Time management is a tricky operation. Many tips and tricks you’ve heard about may sound similar or just don’t offer solutions that work for you. However, it’s best to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible from different sources and perspectives, so we’ve compiled a list of some of the most effective time management tips that you might not have heard of yet.
1. Pareto’s Principle (80/20)
Pareto’s Principle refers to the notion that a vital 20% of your work will account for roughly 80% productivity that ultimately contributes to your success. The most important take-away from this way of thinking is not to let newly emerging tasks cloud the importance of that 20% of tasks that are really the most vital and important, (unless doing so would also serve to contribute significantly to your results). Additionally, recognize that doing one or two “important” tier tasks will be equivalent to doing several lesser tasks. With this method, your prioritization of “important” versus “less important” tasks should be periodically re-evaluated in order to identify any changes which might facilitate improvement.
How to Apply to 80 / 20 Rule
Start by writing down your top ten goals for the day (or for any given period of time). Then ask yourself: If you could only accomplish one of the goals on that list today, which one would have the greatest positive impact on your work or personal life?
Next, pick one more goal that you think is the second most important for your day.
We all know the feeling of not having enough time in a day to get everything done. But after completing this exercise, you will have determined the most important 20 percent of your goals that will help you more than anything else. Focus on those.
An example of Pareto’s Principle in action:
In marketing, 80% of your sales may come from 20% of the clients, meaning it is most important to focus your sales on that small percentage that give a higher yield.
The flipside of this is that 80% of your bad reviews may come from 20% of your customers, meaning that although the reviews aren’t necessarily meant to be discounted, it’s important to pay attention to the exact sources.
2. Covey’s Time Management Grid
Also commonly known as the Eisenhower Matrix, Covey’s time management grid evaluates the importance and immediacy of tasks by means of a grid system. In this system, you start by categorizing the tasks on your to-do list into a four-quadrant grid.
- Quadrant 1: Urgent and important deadlines
(Both time sensitive and important tasks—these need to be done first)
- Quadrant 2: Long term strategies and development pathways
(Things that contribute to your long-term strategies and goals—these are often easy to brush off since they often don’t have set time constraints, but are the most crucial to your personal and career growth)
- Quadrant 3: Time pressured work
(Urgent tasks that must be done in a timely manner)
- Quadrant 4: Day-to-day distractions
(Tasks that have little/no time sensitivity and are not crucial)
Learn more about the Eisenhower Matrix/Covey’s Time Management Grid here.
3. The ALPEN Method
Similar to Covey’s Time Management Grid, the ALPEN method is about creating a productivity battle plan for yourself as an employee. While Covey’s Time Management Grid might be better suited to long term planning, the ALPEN method uses a daily organization system in order to plan for each individual day while also leaving room for future plans as well. Essentially, you start by making a list of everything that needs to be done, then estimate the time each activity will take to complete and schedule accordingly. For this process, try following the steps outlined below.
- Activities – Note down assignments, activities, appointments
This doesn’t need to be extremely organized yet, just list all your tasks for the day.
- Length estimation – Estimate the duration of activities to be performed
Use this step to note next to your list the approximate times each task will take.
- Plan ahead – Break down the specifics and block out time
While you need to get several tasks done in a day, it’s also important to factor in time variations (things that take more or less time than you thought). Remember to incorporate breaks and other possible gaps in your scheduling.
- Establish priorities – Make decisions about which activities to be done first
Take your existing list with the times added and organize it based on which activities are most time consuming/most productive as well as activities that are less time consuming/also productive. Additionally, schedule your day around doing the most crucial activities on your list.
- Next-day review – Review the previous day and make improvements as needed
If you find yourself taking on too many difficult tasks in a day, such that you’re unable to finish, make sure to space out difficult tasks with less difficult but still important tasks, so that you will maintain productivity without suffering burnout.
If the thought of using a prescribed method throws you off, try some of the tips below to help you manage your time in a way that suits your individual needs…
4. Give yourself a time limit and set reminders to switch from task to task
As we work on something for a length of time that surpasses our capability, we lose productivity because we’re not paying attention to what we’re doing. This is similar to the concept of “highway hypnosis” while driving, where it is more common to make mistakes because of the tendency to move on autopilot when stimulation is the same over a period of time. It’s for this reason that it is crucial to improve your productivity by setting a schedule for switching tasks. There are several ways to do this, but for the sake of remembrance, a time is likely going to be the most effective for you. Timers should be set in a way that is engaging, such as on your phone so that the alarm is something jarring instead of something passive such as a calendar update. This will force you to take note of the fact that it is time to switch topics in order to maintain a “fresh set of eyes” at any given time.
5. Set the most important tasks to be completed in the morning
Draining tasks are most easily accomplished in the morning, when we have the most energy. Additionally, completing difficult/important tasks at the start of the workday will lead to a sense of accomplishment that carries over into productivity of other tasks. However, it is well known that every individual has a unique schedule and therefore window of maximum productivity. So, in order to maintain your standards for working on tasks, you should be mindful of when your peak periods of productivity are throughout the day and dedicate your most difficult tasks to that time frame.
6. Change your schedule periodically
As discussed before, monotony is your enemy. It leads to careless mistakes and a general lack of drive when completing work. Use an organized method in order to change your schedule, such as creating a new planner or another visual method, this reminder will keep you from habitually reverting to your previous schedule. In creating your new schedule, remember to keep in mind your productivity windows, so as to not compromise your quality of work.
7. Accept that imperfection is an inevitability
One of the most dangerous time management mistakes is micromanagement of your own output. Fear of making mistakes leads to an issue with general productivity. This is why it is extremely important to create a balance between quality and quantity. Essentially, this means that special care needs to be taken with time management, so that micromanaging a project in an attempt to achieve perfection does not hinder the schedule of something else entirely. Mistakes can be amended but time cannot be replaced. Additionally, do not vilify yourself for not being perfect in your work output or time management. Mistakes will happen, what matters is learning from them and continuing to make adjustments and improvements to your daily habits.
8. Learn to say “No” if you need to
It is important to set boundaries in the workplace that improve your ability to complete tasks. This can mean anything from setting times when you may be interrupted during work periods versus times when you will be unavailable. An example being, letting your staff know that as long as your door is open, you are open to questions or conversation, but a closed door indicates that you are unavailable. This goes also for employees who work from home, as other people in your environment will affect your work output if you do not establish adequate boundaries with regards to when you are allowed to be disturbed. You need to also learn to say no with regards to new tasks. If you are overwhelmed, you’ll be less likely to complete all of the things you have taken on, or you’ll simply produce low quality work on a large scale. Avoid the all-too-common burnout that many people experience from overextending themselves in the workplace by letting your teammates help you carry some of the load!
9. Take care of yourself
Create a time management plan that is specific to your individual needs. There are many resources for how best to manage your time, both in and out of the office, but it’s important to understand that none of them may be your magic bullet. Understand that your needs are your own, and that the time management solutions of others might not work for you, so it’s important to try several different strategies to find the best fit.