Time management is a skill, which means it can be taught, learned, practiced, and refined. As with any skill, it takes effort to improve, especially because getting better at time management often requires learning new behaviors. However, the effort is well worth it because when your time is managed well, you can be more productive and perform at a higher level. Work on these five time management habits to create the space you need to complete more work in a day.
1. Make a schedule and stick to it
Most people use a work calendar to schedule meetings and events. However, you can also use it to block out time to work on tasks. In addition to prompting you to do the work in a given time frame, this lets others know when you don’t want to be disturbed, which can cut down on distractions that reduce productivity. Scheduling tasks also gives you the freedom to silence your phone and close your email app because your time is clearly blocked off as busy.
To get the most from this habit, schedule your tasks around the times that you tend to be most productive. Be sure to start each day by looking at your schedule, not by jumping on the first task somebody asks you about.
2. Set clear expectations and deadlines
When you schedule tasks, it becomes much easier for you to let others know when they can expect the work to be completed. Setting deadlines for every task is a great way to ensure that items don’t consistently fall to the bottom of your list. Although it is important to prioritize, consistently ignoring non-urgent tasks is a surefire way to create unnecessary stress for yourself in the future. It’s common for people to naturally gravitate toward working on the tasks that were most recently assigned, but this isn’t always the best approach.
If you are a manager, set clear expectations around deadlines and work with your employees to help them prioritize tasks. When assigning tasks, let employees know when you expect the work to be done and how long a particular task usually takes so they can better manage their time.
3. Break down large tasks into smaller steps
If a to-do list is made up of large, multi-step tasks or entire projects, it can feel overwhelming to even the most experienced professional. Breaking up large tasks into smaller steps makes it more manageable and allows you to feel like you are steadily moving forward as you check items off your list.
If there is a task on your list that you always skip over because it just feels too big, take a few minutes to break it down into smaller chunks that you know you can tackle. At the other end of the spectrum, don’t allow yourself to stretch out small tasks to take up more time. If something should take just 15 minutes, do it within the allotted time frame and then move on.
4. Take breaks
Build breaks into your schedule. Actually put them on the calendar so you’re prompted to take a time-out during the course of the day. It’s also important to recognize when you need a break, whether it’s scheduled or not. Taking a short break—even just 10 minutes—allows you to return to your work feeling refreshed and more focused.
It can be difficult for employees to feel comfortable taking breaks, especially in a work culture that values busyness. However, being busy is not the same as being productive. Taking frequent short breaks can actually boost productivity and allow you to get more done in your day.
5. Make lists and prioritize tasks
Whether you prefer to use an app or stick with pen and paper, lists are an excellent visual reminder of what you need to get done and which tasks you should prioritize. Using multiple lists for different projects or personal tasks makes it easier to shift gears and focus on the immediate tasks at hand.
Remember that lists only work when you actually use them. It’s not enough to write a list and then never reference it. Keep your lists visible throughout the day so you can cross off tasks that have been completed and be reminded about what to focus on next. The more specific your tasks are, the more likely you will be to address them, so use clear action words to prompt the appropriate activity.
Link time management to productivity
Everybody has different systems for time management, and there is nothing wrong with that as long as they are effective. When considering your own time management behaviors, ask yourself whether they increase productivity. If not, use the five tips above or think of your own ways to adapt your time management practices so you will have more dedicated time to get work done. Read more practical tips in our 8-Step Guide to Time Management & Productivity.