4 time management strategies to boost professional success
By: Leanne Armstrong
With a recent LinkedIn survey revealing that 74% of women, 61% of men, and 71% of millennials experience work-related stress, time management strategies are a must for gaining better control of your professional success.
Whether the demands of your daily to-do list include working around scheduled meetings or navigating remote or in-person team initiatives, you can use established time management techniques to:
- Consistently complete work within the time assigned.
- Avoid distractions and other common time-management hurdles.
- Reduce the stress that comes with rushing to meet obligations and deadlines.
Behavioral science suggests successful habits hinge on breaking objectives down into tiny behaviors. To that end, we’ve compiled a few small but powerful actions you can take to start using your time more effectively.
But first, let’s quickly review why using proven time- management tips to plan out and conquer your work schedule is so important in the first place.
The importance of time management strategies in the workplace
By offering a practical way to get more done in the time that you have, established time- management strategies make it easier to work smarter instead of harder, especially when timelines are tight.
The time management tips in this article will help you plan your work schedule with greater control and oversight so you can:
- Maintain balance across the timing of tasks. It’s not unusual for employees to have to balance team initiatives alongside individual work. By using time management tactics to insert lighter tasks between meetings—or schedule heavier tasks during times when you’re most productive—you can create a daily to-do list that works best for you.
- Work more efficiently. Scheduling similar tasks back-to-back (e.g., entering, checking, and reporting data) saves time, preserves mental focus, and helps minimize the distraction of switching focus. Building in short breaks can make it easier to accommodate interruptions.
- Produce better quality results. When you’re not rushing to complete time-sensitive tasks, you’re more likely to produce work that’s thorough and accurate. Time management strategies help you take an organized approach to scheduling so you can spend more time proactively working through projects—and less time responding to whatever happens next.
Failing to manage your time well can lead to missed targets and performance worries. On the other hand, studies show that learning and implementing better ways to manage your time can reduce stress and increase confidence—which may ultimately improve your professional standing.
Manage your time with these four strategies
Like any skill, learning to manage your time better takes practice. That’s why each of the four strategies outlined below includes actionable suggestions to start making time management a habit today.
1. Use an online calendar to schedule your time
Digital agendas let you create a clear, easily editable schedule that’s quick to update from most devices and eliminates messy paper calendars that can be misplaced.
Online calendars enable you to:
- Mutually share real-time scheduling availability with other team members.
- Automatically schedule repeat events or activities, digital meeting invites, and appointments confirmed online or through email.
- Conveniently book your company’s conference and meeting rooms for one- off and recurring meetings so you always have a place reserved.
- Analyze where and how you spend your time, which can help you become more productive.
With an online calendar, it’s easy to block off time when you want to remain unavailable. This enables you to knock out important tasks requiring dedicated focus with fewer interruptions.
And because most digital agendas use color-coding to delineate different types of events, you can quickly identify and work around various meetings, appointments, and brain-intensive tasks by slotting lighter, quicker chores in between them.
2. Test out new time management techniques
To manage your time successfully, you also need to understand when you do your best work: Are you an early morning person, or does your brain kick into top gear later in the day?
Identify your high and low productivity periods, then make it a habit to schedule smaller, simpler tasks for when you’re less alert—and more challenging tasks during peak-output times.
If you’re still having trouble completing work in the allotted time you’ve set out, try experimenting with time management methods that may be new to you, like time-chunking or the Pomodoro Technique.
What is time-chunking?
Time-chunking involves blocking off distinct chunks of time in your schedule so you can focus on and complete specific tasks.
Working on multiple jobs at the same time may seem like a good way to get more done. But research shows that continually stopping and starting different tasks doesn’t just reduce productivity, it increases the likelihood of mistakes.
Instead, try scheduling dedicated, uninterrupted periods where you can give your full attention to a single task—while at the same time, chunking similar, single tasks back- to -back.
Time chunking enables you to:
- Avoid time delays caused by switching focus and repeatedly working through the task start-up process.
- Produce more thorough, accurate work.
- Maintain an optimal mindset (e.g., analytical vs. creative) for performing specific types of tasks (e.g., data entry vs. brainstorming) across defined periods of time.
Some companies have even made daily or weekly meeting-free periods part of their culture for the express purpose of allowing staff to dedicate scheduled chunks of focused time to individual work.
What is the Pomodoro technique?
As a nice complement to time-chunking, the Pomodoro technique (developed by Francesco Cirillo) involves the use of a physical timer to alternate focused, 25-minute work sessions (known as Pomodoros) with five-minute breaks—followed by 20- to 30-minute breaks every four sessions.
To benefit from this popular time management strategy, you’ll need to follow three simple rules:
1. Break down any activity that you expect will take more than four Pomodoros to complete into smaller tasks.
2. Combine tasks you expect will take less than one Pomodoro to complete with other short tasks.
3. Complete each Pomodoro without interruption. (For unavoidable disruptions, it’s recommended you take a five-minute break and restart your session, tracking these interruptions so you can plan to avoid them in future.)
The Pomodoro technique is designed to help you make the most of your time by cultivating a sustained work effort that staves off procrastination, distraction, and mental fatigue.
3. Adopt a dedicated project management tool
Adopting a dedicated project- management tool (e.g., MindManager) enables you to break down, set a deadline for, and track every key task you need to complete. By making it easy to plan (and share) projects visually, these tools improve productivity as a whole.
Project management tools enable you to:
- Break up big, multifaceted activities into smaller, bite-sized objectives, which makes tasks easier to tackle and schedule.
- Eliminate time-draining “analysis paralysis” by clearly identifying which task(s) you should focus on first.
- See which tasks hinge on the completion of others so you can prioritize and schedule related tasks accordingly.
As a rule, you should put urgent, important duties ahead of less critical chores on your project timeline, while scheduling quicker, simpler tasks in between.
You can even use a project management tool to reverse-engineer and improve your scheduling habits by tracking certain tasks to find out how long they typically take to compete. Use this knowledge to set more realistic and achievable targets for yourself or your team.
Note: We’ll delve deeper into time management tools in a future post.
4. Create a well-organized workspace
Never underestimate the importance of maintaining a clean, uncluttered workspace to improve your time management. The faster you can find what you need to complete certain tasks, the less time it will take to get your work done—and the fewer distractions you’ll encounter along the way.
Here are a few tips for staying more organized at work:
- Use an organizer or notepad to jot down ideas, memos, or contact information throughout the day. Details like these can come in handy when you’re planning your schedule—and having them in one place will prevent wasting time searching for notes that you’ve made.
- Use a practical, consistent file-naming system to make it easier to store and locate the documents you need. You can also manage your emails more efficiently by sticking to a dedicated schedule for checking and responding to messages, creating separate folders where new messages are directed automatically, and using folders to organize your emails so you can locate older messages with ease.
- Block distracting websites and turn off or mute your phone while you work on important tasks. This can help prevent social media, electronic notifications, or friends and family from derailing your schedule.
Don’t forget that rewarding yourself in small ways can be a surprisingly effective strategy for sticking to your schedule and managing tasks more efficiently.
To stay motivated and on track, try celebrating the completion of tasks throughout the day by exchanging a quick message with a friend, grabbing your favorite beverage, or taking a brief, rejuvenating walk outside.