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Time management skills: How to manage your time

Wondering how you can manage your time more effectively? Check out our selection of tips, strategies and online courses.

Time management header

Effective time management skills are more important than ever in our modern world. With increasing demands on both our professional and personal lives, improving how we manage our time can help us achieve our goals, increase productivity and create a better work-life balance.

What is time management?

Have you ever wondered how some people seem to have all the time in the world? They move seamlessly from one task to the next, ticking off professional and personal projects with ease. Others, however, struggle with never-ending to-do lists and looming deadlines.

It’s not magic – just good time management techniques. These skills come naturally to some people, but they are also traits that can be learned and developed.

Time management is essentially the ability to prioritise your time effectively through the process of planning how you spend your time. It sounds simple, but as Alex Cowen from the Darden School of Business explains, in their course on Digital Product Management, “people have time but they also have a finite amount of energy”. Time management techniques are effective when they harness available energy and deploy it most productively. 

Why are time management skills important? 

Time management skills help individuals work more productively, lower stress and improve overall results in academic situations, work, business and even leisure time. By building better time management habits, it’s possible to be more intentional about how you spend your time and learn to prioritise and work more effectively. You can learn how to be more productive in our last article, which might also come in handy for time management.

During the pandemic and the subsequent rise in home working, managing time effectively has never been more important for people. As the line between work and home life blurred, it became even more essential for workers, students and families to be able to plan their days effectively. Working smarter, not necessarily harder became the goal for many. 

Students, especially those with other commitments such as family or work, benefit from embracing time management techniques to keep their studies on track. Improving these techniques helps to build confidence in their studies and allows them to develop lifelong skills in learning to prioritise tasks that are urgent from those that can wait. 

This is beneficial not only to their immediate studies but also later in working life. The University of Leeds highlights the benefits of time management skills at university in their course Skills to Succeed at University.

How to improve time management skills

Many people struggle to know how to manage their time. If you’re looking to learn how to improve your time management skills, here are our top strategies, tips and courses designed to help boost your productivity.

Time management strategies

Looking for some tried and tested time management strategies? Below we discuss four strategies that have been proven to help people manage their time more effectively and feel better in the process.

1. Pomodoro Technique

Developed in the 1980s by author Francesco Cirillo, this time management system encourages users to identify actionable tasks and then set a timer (usually 25 minutes) to dedicate time to working on these tasks without any interruptions or breaks. This system encourages people to work with the time they have and highlights how modern-day distractions such as phones, social media and our 24/7 culture drain our time. Without these distractions, we can complete tasks quickly and efficiently.

2. Eat That Frog

This technique was developed by motivational speaker Brian Tracy, taking inspiration from the famous Mark Twain quote, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” The frog represents the worst task of your day – the one that you are most likely to put off, but by doing so, you will impede the rest of your tasks, too. By tackling this task first – eating the frog – everything else will seem more manageable in comparison.

3. Getting Things Done (GTD)

David Allen, a management consultant, created the GTD method to help users manage their work and time better. The concept involves listing all the outstanding tasks from small to large. The individual then completes the small, simple tasks first, leaving only the larger, more complex tasks. These are then broken down into small, easy to manage sections and completed.

The central principle of this strategy is that by writing the tasks down, attention is focused on the task itself, rather than trying to remember what needs doing. This reduces feelings of overwhelm and anxiety, which are all too familiar when dealing with multiple tasks. For more information about managing stress using time management techniques, see Lulea University of Technology’s course Workplace Wellbeing: How to Build Confidence and Manage Stress.

4. The 80/20 Rule

Known as the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule asserts that 20% of your output will result in 80% of your results. Therefore, by concentrating on that 20% of activity, you can achieve the most in the least time. Working smarter – not harder. The 80/20 rule can be applied in almost all areas of life, including diet, exercise, work, and study.

This is an excellent strategy in terms of time management. You can analyse where you currently spend your time, monitor the results and then adjust your activity to maximise your outcomes by giving high-value activity greater attention.

Top 6 time management tips

If you’re still feeling distracted and unproductive, try some of our time management tips to get you back on track. These can help you get started to complete your tasks productively.

1. Create a plan

Start the day with a clear plan of the tasks you need to complete. You can do this by creating a written list, setting reminders on your phone or using scheduling software. Tick off your tasks as you complete them so you can monitor your progress.

2. Limit distractions

By switching your phone to aeroplane mode, or simply turning off notifications for email and social media, you can limit your distractions. There are also apps available to help you. Set a timer to check your email or messages at set intervals of 30 minutes, instead of being constantly connected and distracted.

3. Establish a personalised routine

Establishing a routine that suits your productivity style will help you use your day effectively. If you are more productive in the morning, schedule high priority tasks earlier in the day. Other people may not hit their most efficient period until after lunch. Working with your natural rhythms and setting a routine you can stick to is central to effective time management.

4. Take a break

As important as it is to schedule your productive time, it is also vital to allow yourself time to relax. Taking time to disconnect from your work will enable you to return to tasks refreshed, often with renewed focus. If you’re looking to learn more about mindfulness and how it can increase productivity, Mindfulness for Well-being and Peak Performance might just be the perfect course for you.

5. Focus on one task

You may have identified several essential tasks that need your attention, but it is still important to only focus on one at a time. Some may see multitasking as a badge of honour, but in reality, focusing on one task at a time produces quicker and better results.

6. Be organised

Organising both your physical workspace and your digital environment will help eliminate distractions and minimise time spent looking for materials or information. Even though some people can still work effectively in a cluttered environment, having good organisational skills can help reduce stress and boost productivity.

Time management tools

There are many tools available that focus on the importance of time management and help users prioritise their work and increase productivity. Below are some of the key tools used by both students and professionals. More examples can be found in the University of Leeds course Time Management at University.

  • Calendars – Whether it’s a desk diary, planner or Google Calendar, the right calendar planning system is one of the most helpful time management tools.
  • Note-taking software – Software such as Evernote and OneNote provide effective note-taking and project planning options.
  • Time tracking – Specific Pomodoro apps are available such as Pomodario or the desktop version Tomighty. These are great resources to help you build a new productivity habit.
  • Productivity apps – Simply using your phone’s aeroplane mode can be effective when you want to focus. However, there are also online tools available to help you be more productive. StayFocused is a Google application that allows you to set restrictions on websites that you know will distract you. Remember That, Milk and 2Do are useful goal-oriented to-do list apps.

Time management courses

We’ve covered a lot of information regarding practical time management skills. However, there is still so much more to learn. If you’re a student looking to increase your productivity, check out FutureLearn’s study skill courses, including The University of Leeds: Skills to Succeed at University or Next steps to University by the University of York.

For adult learners, entrepreneurs and professionals, good time management skills can not only increase work-based productivity and help achieve goals but also alleviate stress and increase well-being. Courses such as Business Etiquette: Master Communication and Soft Skills by Central Queensland University and Essential Skills for Your Career Development by the University of Leeds explore how time management can be used to boost your career. 

Other courses like Work-Life Balance and the Impact of Remote Working by Coventry University demonstrate how workers can thrive using effective time management techniques when working remotely.

Final thoughts

One of the most crucial elements of time management is to remember that it is a skill designed to work for you. Its only goal is to make you more effective and calm, helping you achieve your aims. The strategies, tips and online courses detailed in this article are all tools to enable you to build better habits and master a time management style that works for you.

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