Time Management: 15 Ways to Get More From Workdays
Planning out tasks well makes for an easier workday, less stress, and higher productivity. Here are tips for how to manage your schedule effectively.
Think you have great time management skills? Terrific — stop the clock for 10 minutes to read this article. Of course you can’t because we don’t manage time at all. Time is indifferent: it moves forward whether you can keep up or not.
We don’t manage time at all. We manage how we use the time we have — in our workdays and our personal lives.
Time is a resource, just like any other. At work you have hardware, software, and assistance to get your job done. Time is another tool you have at work (and at home) to accomplish tasks that need doing. We often think there’s never enough of it, or it’s breathing down our neck.
Managing time requires recognizing it’s a finite resource. You can use it wisely, or let it fly past. It’s not about how much time you have, it’s about how you manage your work (or yourself) in the time allowed.
What’s your biggest 2022 HR challenge that you’d like to resolve
Answer to see the results
How do people manage their time and workloads?
A recent survey found the majority of people don’t use any type of dedicated time management system. For those who use an informal system, about 1/3 use a ‘to-do list;’ 24% use their email inbox to track time and tasks; and 25% just deal with whatever seems the most important at the time.
Planning to use time well translates into an easier workday, less pressure and stress, and higher productivity.
For most people, time management is an afterthought. But planning to use time well translates into an easier workday, less pressure and stress, and higher productivity.
If your day isn’t pre-planned by others, you have the autonomy to manage your workload as you see fit. That level of self-sufficiency can be a double-edged sword. We like the independence, but often can’t manage to get everything done.
15 tips for managing your time and workday effectively
Try some of these tips to manage your most valuable resource — time — more effectively.
1. Conduct a time audit
Time audits can be very revealing — you may be able to figure out where you’re wasting time and where you can recoup. Use your phone, calendar, or scraps of paper to track what you do during the day, and how much time it takes.
Be honest — include the time you spend on personal tasks at work. Audit for a full workweek, then go back and review. Are you spending time on high-value tasks as much as distractions or low-value duties?
Once you see it on paper, you can begin to delete the time-wasters, and focus on the tasks that reap results.
2. Reserve the first 15
Schedule the first 15 minutes of your day for planning. Whether it’s a review of your calendar for the day or time spent prepping for the 1st meetings or tasks, make sure the beginning of the day is ‘me time.’
Don’t schedule meetings for the minute you hit your desk — you probably haven’t decompressed from the commute yet. Fifteen minutes isn’t a lot of time for others to wait for you, but it can translate to starting the day smoothly.
3. Scan and schedule
A great use of your first 15 is taking time to scan and schedule. Look through your inboxes — email or paper — with a quick eye to decide what you have to do today, tomorrow, and what goes in the trash.
Today’s list (you can even make email folders) goes on the schedule. Tomorrow’s can too, or it can wait until morning.
Don’t pore over every detail — a quick scan will let you know if it’s something that needs immediate attention or if it can wait. The majority of your inbox is probably trash. Weeding it out and prioritizing the rest organizes your day and takes the pressure down a notch.
4. Structure the day
Whether you’ve done a time audit or not, creating a structure for your day is a great way to manage time. Create a list of the tasks you have to perform on a daily basis. These ‘must-do’ responsibilities take priority over everything else. Schedule when they can/should be completed.
Build the schedule around those responsibilities. There may be tasks you only do weekly, or monthly: build them into your structure as well. Once these are scheduled, everything else fits in around them.
5. Do the worst first
If possible, get the worst tasks over with and done as soon as possible. These may be the tasks you hate the most; the ones that are the most time-consuming; or the ones that require the most focus. Whatever your ‘worsts’ are, get them done before anything else, if possible.
Once they’re done, they’re not hanging over your head like a dark cloud. You’ll be motivated to complete them and happy (and less stressed) when they’re finished. If you have to do them, get them done and move on.
6. Take out the clocks
If you’re a clock watcher, take them out of your office or workspace. You have a clock on your computer, and one on your phone. The analog or digital clock staring you down isn’t necessary, and it can be a distraction.
If you routinely meet with people in your office, taking down wall clocks can be particularly helpful. If your guest sees they have plenty of time to gab, that’s what they’ll do. Without the clock, they’re not sure if time is running out, so they’ll get to the point and get moving.
7. Schedule like a shrink
A therapist’s ‘hour’ consists of 45 to 50 minutes: a lesson for everyone. Shrink your 1-hour meetings to 50 minutes of face time, the use the last 10 for yourself.
Write up meeting notes; plan or execute any follow-up; or deal with the issues discussed. If you have time left, set up for the next meeting or task or take a break. You earned it.
8. Break down projects into small bite-sized pieces
The larger the project, the more likely you are to put it off — sometimes until crunch time, when it’s a mad dash to get it done. A better option is to review the project and see where it can be broken down into parts.
If research needs to be done, plan and schedule that for a block of time. If input is needed, plan on reaching out for and receiving data in another block.
Then, if there are other parts to the project, plan them out as well. Your final step, compiling or summarizing, will be easier when you have all the other tasks completed.
9. Focus on 1 task instead of many
Multitasking is great, unless you want to get something done the right way as fast as possible. Rather than divide your focus on 2 things, hone in on 1, get it done, and then move on.
Multitasking is overrated. Unless all the tasks are low-value, rote duties, take the time to get 1 right at a time.
10. Plan for time-drainers
Whether it’s a person who never stops talking or a task you have to drag yourself to accomplish, there are time drains in every day. Schedule these smartly to motivate yourself (or your talkative coworker) to get it done.
Place these tasks or meetings right before your lunch break or before the end of the day. If you’re hungry or want to get out of there, you’re more likely to focus and get it done. If your colleague hears your stomach growling (or theirs), or sees you checking your watch to catch a train, they’ll move faster, too.
11. Miss the meeting
If you spend time in endless meetings where nothing gets done, consider asking for the notes instead. Meetings are a huge collective time drain that are often as easily replaced by an email than not.
If someone from your department has to show up, consider sending a staff member in your place. They can take notes and report anything interesting, or request anything that was needed.
12. Get rid of it
Think about how much you earn and how you, if you owned the company, would consider the tasks you perform in relation to your pay. Are you spending time on rote, low-value tasks that you should outsource or delegate?
There are many tasks that are more cost-effectively outsourced. For in-house tasks, consider upskilling a staffer. The time it takes to train someone is a worthwhile investment. Not only will it save you time, it will give them more responsibility and competencies for when they’re ready to move up.
13. Know your peak
Some of us are morning people; others are not. Recognize your own up and down times — when are you sharpest and most efficient — and schedule your most demanding tasks for that time slot. You’ll work through them more quickly and effectively.
Schedule mindless tasks for when you’re typically not at the top of your game. If the after-lunch slump hits you every day at 3 pm, grab a cup of coffee and do your easiest tasks.
14. Politely decline
Are you the go-to person everyone seeks out for help or an extra hand? It’s nice to be needed, but it’s also a time drain. If the tasks are something only you can do, say yes. If not, say no — not every time, but more frequently.
Sometimes this will mean investing a bit of training to teach another person how to handle it on their own — this is time well-spent. Sometimes it will mean trusting them to do it, even incorrectly — which can become a teachable moment. If you spend more time putting out other people’s fires than your own, learn to say no.
15. Schedule ‘do not disturb’ time
Post your calendar online and share it with everyone in the office. Schedule time for tasks and make sure to note ‘blackout’ times. These are times when you shouldn’t be disturbed (so you can actually get your work done) unless there’s an emergency.
Ask people to check your calendar before they call or stop by. If there’s a do not disturb slot, ask them to wait until you’re available.
Time is a valuable resource for businesses so use it wisely
Be miserly with your time. Treat it like a valuable resource because it is. Time is a tool your business is paying you to use, so use it wisely. Managing your time helps reduce stress and pressure: it should be the 1 office supply you selfishly hoard.