When it comes to time management, it’s really about managing yourself, not your time. Time marches forward, whether you want it to or not, and you only have so many hours in the day. Because of that, it’s best to take ownership of yourself, your activities, and how you show up on any given day. Are you mostly engaged in busy work, flipping from task to task? Do you let yourself be pulled around by other people or distractions? Do you often experience burnout or become overwhelmed?
Whatever the case, it’s a good idea to improve your self management, so you can improve your time management. Here are 6 ways...
1. Engage in Big-Picture Planning
It’s easy to get bogged down by little tasks, virtual meetings, and emails, but most of the time this is busy work that doesn’t move the needle much. Instead of allowing yourself to be tugged around by these types of activities, take control of your schedule and engage in big-picture planning.
Think about your big, long-term goals. What are the steps you need to take to achieve those goals? How can you work those action steps into your quarterly planning? Monthly planning? Weekly planning? When you keep your most important goals top-of-mind, you can more easily prioritize your work and plan your day. Emphasizing your priorities can also help you say “no” to certain commitments that do not align with your goals or vision.
2. Set Your Daily Schedule and Establish Boundaries
Keeping your big-picture goals in mind, it’s a good idea to determine your weekly goals and, from that list, start planning each day’s schedule. If you have a particular deadline, work backwards from that deadline to allow yourself adequate time to achieve whatever you need to do. If you have any specific commitments (meetings, appointments, etc.) include those in your planning as well. This may seem like overkill, but it is absolutely essential for any busy entrepreneur to engage in intentional planning. Do it for yourself and your mental wellbeing!
Part of schedule planning inevitably includes setting healthy boundaries. If you’ve blocked off time in your schedule to work on a specific project, do NOT let others interrupt your work flow. This is your time—protect it! This may mean shutting off email notifications or putting your phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode (in this mode, your phone should only allow certain people to interrupt you, such as your children or significant other).
3. Tackle Difficult Work During Your Peaks
We all have certain times of the day when we’re most productive and motivated. For some, this “high productivity” time might occur first thing in the morning. Others may experience an afternoon rush or gain motivation later in the evening. Whatever the case, pay attention to your personal motivation levels. When are you feeling most alert and energized? When do you have the greatest focus? Schedule your “deep work” sessions during these time periods, when you’re immersed in a single project that requires concerted time and attention.
4. Banish Distractions
The average person spends 147 minutes—nearly two and a half hours—on social media every day. I’m not saying this is your primary source of distraction, but it is for many. Other sources of distraction might include browsing websites, scrolling through your newsfeed, doing household chores (if you work from home), or tending to your kids/family (which sometimes can’t be helped, of course).
To rein in distractions, it’s smart to do a time audit. Keep track of how you spend a given day and start to notice the things that pull your attention away from your work. Then, strategize ways to mitigate those distractions. If you tend to scroll through websites or social media, consider giving yourself a strict time limit on these activities or block certain websites. You might also consider downloading a productivity app to assist you.
5. Try the Pomodoro, or Other Proven Techniques
Several excellent time management techniques exist, such as the POSEC, 80/20, or the Pomodoro. The Pomodoro technique is characterized by working in short, intentional bursts. Essentially, you’ll work for 25-minute increments (doing one, focused task) and take a five-minute break after each work period. After four of these sessions, you’ll take a longer, 15 – 30-minute break.
6. Take a Break
Though this seems counterintuitive, your productivity can improve if you engage in intentional breaks. First of all, if you know a break is coming, you can work towards it (“My break is 20 minutes; I’d better keep moving!). Secondly, an intentional break can give you the opportunity to relax, rejuvenate, or stretch your muscles. It can also give your brain a chance to process information or make creative links between problems and solutions.
Time management is a skill that can be learned and developed. We all work differently, so it’s important to pay attention to our personal periods of productivity and distraction, and plan accordingly. Many time management techniques exist, so it’s best to try out a few techniques and do what works best for you. Remember, this ultimately boils down to managing yourself and your activities, not time itself.