Lots of things to do but not enough time? We all go through the same problem every day. “If I had more time, I would …” you tell yourself often.
But do you really lack the time or fail to manage your available time effectively? For a long time, I believed that I did not have enough hours to get all the work done. Over the years, I have realized that anyone can finish a ton of work in a well used 24 hour day.
In this article, we will cover:
- Why you lack time
- 13 tips for fine-tuning your time management skills without spending extra hours
- The reasons for lack of time:
- 13 time management tips to optimize your day
- 1. Track your time
- 2. Align goals and time spent
- 3. Should I work on this task now?
- 4. Separate focused work from distracted work
- 5. Have an end time for the current task
- 6. Find your distraction triggers
- 7. Cut short time for routine tasks
- 8. Have a mini-plan for the day
- 9. Don’t wait for the exact hour to begin
- 10. Use the two-minute rule
- 11. Use your commutes and chore time
- 12. Say No
- 13. Get enough sleep
The reasons for lack of time:
On the surface, it seems like you have too many things to do. But that isn’t true for most people. Your productivity goes for a toss due to 2 crucial reasons:
1. Working on the wrong things
I had the habit of working 14+ hours. Since I had a long day, I would find tasks to keep working on. I never analyzed how much of a difference were those jobs making. I wanted to keep myself busy, and I always found some way to achieve that.
Many of the things you work on add no value to your goals. The belief that more time spent working leads to productivity is incorrect. Before any task, take a moment to ask yourself, “Does this help my long term goals?”
When you ask yourself that question for every major task you do, you will spot many tasks throughout the day which keep you occupied for hours but yield no results. Differentiating tasks that matter from those that eat up hours of your schedule is one of the primary time management skills to master.
2. Working on the right thing for too long
Back in the days when I was programming, I loved writing code. When I encountered a bug, I was hell-bent on fixing the problem. I never gave a thought if the problem was significant enough to need an immediate resolution. I spent hours fixing petty issues even when I had more important tasks to work on.
Some of the tasks you work on will need your attention, but you tend to remain stuck on a job until you’re finished. But, after you spend a certain amount of effort and time on the task, the right thing to do is move on to the next job.
Unfortunately, your mind hates leaving a task half done even if that’s the right decision. You feel like completing what you started, even if it comes at the cost of postponing the tasks that matter.
13 time management tips to optimize your day
Everyone has a different goal, schedule, and style of doing their work. Finding tips which work everyone is not only impractical but also unfruitful. You must identify your time wasters and opportunities to save hours. These creative ways to save time provide a guideline to make the most of your day.
1. Track your time
You cannot fix your time management skills unless you know what the problems are first. Let’s do a quick test. Can you answer the questions below:
- How many hours of your day do you spend on fruitful work?
- What are your top time-wasters?
- How often do you check your phone while working?
If you do not have clear answers to the above questions, you need to start with tracking your day to save time. Here is an activity that will help you get started.
You can use a time tracking app if that’s your style. You will have to break your day from the time you wake up till the time you go to bed into slots of 15 or 30 min. 30 min slot makes the job easier because you have lesser slots in a day.
15 min slots take a little more effort but tell you the real story. You waste time usually in smaller chunks which totals to a massive amount of hours by the end of the day. The 15 min slots help in revealing your time wasters more clearly than the 30 min counterparts.
For example, when you browse through Instagram feed, you do not spend half an hour unless you are totally idle. You do it for 10 minutes followed by working on a task and then check Instagram again.
Once you have these slots ready, you have to write down what exactly did you do for all each of those time slots. You can fill the details every 15 min or once every hour for all the previous slots.
You must perform this activity for at least two days. For best results, track your day for a whole week.
2. Align goals and time spent
When you have to prioritize tasks, ask yourself, “Which of these will help me achieve my long term goal?” Any job which helps you take one baby step towards your destination is a task you need to prioritize.
For example, I aim to reach a growth level that I have defined with numbers for this blog. Now, let’s say I have two tasks in mind:
- Write a blog post today
- Explore the new business idea I came across yesterday
If I have limited time on a given day, this tip makes my priority clear. Only one of these two tasks helps my goal. I have to write a blog post today to ensure I reach my destination. I will complete the other task only if I have spare time left.
That said, you cannot merely spend 100% of your time towards long term goals. You have responsibilities in the workplace and regular chores to take care of every day which you have no choice but to spend time on.
But, you can use this tip to decide on a dilemma. When you have limited time and multiple tasks to choose from, and you cannot decide which one to pick, always spend your energy on the job which brings you closer to your long term goal.
You can use the Eisenhower Matrix to differentiate between urgent and important tasks.
3. Should I work on this task now?
Many of the tasks on your plate do not need immediate action. When you receive an email or a chat, the other person isn’t always expecting immediate action. Yet, you feel the need to complete the task right now. Save time from doing such jobs later.
Before spending time on a task, you must ask yourself three questions:
- Should I work on this task? You can entirely skip some of your tasks and achieve better results
- Should I work on this task now? You do not have to complete the task right away because you received a notification.
- Can I delegate this task?
Put in effort on a task only if you need to at that moment.
4. Separate focused work from distracted work
No matter how your schedule is, you will have some chores to handle. For example, you will have to return calls, respond to chat messages, fill up some forms, order groceries, and do what not.
Set time aside for such tasks. When you try completing them between your other important tasks, you lose attention again and again. Do not try to multitask between tasks that matter and other shallow work. Apply your multitasking skills only during your distracted work slot.
Similarly, allocate time blocks for working towards your long term goals. If you plan to work on your dreams when your schedule allows, you will hardly make any progress. Force yourself to make time for your goals even if it means working an hour every day.
I ensure I begin my day with writing content for my blog. Only after I have finished writing 1000 words do I proceed to other tasks.
5. Have an end time for the current task
“I have time to work on my dreams. I will do this later,” you convince yourself. But day in and day out, you keep postponing your dreams for the future.
Make a mental note of the maximum time you’ll spend on any significant task you take up. Without a timeline, each task takes longer than you expect. Little by little it pushes your next job further. When you repeat the same behavior all through the day, your most essential tasks go untouched.
Unfortunately, the tasks you procrastinate often are the tasks that matter to your long terms goals.
If I have a job that takes more than 30 minutes, I decide the time when I will stop working on the task. Only when finishing the task immediately is a necessity do I make an exception.
6. Find your distraction triggers
Many people struggle to overcome distractions because they approach the problem in the wrong way. Let’s take a familiar problem people face today – the addiction to smartphones.
You pull your hair and say, “I can’t stop peeking at my phone now and then.” But, fighting the urge to pick your phone after you have heard the sound of a notification is a hard battle to win against yourself. You’ll find it much easier to fix the problem by avoiding the trigger itself.
In the case of phones, your trigger is the beep or the buzz of the notification. If you put your phone on silent or leave it inside a drawer, you’ll not feel as tempted.
Identify your triggers for distractions. Everyone has their own. Here are some examples:
- Walking past the refrigerator during a break makes you open the door and pick some junk
- Looking at a cigarette urges you to light it up
- Sitting on the couch tempts you to turn on the TV to watch Netflix
Once you know where you’re leaking time the most, using the activity mentioned earlier, identify all the triggers for your distractions. Instead of trying to fight these distractions, you should find a way to eliminate the trigger itself.
7. Cut short time for routine tasks
We all have tasks that we perform as a routine. For me, writing content and editing the article is one such example. You will have similar jobs based on your profession.
Over time, we reach a comfortable level where we perform such tasks at a certain speed. But as per Parkinson’s Law, the more time you have, the longer you take to finish the job. You also believe you’re working at your maximum potential, and you can’t speed up any further.
But, almost always, you’re nowhere close to the efficiency you’re capable of. Only when you stretch your limits will you improve your speed and accuracy of the job you’re doing. Until then, your brain and body take the path of least effort to get the job done.
Once in a week or two, reduce the time you spend on a regular task. If you need an hour to do the job on a typical day, allow yourself only 45 min. When you force yourself to work faster, your brain will try to find ways to optimize performance. This is one of the time management skills that brings you closer to your maximum speed and accuracy.
8. Have a mini-plan for the day
“I already have a to-do list,” you argue. I had one too, but it never helped me focus on the right tasks. I was still working over 14 hours and not getting the right things done.
A to-do list grows over time because we all have a ton of things to finish and limited time to get them done. A list starts short and cute but ends up with tens or hundreds of tasks. The longer the list grows, the more you feel like procrastinating.
If you have an endless number of tasks to finish on your app, it can be even more harmful to your productivity than not having a to-do list at all.
To focus on the right tasks, pick about 5-8 jobs a day that need the most attention. Make sure at least 3 to 4 of them aid your long term goals. Do not go aggressive. If you plan to finish a cartload of tasks on one day, you will end up completing only a handful of them.
Setting a modest goal you will meet is far better than an unrealistic target that you will procrastinate for the next day.
For your daily tasks, you can either use a separate list on your to-do app or resort to pen and paper. I use a notepad to write down 5-8 things to finish for the day and leave it on my work table open. Every time a new task shows up, I peek at my notebook to decide if I must complete the job right away or not.
These are the little things that save time in the long run.
9. Don’t wait for the exact hour to begin
If you have to begin a task, you will tend to wait until the next 30 minutes or the hourly mark. For example, if the time is 9:20 AM, your brain says, “let me start at 9:30 AM.”
You waste these 10 minutes watching Youtube videos, checking social media, or texting in groups. More often than not, that spills beyond 9:30 AM. Next, you aim to start at 9:45 AM which turns into 10 AM and so on.
Do know that when your mind tells you to start 15 minutes later, it is resisting action by procrastinating. You do not even realize this dirty trick your brain plays with you.
As a solution, start then and there. There is no right time to begin a task. Therefore, do not wait for the exact hourly or the 30 min mark to start. You are only fooling yourself if you do.
10. Use the two-minute rule
To prevent yourself from procrastinating and to up your time management skills, follow the 2 Minute Rule from David Allen’s book “Getting things done.”
The rule states, “If a task takes less than 2 minutes to complete, you do it right now.” You are heading for a break, and you notice an email requires a reply, you do it right away. You see your to-do list and notice a task needs a quick call, pick up the phone and call.
In simple words, you must never postpone any task which requires less than 2 minutes to complete even if it is low priority. Completing the task later takes longer. Try adding up the time required to remember the task, the information associated, and finally doing it. The total will come up to more than 2 minutes.
11. Use your commutes and chore time
Throughout the day, you will have multiple time windows where you can get work done. You can use your breakfast time to finish some pending calls. You can listen to an audiobook during your workout. You can think of ideas while taking your pet for a walk.
Spot such windows that you can use for little activities. Even if you find two such 15 min opportunities every workday, you will save 2.5 hours each week or 10 hours a month.
12. Say No
The world is filled with people who look to offload their work to others. If you are a dedicated employee, people will seek your help now and then.
Nothing against helping others, but you must focus on your priorities first. If accepting a task which your coworker asked for will burden you, you must say no.
You will find it awkward to deny a task coming from a known person. But to gain effective control over your time, you need to learn how to say no.
When it comes to time and priorities, be selfish because the time you spend never comes back. This tip holds even more prominence for managers and those who hold leadership positions at the workplace.
13. Get enough sleep
I have made the mistake of sleeping fewer hours to get more time in the day. Sure, you do get some extra hours, but your concentration level goes for a tailspin. To make that worse, you also feel fatigued throughout the day.
You can get more done in 1 hour when you’re well-rested than when you’re sleep-deprived. As a rule of thumb, get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. Regularly sleeping less than 6 hours is not only harmful to your productivity but also your overall health and well being.
Adding 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 times a week serves as a bonus.
Leave a comment on which of these time saving techniques seems most appropriate to you.
Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. Whether you’re a manager, a student, a working professional, or an at-home mom, the basic principle of time remains the same. What differentiates the successful from the mediocre is the approach. If you use your time on things that matter, you will inch closer towards your goals. If you work endlessly without a clear plan, your life will turn into a daily grind forever.
If you believe you do not have enough time, it only implies that you have a poor handle on your routine. If another person has achieved success using those 24 hours, your reasons are only an excuse. I had many of them earlier, and I still have a few today. But, when I accepted the reality that my choices determine my time spent and not the circumstances, my priorities became clearer.
The question is not whether you have enough time. You certainly do. The question is will you use what you have the right way?
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.