Best Time-Management Strategies to Get the Things Done

by Nick Collins

Many achievers spend their life thinking how good it could be to have 30 hours in a day instead of 24 to spend more time on things that bring them joy. If you're one of them, then you should know how meaningless these thoughts are. You can't change such things as time, but you can learn how to play around it and find the most effective way to spend it. That's where time-management skills are essential — they define how well you can allocate hours of your life so that you have time for everything planned without working your tail off.

Time management will help you accomplish more in less time

Your brain can become pretty lazy when you don't set particular time limits to it. Moreover, it tends to postpone tasks until your deadlines start to burn. So by growing and implementing your time-management skills, you optimize the way your brain works, allowing you to realize its full potential. Indeed, when you have a particular plan with steps and time frames in mind, it will be way easier to start the task and prevent you from lazy thinking in the process.

Aside from giving you certainty, time management can become your savior in various situations. So let's look at why you should definitely start growing this skill.

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Time management makes your life less stressful

Time management makes your life less stressfulWhen you don't have a particular plan for the day, you give yourself an extra reason to worry. For example, when you spent half of your day loitering around the office or watching funny animal videos, another half of your day could turn into a disaster.

You will blame yourself for procrastinating and try to finish your daily tasks in a rush, causing stress for your brain and body. By the end of your workday, you'll feel squeezed like lemon and out of tune. What's worse, when you have poor time-management skills, such days can repeatedly happen, like a vicious circle of procrastination.

In turn, if you'd spent some time in the morning planning how much time you're going to spend on every activity, the day will be less stressful for you. You won't need to wonder, "Am I going to do everything on time?" or "Will I manage to finish before the deadline?" anymore.

Even if some task is too time-consuming to finish until the end of your workday, you'll know it from the beginning. You may alert your boss or colleagues about that. If you realize you won't make it to a meeting with a friend or family dinner, you can leave some minor tasks for tomorrow and then spend time with your beloved ones.

Just imagine — no rushing, no panic due to uncertainty, no missed meetings, and angry colleagues. Those things are primary contributors to your work-related stress, so get rid of them with the help of time management and start enjoying your work again.

Time management boosts your productivity

Suppose you're used to delaying task completion until the end of the day. In that case, time management can be a lifesaver for your productivity. This skill will help you clearly define how long it will take for each task, so you can focus on completing it. Accordingly, you will be able to achieve more tasks in a shorter time, without being distracted by the rush and without looking ahead to other assignments. Indeed, when you have a clear plan with specific time frames, then a second wind opens up, and you feel more productive than ever.

You may wonder: "Will I spend a lot of my time planning rather than executing stuff?". At first, it may take some of your valuable time: to get used to time planning, picking tools for it, and adjusting your workflow to it. However, once you get used to it, time management will start saving you plenty of time! You can spend this time learning, relaxing, or being next to the people you admire — everything except from work (remember, work-life balance!) In other words, time management gives you an option to take control of your productivity.

Time management helps you stay healthy

Poor planning and time-management skills may lead you to the point where you should sacrifice your sleep and health to stay on track. According to the study, in most cases, short sleepers reduce their rest time due to work. In turn, poor sleep quality can lead to heart diseases, excessive stress, exhaustion, and body aches. Is it a fair price for more work hours? You just push yourself to a vicious circle, when you sleep less to work better but end up being inefficient due to the poor sleep.

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At the same time, excessive stress due to deadlines and anxiety that you can't accomplish everything on time may worsen your health. In the long term, they can cause heart diseases, higher blood tension, and chronic diseases since stress relates to inflammation. Meanwhile, by applying time management in your life, it's up to you to decide how much you will work or sleep. It allows you to plan your day so that you finish all the tasks and still have enough time to relax and put your head on a pillow earlier.

Top time-management strategies that work

First of all, before diving into scheduling and planning your time, you should choose a few time-management strategies that fit you. The type of a suitable strategy can depend on your job duties, lifestyle, and work schedule. However, most of them will give you more free time and let you work super productively at certain hours, and then have quality rest.

Eisenhower matrix

Dwight D. Eisenhower, army general and 34th President of the United States, hardly studied time management theory and time-efficient techniques. But it's his phrase, "Not all urgent matters are important and not all-important matters are urgent," that describes the principle underlying the Eisenhower matrix.

Our brain has a weak spot for the word "urgent." Whenever we hear it, we start to feel panic and an irresistible desire to run somewhere and do something. Urgent tasks entwine us with an invisible chain as if we can't breeze freely until we finish them.

Research has even found that we're more likely to perform unimportant but urgent tasks instead of those that are essential for us but have no deadline. Thus, we mess with senseless tasks that have no long-term effects to ease the stress that comes with the urgency.

The Eisenhower matrix, in turn, can alter the way you deal with your assignments. It helps define the most important (not just urgent) tasks to complete and filter activities that just distract you. Survey claims that it's the best time-management strategy: 50% of people who use it feel like they have complete control of their tasks and time. But before starting to make your matrix, you need to know the difference between urgent and essential.

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Urgent tasks:

  • need your attention right now
  • not necessarily matter for your productivity
  • are not avoidable and often depend on other people's decisions

Important tasks:

  • allow you to get long-term benefits
  • make you feel like you're really contributing to work or life values
  • depend on your own decisions

Your matrix will include four main sections:

  1. Urgent and important tasks that you should do right now and that are exact steps towards your main life goals.
  2. Not urgent but important tasks that have no deadlines and make you closer to your goal.
  3. Urgent but not important tasks — mostly routine tasks that can take much time if you don't prioritize or delegate them.
  4. Not urgent and unimportant tasks distract you (like playing mobile games or checking your personal inbox).

Before assigning tasks to sections, you can write down all your tasks and give them a good thought. Which of them will actually help you succeed in the long term? Which tasks really matter to your career and life, but you continue to put them off for later? When you have the answers, start putting your tasks in the matrix.

You can build your daily or weekly matrix, so your assignments will be more accessible and realistic. Always set time limits for urgent but not important tasks because, without them, you're risking putting them away. Delegate urgent but not important tasks if possible to save yourself more time. Delete not urgent and unimportant tasks — they just burn your time, so get rid of them.

2. Pomodoro technique

After some time of complex and focused productive work, you should have noticed that your body starts sending you signals to take a break. If you become easily distracted, try to reach for a snack, or start looking at your smartphone (with a secret desire to scroll your Twitter feed), then it's time to give your brain a little rest.

Our body goes through the constant rest-activity cycles — ultradian rhythms. They last around 120 minutes, which means that after 100 minutes of strenuous brain activity, you need 20 minutes to cool down and restore your energy sources.

Most of us are overriding these cycles; still, you can show your best performance only by following them. Scientists have found that working in intense short sessions followed by periods of total rest is the most productive way to stay effective for a longer time. So if you're ready to feel the difference in your work routine, then we recommend you try a Pomodoro technique.

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It’s a perfect solution if you see time as your enemy, which doesn’t allow you to manage everything planned, or if you struggle with other, more complicated time planning techniques. The Pomodoro technique simplifies your workday to two activities: working and resting. It involves breaking your time into short intervals: intense working periods, when you’re highly focused, and resting periods, when your brain doesn’t think about work.

It helps you cut off distractions that may appear when you have the whole day at your disposal. With the Pomodoro technique, you have only 25 minutes for a task, here and now. Then, you have 5 minutes of forced break, when you can do anything except work, and the cycle repeats.

This system prevents you from uncontrolled procrastination because when you work hard for 25 minutes, you know you’ll have time to cool down afterward. Plus, the Pomodoro technique aligns with your ultradian rhythms, preventing brain fog and extreme exhaustion that appear when you ignore your inner clocks.

According to surveys, the Pomodoro technique is the second most successful time-management strategy after the Eisenhower matrix. 60% of people using it claim it helps them get control over work 4-5 days of the week. Try it if you tend to procrastinate or find it hard to focus, and you’ll feel the difference immediately.

How to use the Pomodoro technique:

  1. You can set up a timer on your phone to track work and rest intervals or use a particular app that tracks them automatically.
  2. After completing four work intervals, take a more extended break (20-30 minutes) to give your brain a decent rest.
  3. Every time you enter a new cycle, review what you’ve done so far during the previous work session.
  4. Set goals for the day but not for the work intervals. Just complete as much as you can during them, and then evaluate your progress.

3. Time blocking method

Do you find to-do lists not so helpful in setting up your productivity for the day? Then you can try a time-blocking method, widespread among the most successful achievers like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Cal Newport. The main idea of this practice is to divide your work time into time blocks, where each block links to a specific task. So you complete only one task at a time, without distracting yourself with other tasks or helping your colleagues with their duties.

At the same time, time blocking helps you avoid destructive multitasking. As for scientists, multitaskers perform worse and spend more time switching between assignments than people who complete one task at a time. Meanwhile, time blocking allows you to focus on a single project with the maximum output during a specific time. Still, this method can make you wonder: “Does time management mean that I cannot be spontaneous?”. Well, nothing in your life can go exactly as you planned, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan at all.

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You can’t avoid those days when some urgency appears, forcing you to drop everything else. At the same time, as a successful achiever, you should be flexible enough to find time for unexpected tasks. Surprisingly, time blocking isn’t about strict borders and time limits; it’s more about solid focus and consistency. By having a particular plan for the day, you are a lot less likely to go down the Facebook rabbit hole or get distracted by something else.

Still, time-blocking isn’t for everyone. This time-management strategy is for people advanced in planning who want to make the most of each hour. If you’ve just started your path towards scheduling, it’s better to try a more accessible practice, like the Pomodoro technique.

How to start time blocking your days:

  1. Start with marking your rest time. Work isn’t the first priority when you create a schedule according to the time-blocking system. Put down your recurring time blocks that may involve your daily routine tasks, meals, time spent with your family, or working out. Then, you can place your work blocks but make sure you’ll have wind-down periods between them.
  2. Define the types of work blocks. The more detailed you designate the block, the easier it will be for you to tune in the desired mood. So we recommend you align work blocks to the types of your productivity during the day. For example, in the morning, when productivity levels are the highest through the day, you can put an “Essential work” block. For a mid-day, you can schedule a “Routine work” block because, at that time, your productivity levels drop. In other words, it’s up to you to decide which kind of work you’ll do during certain time blocks but make sure that aligns with your capabilities.
  3. Give yourself more time than needed. Being unrealistic towards the time you need for a task just means that you’ll end up stressed and unsatisfied with your performance afterward. There’s a term for that phenomenon — “the planning fallacy, which means underestimating the amount of time and effort that tasks may demand. So don’t be too optimistic and give yourself extra time for each duty.
  4. Make empty blocks in your schedule. When going deep into work, it’s easy to forget about such simple things as dreaming, thinking, and reflecting. That’s why Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn CEO, suggests you schedule empty blocks in your daily plan. It will give you the ability to see the greater picture of what’s going on around you and if you’re moving in the right direction.

4. The “Eat that frog” technique

Do you have some duties that make you tremble and sweat even when you just think about them? Be it a monthly report, important meeting, or some paperwork, you may postpone it and wait with horror for the moment when you have to do it. This waiting time kills your productivity and doesn’t allow you to concentrate on your current assignments.

This kind of situation inspired Mark Twain to quote, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” After more than a century, self-development author Brian Tracy has created the whole productivity system with a funny name, “Eat that frog.” It actually doesn’t relate to frogs but smart priority setting. According to this time-management strategy, you should schedule your most important or most annoying tasks for the morning to be at ease for the rest of your day.

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You may think: “How in the world could it make me more productive if I start my day with something complicated or horrifying?” Well, then think back to those situations when you’ve finally accomplished something essential or complex. After lengthy preparation and agonizing waiting, when the task is over, you’re feeling incredible freedom as if you got wings. Add here your boosted self-esteem and confidence, and you get a perfect productivity state! By eating your frogs in the morning, you decrease your daily stress and let yourself focus on other tasks without distracting thoughts because the worst has already happened.

How to “eat your frogs” like a pro:

  1. Prioritize according to the complexity and urgency of tasks. When writing down all your tasks for the day, you can grade them by ABCD criteria. So A is the most urgent and essential task that will be first on your list, while D is the minor assignment that you can leave for the end of your day.
  2. “Eat the ugliest frogs” first. Sometimes you may have a few complex and annoying tasks for one day. In that case, start with the hardest of them, and continue finishing them until you’re out of “frogs.”
  3. Set defined and realistic goals. It would be extremely hard to follow the “eat that frog” technique if your tasks are imprecise and immense. Break them into a few steps if needed and then choose the hardest one - it will be your frog.
  4. Plan only for the current day. One of the biggest benefits of this time planning strategy is that your mind is focused only on the present day. So you don’t need to plan anything for a week ahead and wonder about future tasks. You’ll start fresh every day without unnecessary worries.

You can choose a strategy up to your current lifestyle or working schedule but remember — any of them would work if you stick to them regularly. In turn, if you practice time management a few times a month, forgetting about it for the rest of your time, then chances are you won’t see any results. Now, let’s look at how the most successful achievers of our century handle their time management.

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