Some people say that the term "time management" is an oxymoron and that managing time simply cannot be done because time is its own boss. It waits on no one. It marches to the beat of its own drum. It ticks away whether you’re ready or not.
But time management as a life, work, or project management concept is not about managing time, per se. It’s about managing focus and energy in relation to time — managing ourselves and our teams, specifically, and what we do with our time.
Overview: What is time management?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, time management is "the practice of using the time that you have available in a useful and effective way, especially in your work." For Wikipedia, it is "the process of planning and exercising conscious control of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity."
And, according to the Collins Dictionary, it is the "process of deciding on the order in which you will do tasks, and making sure that they are done on schedule."
In other words, it’s:
- Using available time effectively
- Controlling time spent on activities
- Deciding which tasks to do first and making sure they’re done on time
Based on all of the above, it’s clear that time management is, at its core, focus and energy management. We can’t control time — not literally, at least — and there’s no use fretting over things we have no control over. But we have the power to direct our focus, energy, and attention to things that matter within the time frame we have available. And that is what time management is really all about.
7 time management practices
There are numerous time-proven best practices for making the most of available time. The following are just a few of them:
1. Create a to-do list
Between home and work life is a laundry list of things waiting to get done. Add in social connections, fitness, and digital distractions, and it can become increasingly difficult to achieve goals or meet project schedule expectations.
A to-do or task list can help you focus on the tasks that need your attention. But for the list to be effective, remember to:
- Work on the most important tasks first
- Check off completed tasks
- Add deadlines
- Track how much time you spend on each task using a time management app
- Limit the number of items on your list so you don’t get overwhelmed
Because time is a finite resource that can easily be squandered — willfully or not — knowing which tasks to work on first is a must. Plus, you need focus and energy to perform tasks, and since these get depleted as the day wears on, it’s best to work on high-priority items when your mental resources are at their peak.
To create a list of priorities, do the following:
- Gather all the tasks to be done for the day.
- Use a tool such as a prioritization matrix to identify task importance and urgency.
- Assess the value each important/urgent task brings to your business or organization to identify which takes priority.
- For tasks with equal priority standing, start with whichever will take the most effort. Or the least — whatever works for you or your team.
3. Practice time blocking
Time blocking is a scheduling and time management planning technique in which you break down your day or week into blocks of time that you then designate for specific project or management tasks.
- If you’re a project manager: Spend the first 45 minutes of each workday revisiting the project management plan, reading reports, and checking whether specific milestones have been met.
- If you’re a writer or coach: Spend the first two hours of each day writing.
- If you work for a marketing agency: Designate Mondays for content research and ideation, Tuesdays for writing and other content creation, Wednesdays for content promotion, Thursdays for administrative work and lead management, and Fridays for figuring out how to improve processes, such as the creative workflow.
- If you’re someone who gets a lot of emails: Dedicate 4 p.m. and onward to replying to your messages.
- If you’re a freelancer working with multiple clients: Set aside Mondays for Client A, Tuesdays for Client B, Wednesdays for Client C, Thursdays for non-billable work, and Fridays for team meetings.
In most cases, your day (or week) won’t turn out the way you planned it, but assigning blocks of time for specific tasks keeps you in check and helps you avoid going down the dreaded social media rabbit hole.
4. Don’t multitask
Take it from the experts: . In fact, it’s impossible in most cases because multitasking isn’t "really doing two things at once" but performing individual tasks in rapid succession. Since our brains are wired to do just one task at a time, only about 2.5% of people are effective at multitasking.
Instead, give the task at hand your undivided attention. Don’t dart from one task to another because this hampers your ability to give each your best shot.
5. Learn to say no
There’s nothing wrong with being the nice, helpful coworker everyone at work can rely on. Or if you’re a freelancer, taking on more work than usual to make up for lean times. But there’s only so much we can do in a day. If you bite off more than you can chew, so to speak, chances are you’ll end up submitting subpar work, scrambling to meet deadlines, and ruining your professional reputation in the long run.
It’s crucial, therefore, that you know when to decline additional tasks or projects, especially when your plate is already full. You don’t want burnout to get the better of you.
If you’re overseeing a team, the ability to delegate is a must. It lets you assign accountability of specific work, such as creating reports or tracking project progress, to certain team members, which leaves you with more time to focus on higher-value work, such as managing the project intake process or ensuring that all the necessary project management steps are being followed.
Delegating effectively requires that you know which employees or team members are best suited for certain types of work.
7. Know how you spend your time
One of the first things I learned in order to improve my personal finances was to track where my money goes. Doing so was a hassle in the beginning, but years later, it has become second nature to me, and I don’t have to guess where I’ve been spending my money. Plus, I learned to make spending adjustments based on what my spreadsheet tells me.
Similarly, tracking time is the best way to know if you’re spending it on the things that matter to you. This way, you can truthfully answer questions like:
- How many hours have you actually worked?
- How many hours do you spend commuting? Should you work from home instead?
- Are you devoting time to cultivating relationships with family and friends? Or are you spending weekends on tasks you can delegate or outsource?
- Do you really have no time for a project you’ve been planning for a year now as you’ve been telling yourself all along? Or is there something else that’s preventing you from working on it?
Logging time will, over time, allow you to make real, meaningful changes that can result in improved productivity and better quality of life.
4 reasons you should practice time management
Learning how to squeeze the most out of your time through sound time management practices comes with many benefits. Here are just a few.
1. Less stress
Simply knowing there’s not enough time to complete work can be stressful enough for most people, which can lead to health complications, unmet deadlines, and financial troubles — and more stress along the way. With time management, you can rest easy knowing you can accomplish more in less time and with less effort.
2. More productivity
Increasing productivity is one of the primary objectives of time management. Using techniques such as time blocking, delegating, and focusing on one task at a time will improve your personal and team productivity immensely.
3. Work-life balance
Managing time enables you to find that delicate balance between work and life. Because you’re able to leave work at work or in the hands of capable team members, you can spend more quality time with your family and friends. And if you're like most people, you can only truly enjoy downtime, which we all need from time to time, if you don’t have to worry about work or deadlines.
4. New opportunities and possibilities
My friend Jimmy is one of the most productive people I know. He owns and manages a content marketing and development company, writes his own articles for The Blueprint, and still has enough time and bandwidth to take on more work. I can personally attest to this because we regularly stay in touch.
His secret? Self-discipline and creating a schedule that works for him. Through efficient time management, Jimmy is able to get more done than most while still making time for his family and the activities he enjoys.
Staying productive (and sane) through time management
They say time is the great equalizer. Young or old, rich or poor, we all get the same number of hours in a day. And because time is our most important resource — lost fortune you can take back, but lost time you lose forever — it’s imperative that we take good care of it by being mindful and intentional in how we spend it. Time management is the way to do just that.