How to Improve Time Management Skills? 9 Tips to Manage Your Time Better

It’s hectic, chaotic and your stress levels are alarming. You’ve got your time tracking app on, your calendar open and your to-do list with a gazillion items on it all there, all ready to help you organize your time better. And yet, it’s been three days of overtime and you still feel like nothing’s been completed and closed.

Even though there are so many resources on how to improve your time management skills, more often than not it seems like none of them are working. It might be because we’re looking at it from a wrong perspective. In order to improve any skill, we first need to understand what seems to be the problem and why we need to improve it. 

For example, if you want to improve your time management skills just to be able to get more done, you may not be motivated enough to truly do something about it. On the other hand, if you want to manage your time better in order to reduce stress, improve your focus and dedicate the right amount of time to the right activities, then you may be more motivated to change.

In this article, I explore different aspects of time management. We’ll talk about the importance of time management and what the most important time management skills are. Then, I’ll share some tips, tools and techniques with you that you can experiment with and apply to your own life. 

Let’s get started then, shall we?

What Is Time Management?

Time management is the process of organizing and allocating your time between different activities, both in life and at work. The better your time management skills are, the easier it’ll be to organize your time, complete your tasks and create a good balance between important and not so important tasks.

What Is the Importance of Time Management?

There are many benefits to improving your time management skills. You will be more productive, organized and you’ll have more time to focus on what matters. In addition to that, there are three major benefits of time management that I’d like to point out.

Reduced Stress

Seeing a million items on your to-do list is overwhelming and very stressful. As a result of that, we tend to procrastinate, which ends up in even more stress because we’re not getting anything done and work just piles up. With good time management, you’ll be more productive, which will eliminate the amount of stress and anxiety and enable you to think clearly and stay level-headed.

Reached Goals

Good time management skills allow you to set clear priorities and reach your full potential. In addition to that, they help you set the right steps and actions to reach your goals, thus making you feel more satisfied and motivated to pursue other goals.

More Flexibility and Better Planning

Improving your time management skills means you’ll get better at planning. You’ll learn how to differentiate between more and less important tasks and plan your projects for success. What is more, when you organize your time well, you’re more likely to be more flexible with changes because you know that change is a constant in the planning process so you account for it when you organize your time.

Overall, there are no downsides to improving your time management skills. You’ll just need to experiment and find the tools and techniques that work best for you. 

The rest of this article deals with time management skills, tools and techniques that may help you become better at managing your time. Feel free to skim through and focus on those tips that you feel are best suited for your situation.

3 Most Important Time Management Skills

Most of us struggle to organize our time. We keep trying different tools and techniques, but ultimately we keep failing at it. According to Erich C. Dierdorff and the research he’s done on time management, there are three underlying skills that separate success from failure when it comes to time management. 

  • Awareness: thinking realistically about your time by understanding it is a limited resource.
  • Arrangement: designing and organizing your goals, plans, schedules, and tasks to effectively use time.
  • Adaptation: monitoring your use of time while performing activities, including adjusting to interruptions or changing priorities.

As Erich points out, arrangement is the most commonly known one of the three, but in order to successfully manage your time, you need to develop all three skills as much as possible. If you’d like to learn more about Erich’s research, feel free to read his article on time management.

9 Tips to Improve Time Management Skills

Reword Your Goals

If you’re struggling to reach your goals or keep setting goals that you can’t seem to reach, you might want to take a second look at how you define your goals in the first place. One simple technique would be to set smaller goals that would be easier to achieve, ultimately leading you to your big goal achievement. 

The other simple technique would be to reword your goals. For example, instead of defining your goal as “make more money to be able to travel”, you might want to say the following: travel to 3 different countries this year . Then, as you break that goal down, one of the action steps would be to earn more money, but it wouldn’t be THE goal. By rewording your goals, you start looking at them from a different perspective and more often than not, you tie them to a different emotion (usually, a more powerful one). And by tying your goal to a strong emotion, you’re setting yourself up to be more motivated and determined to reach your goal.

Be Aware of Your Time

Another common thing we tend to do is underestimate or overestimate the time needed to perform a task. In order to manage your time better, you need to be aware of the reality of your time. When you estimate your task time, make sure to think about it from a realistic perspective. When you say that you need 10 minutes for a task, is that really so? 

Remember the adaptation skill from a few paragraphs above? You need to account for changes and interruptions if you want your task estimation to be accurate (or as accurate as possible). 

Now, I know estimating time for new tasks is a struggle, especially if it truly is something you’ve never done before. One thing that might help there is to see whether there are any familiar aspects of the task that you can estimate and start from that point.

Delegate Tasks

Even though it may be easier to do it all by yourself, that’s rarely doable. However, if you desperately try to do it all alone, you’ll end up stressed out, tasks and projects will be running late and eventually you’ll just burn out. 

This is why you need to learn to delegate. Effective task delegation not only helps you focus on other more important tasks, but it also helps your team learn, grow, feel useful and keep being engaged. If you’d like to learn more about delegating, feel free to read my article on how to delegate tasks effectively.

Prioritize

Zero tasks on your to-do list would be amazing. Has it ever happened though? Probably not. We tend to get buried in tasks and miraculously they just keep appearing on our to-do lists. When you see a pile of tasks on your list, your instinct may tell you to pack your bags and run….Well, it may not get to that after all. 

Not all tasks are equally important or urgent. So start by classifying your tasks. The priority would be to do the ones that are both important and urgent. The rest can wait or be delegated as needed. If you want to learn about prioritization techniques, please scroll down to the end of the article where I list the most popular ones. I’ve also included links to articles which list more techniques and explain them in more detail.

Block Time for Yourself

I cannot stress enough how important it is to block out time for your own tasks during your work day. If you’re in a managerial position, more often than not, you have very little time to focus on the tasks you’ve set for yourself or those that only you can do for a certain project. I know, I know, something always comes up and someone always needs your help. Maybe. That’s why, it’s important to block out an hour or so on your schedule to dedicate just to what YOU need to do during the day. 

You can start small. Just set aside an hour a day or an hour every other day. That’s OK, it’s a good start. Eventually, this time will grow and you’ll end up feeling more accomplished.

Take Regular Breaks

Taking regular breaks is so important not only for your body (to stretch and walk around) but also for your mind. Research shows that employees who don’t take breaks end up being less efficient and productive than those who do. 

Without taking adequate breaks from work, employee productivity, mental well-being and overall work performance begin to suffer. Overworked employees often deal with chronic stress that can easily lead to job burnout. This is why it’s important that employers start encouraging employees to take breaks throughout the workday.

Alan Kohll

As the saying goes All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Taking breaks also adds to overall productivity and job satisfaction. So, take a look at your schedule and start adding breaks to your day.

Learn to Say No

For most people, saying no at work is hard. They may feel like they’re letting their coworkers down or being the lazy one. Now, many know that this is more in their head than the reality, most people would rather not deal with that feeling of disappointment so they keep taking on the additional work even though they know their to-do list is already overflowing as is. 

Let me say it again: If you don’t accept additional work because you barely have the time to complete all your tasks at the moment, you’re not being a bad coworker and you’re most definitely not being selfish. What you are being is unrealistic and dishonest with yourself. 

There are many polite ways to say no. For example, you can say:

“Sarah, I appreciate your trust in me, but my schedule is currently full. However, I will be more available 3 days from now and will be more than happy to take over the task in question.”

Or

“Sarah, I have a tight deadline that I have to meet. Would you mind delegating that task to XYZ?”

Or

“Hey Sarah, I don’t really have time for an additional task, but I will have 15 minutes after my lunch break if you’d like to consult on it.”

I know that it’s harder than it looks, but as Nike would say, just do it. Try it out. It won’t feel good at first, but in the long run, it’ll be more beneficial than you can even imagine.

Most importantly, most people will be just fine with you not being able to help them out. Just like you understand that someone is too busy, they will, too. 

Learn Your Productivity Patterns

We are all wired differently. Therefore, different people have different peak performance times during the day. Some may be most productive in the morning, some at night. I know people who are most productive in the middle of the day, after they’ve properly woken up. 

Understanding your patterns of productivity will help you manage your time better. For example, if you’re most productive in the afternoon, you can schedule your most important tasks for that time period and do everything else before or after. There’s no point in starting a complex task in the morning if your brain is still foggy. You’ll get less done and feel more stressed out and/or frustrated.

Avoid Multitasking

Contrary to popular belief that multitasking is super beneficial and important to get things done, it actually impairs your productivity. According to research, we actually cannot completely focus on more than one thing at a time so when you think you’re multitasking, what’s really happening is that you’re switching your focus rapidly from one task to another. 

Now, you can see how not helpful this is. If you’re trying to do more than one thing at a time, you’re not focused on any so you’ll end up being distracted, less effective and ultimately less productive. Not to mention that errors are more likely to happen when we try to multitask than when we’re focused on doing one task at a time.

Popular Time Management Techniques

There have been many studies done and articles (even books) written on time management techniques. In this article, I’ll list just the most popular ones, but I will leave resources for your to keep exploring these techniques in order to find the ones that work best for you.

The Pomodoro Technique

This technique is based on a 25/5 principle. That means that you schedule to work on a task for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. You keep this up until you’ve done it four times and then, after the fourth time, you take a longer, 15-20, minute break.

The Eisenhower Matrix

This may be by far the most popular and well known time management technique. It is based on defining your tasks according to their importance and urgency. The tasks that are prioritized are the ones that are both urgent and important.

Photo credits https://www.usa.edu/blog/time-management-techniques/

The Pareto Principle

Even though this principle comes from economics, it is quite popular and effective in time management as well. The 80/20 rule states that 80% of our results come from 20% of actions. Therefore, you should define which tasks bring most results and focus on those first.

Eat That Frog

Although not as popular as the other three, I wanted to list this technique because it’s a bit different in principle than the others. 

This technique is named after a Mark Twain quote: “Eat a live frog the first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.

It means that you should start your day with the most difficult or demanding tasks and get them out of your way so that you can focus on other tasks during the rest of the day.

To learn more about the above listed techniques and many others, check out these articles:

9 Proven Time Management Techniques and Tools

15+ Most Effective and Proven Time Management Techniques


Start Experimenting

Now that you know a little more about time management, it is time to apply your knowledge. Start by exploring the three skills of awareness, arrangement and adaptation which will help you understand what skills you need to work on. Then, go through the tips and try out those that seem appealing to you. Finally, review the techniques and choose the one you would like to experiment with.

Please, remember that in order to improve your time management skills, you first need to understand where you’re lacking. If you need help, talk to your coworkers, ask for feedback in order to check your gaps. Once you determine your area of improvement, roll up your sleeves and get started. Finally, if you need an accountability partner or a coach, feel free to reach out and schedule a call with me.

Join my email list

Want to learn more about:

  • Project Management
  • Professional Growth
  • Teamwork
  • Personal Growth

And get great books, articles and talks recommendations?

Awesome! Enter your email below and let’s keep in touch!

Leave a Comment