Time Management

What Is Time Management?

Working Smarter to Enhance Productivity

Do you ever feel like there’s not enough time in the day?

We all get the same 24 hours – so why do some people seem to achieve more with their time than others? The answer: good time management.

Time management is the process of organizing and planning how to divide your time between different activities. Get it right, and you’ll end up working smarter, not harder, to get more done in less time – even when time is tight and pressures are high.

The highest achievers manage their time exceptionally well. And by using Mind Tools’ time-management resources, you too can make the most of your time – starting right now!

The Benefits of Good Time Management

When you know how to manage your time effectively, you can unlock many benefits. These include:

  • Greater productivity and efficiency.
  • Less stress.
  • A better professional reputation.
  • Increased chances of advancement.
  • More opportunities to achieve your life and career goals.

Overall, you start feeling more in control, with the confidence to choose how best to use your time.

And by feeling happier, more relaxed, and better able to think, you’re in a great place to help others reach their targets, too.

How Well Do You Manage Your Time?

Start by assessing your existing approach. How good are you at organizing your time so that you get the important things done well? Can you balance your time between different activities? And when you do make time to do something, are you able to focus – and get it finished?

Our quiz, How Good Is Your Time Management , will show you what you’re getting right, as well as highlight where – and how – you can improve.

Tip:

Good time management takes a shift in focus from activities to results. Being busy isn’t the same as being effective. In fact, for many people, the busier they are, the less they actually achieve.

General Time-Management Tools

Mind Tools has a range of resources designed to improve your time management overall. These offer practical solutions to common time-management challenges, as well as ways to change key habits for the better.

How to Be More Organized  explains why your environment needs to be as organized as your thinking! There are practical tips from highly organized people, plus ideas for using technology to take more control of your time.

And, since good time management relies on planning, recording and reflecting on your activities, we explain some of the best-known tools for doing this, including Activity Logs , To-Do Lists  and Action Programs .

Prioritization

You can achieve more when you start dedicating time to the right things. But how do you know what those things are?

Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle  is a way to distinguish between demands, so that you prioritize them wisely.

The Action Priority Matrix  includes a downloadable worksheet for exploring how much time to give to different activities (if you should be doing them at all!).

Scheduling

You may know what you need to do – but when should you do it? Timing is everything.

It pays to get tough tasks done while you’re still feeling fresh, for example, as we explain in Is This a “Morning” Task? 

And you can boost your efficiency, gain people’s trust, and use adrenaline to your advantage, by reading How to Meet a Deadline .

Goal Setting

The most successful “time managers” have clear targets to aim for. They develop SMART Goals , allowing them to allocate their time effectively.

Treasure Mapping  is a powerful way to see your goals clearly – so that you’re motivated to give them the time they need. Personal Mission Statements  are also helpful for being organized and staying committed to your plans.

Concentration and Focus

It’s no good just making the time to pursue your priorities. You have to use that time well, too. We have a collection of resources devoted to doing just that, including advice on minimizing distractions , and getting into a focused state of “flow .”

There’s also detailed guidance on using your time well when you’re working from home , and when you’re doing your job on the move .

Time Management in Practice

Even with the best intentions, and plenty of powerful tactics, it’s all too easy to fall back into bad time-management habits. So Mind Tools offers a number of resources that will help you to stay on track.

How to Stop Procrastinating , for example, explains why it’s so tempting to put things off – and how to stop doing it.

9 Ways to Use Your Dead Time Wisely  makes sure that you don’t waste a moment.

And in Self-Discipline  we explore the core skills you’ll need to embed long-lasting time-management techniques.

Key Points

Time management means organizing your time intelligently – so that you use it more effectively.

The benefits of good time management include greater productivity, less stress, and more opportunities to do the things that matter.

Mind Tools offers a wealth of resources to improve your time-management skills. They can help you to be more organized, to prioritize better, to schedule tasks appropriately – and then to complete them in a focused and efficient way.

Our resources also explain how to use clear goals to guide your time management, helping you to stay motivated and disciplined.

And there’s advice on overcoming common time-management challenges, so that you keep improving your approach – and using your time to the full!

How Good Is Your Time Management?

Discover Time Management Tools That Can Help You Excel

How often do you find yourself running out of time? Weekly, daily, hourly? For many people, it seems that there’s just never enough time in the day to get everything done.

When you know how to manage your time you gain control of what you achieve.

Take this self-test quiz to identify the aspects of time management that you need most help with. The results will point you to the specific tools that will help you to work more efficiently.

How Good Is Your Time Management?

Instructions

For each statement, click the button in the column that best describes you. Answer the questions as you actually are, rather than how you think you should be, and don’t worry if some of the questions seem to score in the “wrong direction.” When you are finished, click the “Calculate My Total” button at the bottom of the test.

15 Statements to AnswerNot at AllRarelySometimesOftenVery Often
1The tasks I work on are the ones with the highest priority.
2I find myself completing tasks at the last minute, or asking for extensions.
3I set aside time for planning and scheduling.
4I know how much time I spend on each of the various task I do.
5I find myself dealing with interruptions.
6I use goal setting to decide what tasks and activities I should work on.
7I leave contingency time in my schedule to deal with “the unexpected”?
8I know whether the tasks I am working on are high, medium, or low value.
9When I am given a new assignment, I analyze it for importance and prioritize it accordingly.
10I am stressed about deadlines and commitments.
11Distractions keep me from working on critical tasks.
12I have to take work home in order to get it done.
13I prioritize my To-Do List or Action Program.
14I confirm my priorities with my boss.
15Before I take on a task, I check that the results will be worth the time put in.

Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 still need to be answered!Calculate My Total Total = 0

Score Interpretation

ScoreComment
15-30Ouch. The good news is that you’ve got a great opportunity to improve your effectiveness at work, and your long term success! However, to realize this, you’ve got to fundamentally improve your time management skills. (Read below to start.)
31-45You’re good at some things, but there’s room for improvement elsewhere. Focus on the serious issues below, and you’ll most likely find that work becomes much less stressful.
46-75You’re managing your time very effectively! Still, check the sections below to see if there’s anything you can tweak to make this even better.

As you answered the questions, you probably had some insight into areas where your time management could use a pick-me-up. The following is a quick summary of the main areas of time management that were explored in the quiz, and a guide to the specific tools you can use for each.

Goal Setting

(Questions 6, 10)

To start managing time effectively, you need to set goals. When you know where you’re going, you can then figure out what exactly needs to be done, in what order. Without proper goal setting, you’ll fritter your time away on a confusion of conflicting priorities.

People tend to neglect goal setting because it requires time and effort. What they fail to consider is that a little time and effort put in now saves an enormous amount of time, effort and frustration in the future. Mind Tools has two great articles on goal setting that are must-reads for everyone. If you are serious about time management, we suggest you start with Personal Goal Setting  and The Golden Rules of Goal Setting . We also recommend Treasure Mapping .

Prioritization

(Questions 1, 4, 8, 13, 14, 15)

Prioritizing what needs to be done is especially important. Without it, you may work very hard, but you won’t be achieving the results you desire because what you are working on is not of strategic importance.

Most people have a “to-do” list of some sort. The problem with many of these lists is they are just a collection of things that need to get done. There is no rhyme or reason to the list and, because of this, the work they do is just as unstructured. So how do you work on To Do List tasks – top down, bottom up, easiest to hardest?

To work efficiently you need to work on the most important, highest value tasks. This way you won’t get caught scrambling to get something critical done as the deadline approaches. For information on how to start prioritizing your tasks, see Activity Logs , Prioritized To Do Lists , Prioritization , The Action Priority Matrix , and Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle .

Managing Interruptions

(Questions 5, 9, 11, 12)

Having a plan and knowing how to prioritize it is one thing. The next issue is knowing what to do to minimize the interruptions you face during your day. It is widely recognized that managers get very little uninterrupted time to work on their priority tasks. There are phone calls, information requests, questions from employees, and a whole host of events that crop up unexpectedly. Some do need to be dealt with immediately, but others need to be managed. Our article on Managing Interruptions  discusses how you can minimize your interrupted time.

However, some jobs need you to be available for people when they need help – interruption is a natural and necessary part of life. Here, do what you sensibly can to minimize it, but make sure you don’t scare people away from interrupting you when they should.

Procrastination

(Questions 2)

“I’ll get to it later” has led to the downfall of many a good employee. After too many “laters” the work piles up so high that any task seems insurmountable. Procrastination is as tempting as it is deadly. The best way to beat it is to recognize that you do indeed procrastinate. Then you need to figure out why. Perhaps you are afraid of failing? (And some people are actually afraid of success!)

Once you know why you procrastinate then you can plan to get out of the habit. Reward yourself for getting jobs done, and remind yourself regularly of the horrible consequences of not doing those boring tasks! For more help on recognizing and overcoming procrastination see our guide to Beating Procrastination .

Scheduling

(Questions 3, 7)

Much of time management comes down to effective scheduling of your time. When you know what your goals and priorities are, you then need to know how to go about creating a schedule that keeps you on track, and protects you from stress.

This means understanding the factors that affect the time you have available for work. You not only have to schedule priority tasks, you have to leave room for interruptions, and contingency time for those unexpected events that otherwise wreak chaos with your schedule. By creating a robust schedule that reflects your priorities and well as supports your personal goals, you have a winning combination: One that will allow you to control your time and keep your life in balance. To learn specific scheduling skills, see our articles on Pickle Jar Theory  and Scheduling Skills .

Key Points

Time management is an essential skill that helps you keep your work under control, at the same time that it helps you keep stress to a minimum.

We would all love to have an extra couple of hours in every day. Seeing as that is impossible, we need to work smarter on things that have the highest priority, and then creating a schedule that reflects our work and personal priorities.

With this in place, we can work in a focused and effective way, and really start achieving those goals, dreams and ambitions we care so much about.

This self-test has not been validated and is intended for illustrative purposes only. It’s just one of a large set that helps you evaluate your abilities in a wide range of important career skills. Click here for other self-tests.

10 Common Time-Management Mistakes

Avoiding Common Pitfalls

How well do you manage your time? If you’re like many people, your answer may not be completely positive! Perhaps you feel overloaded, and you often have to work late to hit your deadlines. Or maybe your days seem to go from one crisis to another, and this is stressful and demoralizing.

Many of us know that we could be managing our time more effectively; but it can be difficult to identify the mistakes that we’re making, and to know how we could improve. When we do manage our time well, however, we’re exceptionally productive at work, and our stress levels drop. We can devote time to the interesting, high-reward projects that can make a real difference to a career. In short, we’re happier!

In this article, we’ll look at 10 of the most common time-management mistakes, as well as identifying strategies and tips that you can use to overcome them.

Mistake #1: Failing to Keep a To-Do List

Do you ever have that nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten to do an important piece of work? If so, you probably don’t use a To-Do List to keep on top of things. (Or, if you do, you might not be using it effectively!)

The trick with using To-Do Lists  effectively lies in prioritizing the tasks on your list. Many people use an A – F coding system (A for high priority items, F for very low priorities). Alternatively, you can simplify this by using A through D, or by using numbers.

If you have large projects on your list, then, unless you’re careful, the entries for these can be vague and ineffective. For instance, you may have written down “Start on budget proposal.” But what does this entail? The lack of specifics here might cause you to procrastinate, or miss key steps. So make sure that you break large tasks or projects down into specific, actionable steps – then you won’t overlook something important.

You can also use Action Programs  to manage your work when you have many large projects happening at once. (Action Programs are “industrial strength” versions of To-Do Lists.)

Mistake #2: Not Setting Personal Goals

Do you know where you’d like to be in six months? What about this time next year, or even 10 years from now? If not, it’s time to set some personal goals!

Personal goal setting  is essential to managing your time well, because goals give you a destination and vision to work toward. When you know where you want to go, you can manage your priorities, time, and resources to get there. Goals also help you decide what’s worth spending your time on, and what’s just a distraction.

To learn how to set SMART, effective goals, read up on Locke’s Goal Setting Theory . Here, you’ll learn how to set clearly defined goals that will keep you motivated.

You might also enjoy our Book Insight into Long Fuse, Big Bang  by Eric Haseltine. This book teaches you how to focus on your long-term goals without overlooking your short term priorities.

Mistake #3: Not Prioritizing

Your assistant has just walked in with a crisis that she needs you to deal with right now, but you’re in the middle of brainstorming ideas for a new client. You’re sure that you’ve almost come up with a brilliant idea for their marketing campaign, but now you risk losing the thread of your thinking because of this “emergency.”

Sometimes, it’s hard to know how to prioritize , especially when you’re facing a flood of seemingly-urgent tasks. However, it’s essential to learn how to prioritize tasks effectively if you want to manage your time better.

One tool that will help you prioritize effectively is the Action Priority Matrix , which will help you determine if a task is high-yield and high-priority, or low-value, “fill in” work. You’ll manage your time much better during the day if you know the difference.

You might also want to go through our Bite-Sized Training session How to Prioritize , to further enhance your skills.

Mistake #4: Failing to Manage Distractions

Do you know that some of us can lose as much as two hours a day to distractions? Think how much you could get done if you had that time back!

Whether they come from emails, IM chats, colleagues in a crisis, or phone calls from clients, distractions prevent us from achieving flow , which is the satisfying and seemingly effortless work that we do when we’re 100 percent engaged in a task.

If you want to gain control of your day and do your best work, it’s vital to know how to minimize distractions  and manage interruptions  effectively. For instance, turn off your IM chat when you need to focus, and let people know if they’re distracting you too often. You should also learn how to improve your concentration , even when you’re faced with distractions.

Additionally, our article on managing email effectively  teaches you how to gain control of your email, so that it doesn’t eat up your entire day.

Mistake #5: Procrastination

Procrastination occurs when you put off tasks that you should be focusing on right now. When you procrastinate, you feel guilty that you haven’t started; you come to dread doing the task; and, eventually, everything catches up with you when you fail to complete the work on time.

Start by taking our procrastination quiz  to find out if procrastination is a problem in your life. If it is, then learn the strategies you need to beat procrastination .

For instance, one useful strategy is to tell yourself that you’re only going to start on a project for ten minutes. Often, procrastinators feel that they have to complete a task from start to finish, and this high expectation makes them feel overwhelmed and anxious. Instead, focus on devoting a small amount of time to starting. That’s all!

You might also find it helpful to use Action Plans . These help you break large projects down into manageable steps, so that it’s easy to see everything that you need to get done, and so that you can complete small chunks at a time. Doing this can stop you from feeling overwhelmed at the start of a new project.

Tip:

Our Bite-Sized Training session, Overcoming Procrastination , gives you more in-depth strategies and tips for dealing with procrastination.

Mistake #6: Taking on Too Much

Are you a person who has a hard time saying “no” to people? If so, you probably have far too many projects and commitments on your plate. This can lead to poor performance, stress, and low morale.

Or, you might be a micromanager : someone who insists on controlling or doing all of the work themselves, because they can’t trust anyone else to do it correctly. (This can be a problem for everyone – not just managers!)

Either way, taking on too much is a poor use of your time, and it can get you a reputation for producing rushed, sloppy work.

To stop this, learn the subtle art of saying “yes” to the person, but “no” to the task  . This skill helps you assert yourself, while still maintaining good feelings within the group. If the other person starts leaning on you to say “yes” to their request, learn how to think on your feet , and stay cool under pressure.

Mistake #7: Thriving on “Busy”

Some people get a rush from being busy. The narrowly met deadlines, the endless emails, the piles of files needing attention on the desk, the frantic race to the meeting… What an adrenaline buzz!

The problem is that an “addiction to busyness” rarely means that you’re effective, and it can lead to stress.

Instead, try to slow down, and learn to manage your time better.

Tip:

“Do More Great Work”, by Michael Bungay Stanier, is full of ideas and tips to reduce the “busywork” that you’re doing, so that you’re more excited and engaged in the work that matters. Click here  for our Book Insight on it.

Mistake #8: Multitasking

To get on top of her workload, Linda regularly writes emails while she chats on the phone to her clients. However, while Linda thinks that this is a good use of her time, the truth is that it can take 20-40 percent more time to finish a list of jobs when you multitask, compared with completing the same list of tasks in sequence. The result is also that she does both tasks poorly – her emails are full of errors, and her clients are frustrated by her lack of concentration.

So, the best thing is to forget about multitasking , and, instead, focus on one task at a time. That way, you’ll produce higher quality work.

Our Expert Interview with Dave Crenshaw, looking at The Myth of Multitasking , will give you an enlightening look at multitasking, and will help you explore how you can manage simultaneous projects more effectively.

Mistake #9: Not Taking Breaks

It’s nice to think that you can work for 8-10 hours straight, especially when you’re working to a deadline. But it’s impossible for anyone to focus and produce really high-quality work without giving their brains some time to rest and recharge.

So, don’t dismiss breaks as “wasting time.” They provide valuable down-time, which will enable you to think creatively and work effectively.

If it’s hard for you to stop working, then schedule breaks for yourself, or set an alarm as a reminder. Go for a quick walk, grab a cup of coffee, or just sit and meditate  at your desk. Try to take a five minute break every hour or two. And make sure that you give yourself ample time for lunch – you won’t produce top quality work if you’re hungry!

Mistake #10: Ineffectively Scheduling Tasks

Are you a morning person? Or do you find your energy picking up once the sun begins to set in the evening? All of us have different rhythms, that is, different times of day when we feel most productive and energetic.

You can make best use of your time by scheduling high-value work during your peak time, and low-energy work (like returning phone calls and checking email), during your “down” time. Our article, Is This a Morning Task?  will teach you how to do this.

Key Points

One of the most effective ways of improving your productivity is to recognize and rectify time-management mistakes.

When you take the time to overcome these mistakes, it will make a huge difference in your productivity – and you’ll also be happier, and experience less stress!

Tip:

To continue improving your time-management skills, take our Time Management Quiz , which will help you identify where your strengths and weaknesses lie. You can also take our Bite-Sized Training session, the Time Management Audit , to hone your skills to the next level.

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