If you look at any successful person, one thing that stands out is just how much they are able to accomplish each day.
We all have the same number of hours every day, but some people are able to fit in so much more – and make more progress – than others.
Why is that?
Most often, these people aren’t much different to you and I. They have the same responsibilities, challenges, and worries. They’re moms, with families, and oftentimes jobs and careers to worry about.
They have just managed to figure out how to make better use of their time.
Better time management is not only for those who want to be super successful. Time management strategies are helpful for anyone, at any stage in life, in order to have a more fulfilling and less stressful life.
There are many time management tools and techniques, and time management apps on the market designed to make your life more streamlined.
How do you choose the best one?
You might not like this answer, but there is no best time management strategy.
There are a number of time management tools and techniques that have been shown to work well. You just need to find the one (or the combination) that works best for you and your lifestyle.
I have put together a suggested 5-step process to help you get started with managing your time better.
The Time Audit
Out of all the strategies listed here, this is one that I will say is a must-do.
Do you know where your time is going? Do you know exactly how much time responding to emails takes up out of your day? Or driving around?
It is common for people underestimate just how much time “time wasters” take up of their day.
To conduct a time audit, you can set up a simple spreadsheet, or use one of the many time management apps available to track your time. Toggl is a great app that I use regularly.
If your days are more or less the same, then you only need to do this for one day to get a good idea of where your time is going.
Be strict with your record everything – even if something takes 5 minutes – jot it down. At the end of the day you will have a detailed overview of where your time is going.
You will be able to see where you can reduce or cut out time wasters, and where you can use your time more effectively.
The Pareto Principle (aka the 80-20 rule)
Vilfredo Pareto was an economist who noticed that 80 percent of the country’s land was owned by just 20 percent of the population. This observance led Pareto to examine this imbalance further, to see how it related to other areas.
This theory has been applied, and used effectively, used for a wide variety of applications – software, business, and even time management.
For example, 80% of sales come from 20% of a business’s customers. Or 80% of software errors can be eliminated by fixing 20% of the bugs.
The idea is to focus on those tasks that have the most impact, rather than trying to focus on everything.
For time management, it is linked to your routines and productivity. This is why performing your time audit is so important. It is the first step before being able to apply time management techniques like the Pareto Principle.
The Pareto Principle applied to time management, theorizes that 80% of your inefficiencies are caused by 20% of your ‘triggers’ or bad habits. Conversely, 20% of your routines lead to 80% of your output.
In your time audit, look for blocks where time is wasted, and see how you can better use that time.
Then look at the tasks that will have the biggest impact on your business or life, and spend more time and energy on these.
The Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix is also known as the Urgent-Important Matrix. It helps you prioritize your tasks based upon their urgency and importance, as well as identify tasks that you should either delegate or leave entirely.
Take a look at the diagram below.
Quadrant one contains tasks that are both urgent and important. These need to be done first, as they are critical to your life or career in some way. An example could be responding to a time-sensitive client email, or your crying baby.
Quadrant two contains tasks that are important, but not urgent. They need to be done, but not right now. These tasks will fill up most of your time, and are in line with your long-term goals. Examples include exercising, spending time with family, or studying further.
Quadrant three is one that many people struggle with. This is for tasks that may seem important at the time, but can actually be handled by other people. A good example is cleaning your house. You need a clean and tidy house, with the laundry washed a folded. But do you need to do it yourself? No. Delegate it.
Quadrant 4 tasks are those tasks that are a waste of your time and should be eliminated. Mindless browsing falls under quadrant 4. That being said – downtime is also necessary, but a balance should be made between quadrants 2 and 4.
The Pomodoro Technique
This technique combines bursts of concentrated work with short breaks in between, to maximise efficiency and time.
This technique is best implemented once you have done the three steps above. You will now have a list of tasks that fall under quadrant 1 or 2 of the matrix, and that will provide you with the biggest output.
Set a timer for 25 minutes. Block out all distractions and focus only on the task at hand. Once the 25 minutes are up, take a short break of 5 or 10 minutes. This break is important, so your brain can rest.
Once the 5 or 10 minutes is up, get back to your next 25-minute focused session.
By the end of the day you will have accomplished quite a lot, without feeling too tired or drained.
Eat The Frog
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” – Mark Twain
There is almost always at least one task on your daily to-do list that you have no motivation to actually do. It is the one that keeps getting pushed to the end of the day, when you’re tired and have even less motivation to complete it.
The concept of eating the frog means doing that unpleasant tasks first thing in the morning, to get it out of the way. Once it is done, you will feel a sense of accomplishment, and you will find that the rest of your day goes much smoother and is more productive.
Bonus Tip – The 2 Minute Rule
This tip comes from David Allen’s best-selling book Getting Things Done.
The idea is, if something takes less than 2 minutes to do, do it right now.
There are a surprising amount of tasks that can take under 2 minutes. For some reason or another, we put off these tasks that actually aren’t that difficult.
Have to make a dentist appointment? Pack your gym bag? Make your bed in the morning? These tasks are so quick to do, and will have a knock-on effect for other tasks. Just do it!