5 Time Management Skills To Go from Busy To Productive
October 26, 2016 12:00 AM EST | 7 min read
Time is invisible, silent, scentless, and untouchable.
Nonetheless, it impresses us when it creeps, flies, or runs away from us, or hangs heavy on our hands.
We value it, yet we spend, lose, or waste it.
But can it be managed?
Time management is a learnable skill.
Here are five time management skills to help you go from being just busy to highly productive.
5 Time Management Skills To Apply Today
1) Use a Timer.
“The stopwatch doesn’t lie. The tape measure doesn’t lie.” – Daley Thompson
One of the most powerful time management tools any person can use is a timer.
There are many varieties: from wristwatches, embedded as a phone app, a little ticking clock in the corner of a computer screen, to an old fashioned machine sitting on a kitchen counter.
You might have to experiment with the kind(s) that work for you.
But once you have what you like… drum roll please… time yourself.
Time yourself doing the laundry.
Time yourself getting your kid ready for camp.
Time yourself on the “quick” gourmet dinner you decided to make last-minute (which, ummmm, took four hours).
Time yourself for at least two weeks.
It’s often the case that people hugely underestimate how long tasks take, and they think they’ve got waaaaaaay more time than they do.
But truth is, they don’t.
This is indeed, one of the hardest – but most efficient – time management skills to master.
2) Consider Proper Use of a Calendar.
“Every time you tear a leaf off a calendar, you present a new place for new ideas and progress.” – Charles Kettering
Use a calendar.
Make time concrete by anchoring it to a calendar, giving yourself visual cues that time is finite.
You can use either a digital or print calendar (or both) as long as you are careful to transfer appointments between them so they are in sync and up-to-date.
Experiment with the format.
Some people like very large boxes per day on something a couple of feet long hanging on a wall, others need just slivers of space in a binder the size of a cellphone.
There are specialized calendars to track academic years, and those that give you areas to record details by both month and week on the same page.
Aside from the essentials (i.e. the where, when, what, who, why) of an event or task, include other important details such as:
- Estimated budget
- Directions to a place
- Phone numbers
For free-floating activities, like going to a store, block out a task just for that day.
That lets you evaluate your options against your other responsibilities.
Don’t forget travel time.
That 2:00PM – 3:00PM dentist appointment is really 1:30PM – 3:30PM if you live a half hour away.
Try a Wish List calendar that includes things you’d like to do, might be able to get to last-minute, etc.
Incorporate those important details as listed above (so you don’t lose track of the chance).
Calendars can be fun, too! Fool around a little; see if you like to color code tasks (e.g. deep blue for unpleasant household stuff, green for relaxing, purple polka dots for the kids, etc.).
All tasks go on the calendar.
Some people need to fine-tune the records to 15-minute increments (a running flowchart of “15 minutes to chop the vegetables, 15 minutes to prep the chicken, 15 minutes to wash and peel and boil the potatoes…”), while others can simply jot down “Dinner, 1.5 hours.”
Maybe you need the calendar to beep or make sounds as a reminder.
Perhaps you need it to vibrate.
Maybe make it REALLY annoying.
It’s up to you!
This is one of those time management skills that need no rules.
Clocks can work magic, too.
Maybe you need to hold yourself sternly to a commitment of doing 15 minutes of exercise a day, glance at the enemy clock to measure your progress.
Maybe the clock is your friend, pulling you back from getting hyper-focused, preventing you from tunneling in for an hour when you only want 10 minutes.
3) Avoid Procrastinating as Much as You Can.
“You may delay, but time will not.” – Benjamin Franklin
You can’t always keep yourself from procrastinating.
But what you can do is try to understand what is causing you to procrastinate – and then apply time management skills to motivate yourself past it.
Are you delaying out of fear of making a wrong decision, or looking bad, or some other reason?
Here are several suggestions to help you:
- Acknowledging the fear can help diffuse it: “I’m afraid of X, but what is the worst that can happen if I do it?”
- Are you truly trying to think about the action/item/problem…? Maybe time the procrastination: “I’ll give myself X minutes to think, and then I’ll try to jump in.”
- Is the procrastination “physical”? Does it make you feel uncomfortable or is it situated in a new environment…? Try to improve your circumstances.
There are other “styles” of procrastination, but this gives you an idea.
Julie Moberly, the founder of Artful Living, is a recognized expert on procrastination.
In fact, she has identified seven different kinds!
4) Learn WHEN To Say No.
“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” – Carl Sandburg
JUST SAY “NO.”
Try it, you’ll like it.
Sometimes, the people who complain that they “never have enough time” never have enough time because they too much away.
Head of the Homecoming Parade Committee.
Had to bake a pie for poor Mrs. J who’s not feeling well.
Well, yea, I can squeeze in writing that grant proposal.
But is it a priority?
Perhaps this is one of the most important time management skills to learn, as it helps put your priorities in perspective.
You can choose to hire a landscaper and bake pies.
You can choose to have brown flowers.
You can choose to water the flowers.
But ya gotta choose.
And you don’t get to blame anybody else for YOUR choices.
5) Know When To Unwind.
“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.” – Sydney J. Harris
Choose to water, pick and arrange the flowers.
O why not catch a free evening at a museum?
An article from The Huffington Post summarizes ways to boost your at-work productivity by taking breaks and relaxing.
As one of the crucial time management skills, this may feel counterintuitive at first.
But you need to unwind.
It’s part of getting things done.
There are too many sources to cite about the health benefits of relaxation.
The same reasoning about breaks at work holds true about breaks at home.
So schedule the breaks just like you schedule the rest of the stuff.
BUT NEVER SCHEDULE SPONTANEITY.
Walk in a zoo if your company closes early the day the computers crash.
Play tag with your children in the mud after a nobody-predicted-it rain shower, throw a ball for the dog the minute he’s back from the vet.
Smile at the flag guy at a construction site as he waves you on after a 10-minute delay.
I’m always thrilled for a chance to stick my tongue out at the kid who’s sticking her tongue out at me from the back of the school bus as I’m driving to work.
There’s no shame in using as many time management skills as you need to make you successful.
In fact, why not make it a habit?
Time management is, ultimately, about being effective.
So tailoring your solutions to your unique self is critical.
Start with one tool or one technique.
Master it, and move to the next.
You’ll start spending time wisely in no time.