to brush it off as another 21st century trend, but you can’t deny it is an integral skill that employers look for, and individuals strive for. 

What is it exactly?

The definition of time management is summed up as “the process of planning and exercising conscious control of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity.

Sounds simple enough – plan your time and you’ll be more productive.

But time management is big business; life coaches, entrepreneurs, public speakers, and study coaches have built careers, courses, and social platforms based on sharing their time management success. If it was that easy wouldn’t we all be doing it?! 

The catch

The tricky thing with time management as a process or technique is that there is no formulaic, secret recipe for success. Those articles that claim you can be as successful as so-and-so if you ‘do these 5 things every morning’, and take note of the ‘1 thing to never do if you want to be more productive’ can be great sources of inspiration – but ultimately we’re all different. What works for one, might not work for another. 

There are a number of factors at play that can impact how effective, efficient, and productive we may be at any given task. The important thing is to identify exactly what it is that is impacting your productivity, and try to negate it with other techniques and practices that will see you moving ‘time management’ straight to the top of your skillset. 

The variables

Effective time management looks different to everyone and is something that can be influenced by what I’ve decided to call ‘the variables’. The variables are a number of things – from external environment to day-to-day distractions – that can result in both good and bad time management. However, by understanding which variables have the most significant impact on your schedule, focus, and productivity, you can begin to find a process that is most effective for you. 

Here are some variables to consider when you’re looking to get the most out of your time… 

Environment

The environment that you work or study in can influence your mood, focus, comfort, and ultimately productivity. Noise for example can be a huge distraction for some, preferring to work in isolation with no music or background noise. Meanwhile others find themselves preferring white noise, or can fully focus with headphones in and the playlist rolling. 

With a huge shift to working from home as well since early 2020, you might find yourself in the home office vs. work office debate. While the work office can provide more structure, with set working hours and the expectation to remain focused and on task, working from home has been producing some positive results on productivity. 

Research from Finder suggests that “Two-thirds of employers report increased productivity for remote workers compared to in-office workers.” 

As a result, the freedom to have control over the workspace could be significant for employees to practice time management more effectively. By creating your own working environment, you are able to tailor it to your needs and preferences. 

Motivation & procrastination

Motivation is a huge driving force behind productivity and managing time successfully. This can be a bit harder to come by though in certain work or study situations. In this case you might find yourself procrastinating or putting off certain tasks – leading to sporadic and stressful bursts of work to reach those inevitable deadlines.

“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” 

It can be difficult though to be motivated to work effectively, efficiently, and productively on a task you might not even be that interested in. Previous studies have shown that “Home-life distractions are more likely to prevent productive work when you don’t enjoy the work.

Big workloads can also curb enthusiasm for getting the job done, and cause procrastination to rear its ugly head. Feelings of being overwhelmed or intimidated by the work ahead can cause you to divert to other tasks, or simply lose interest altogether. Finding motivation might then look like a 5 minute break every hour, or once you’ve completed a particular task, to make workloads more manageable and deadlines more achievable. 

Lifestyle

Lifestyle is about how other priorities, hobbies, and social life impact and influence your time. For some their family will be a priority, while others spend more time being active and working out, or having a screen time alone. As a result, in order to manage your time well, you need to understand how these things fit into your schedule and life on a day to day basis. 

If it’s vital for you to get outdoors at least once a day then your time will need to be managed in a way that takes this into account. Not making time for aspects of your lifestyle that are important to you will inevitably lead to you either feeling less productive at work or study, or missing out on the things you love.

Identify your time management non-negotiables 

We all have a limited amount of time per day, and so effective planning and scheduling is required for us to manage our time effectively. But even then it can be difficult to fit everything into a finite block of time.

Setting goals

Goal setting is a part of time management

This is where knowing your non-negotiables is really useful. Start thinking about your goals – this could be for the next year, month, week, or even day. In order to achieve those goals, what are the essential things you need to do with your time? This might be a mixture of work/study related goals as well as personal and health goals. 

For example, if you want to achieve a particular health goal within the next year, you might need to ensure your schedule makes time for daily exercise. Once you’ve identified your top non-negotiables, you’ll be able to build out your schedule to accommodate what is most important to you – and become much more effective, efficient, and productive at achieving those goals.

What are your priorities?

Managing time to spend it with family

Your non-negotiables might also be influenced by your environment, what motivates you, and the lifestyle you have. Here’s a few more things to think about when you’re pinning down your non-negotiables…

  • Daily exercise
  • Family mealtimes
  • Set working hours
  • Regular breaks
  • Set workplace (home vs. office)
  • Flexible working options
  • 4 day working week
  • Access to the outdoors

Is better time management better for you?

The purpose of good time management is to achieve increased productivity, but is this necessarily a good thing for us as individuals – does better productivity mean a better life?

A recent blog post from the BPS Research Digest suggests that our busier lives have increased the desire for us and our employers to get things done quicker with a “general focus on ‘productivity’” now “highly prized both at work and at home.” But is this constant desire, and sometimes pressure, to get things done better and faster actually beneficial?

Time management and wellbeing

Recent studies have found that time management is indeed an important skill in the workplace, but that by practicing effective time management, we can also see positive effects on our personal wellbeing: 

While time management skills have become more important in evaluations of job performance since the 1990s, their biggest impact lies elsewhere: in personal wellbeing.”

If you’re looking to find that work-life balance then time management is certainly a valuable skill for improving your life satisfaction – by up to 72%. In fact the research shows that wellbeing is not simply a byproduct of a successfully managed work life but can be a direct result of good time management.

Benefits of better time management

  • Reduced feelings of stress and anxiety
  • More focus
  • Improved quality of work
  • Work-life balance
  • Career development/growth
  • Fewer distractions/easier to manage distractions
  • Self-confidence
  • Achieving goals and deadlines

6 time management techniques you can use every day

So how exactly do we manage our time on a daily basis? We know it’s beneficial to do it, what can influence how good or bad we are at it, and how to set our goals – but how do we implement it in a practical way?

Take a look below at 6 useful techniques you can incorporate into your daily life to help improve time management. 

Have a plan

Time management planning

This may seem like a slightly obvious one, but by having a set plan or schedule for your day you can see what needs to be achieved and prioritize tasks by importance. Try writing a single to-do list (too many lists can in fact be counter-intuitive), or have a written or digital timetable with time blocked out for each task. 

Consolidate your calendars

Time management app

Having more than one calendar on the go can lead to overbooking yourself with no clear overview of your work or tasks on any given day. A single calendar for everything gives you a realistic idea of your schedule for that day, and ensures you have time set aside for the things that are important to you. 

Say no

Saying no to additional work, meetings, and even socializing can be difficult – especially when we feel like we need to be more productive. But more doesn’t always mean more productivity. If it’s not one of your non-negotiables, or isn’t essential for helping you meet your goals – just say no!

Avoid multitasking

Again, by multi-tasking we might feel like we’re achieving more, but remember time management is also about being effective. By focusing on one task at a time you’re more likely to achieve better results. Think of it as quality, not quantity.

Delegate tasks

Wherever you can, delegate certain tasks to appropriate colleagues, friends, or family to help you improve your efficiency to get that task done – and also effectiveness if there is someone else more suitable for that task. This could be as simple as asking a family member to wash the dishes to give you an extra 15 minutes to focus on other tasks. 

Allow time for distractions

Making time to scroll through social media or chat to a friend can actually help to limit the time you spend distracted in the long run. By allowing yourself 10 minutes every 2-3 hours to check social media, or scheduling a half hour catch up call after lunch, you remain in control of your time. 

Give these time management techniques a try to find out which ones are most effective for you.

Amie McKenzie

Amie is a freelance copywriter with experience creating a variety of content across multiple channels.

With a background in retail management, her writing also reflects her unique insight into business operations and consumer behaviour.

Published on 5 July 2021