Let’s face it—we all think we need more time to get things done. Whether it’s finding a perfect-for-us balance between work and life commitments, working through that massive to-do list the boss handed down Monday morning, or just finding that all-important “me time” we need to refocus and rejuvenate, we all like to blame time as the main culprit for why we can’t get everything done. It’s true, there are only 24 hours in each day, and the average human spends quite a few of those sleeping. While we can’t magically add hours to your day, we have compiled some tips from experts in the time management field to help you maximize the hours you do have.
1. Perform a time audit. Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like. Just as you’d perform an audit on your company’s books, perform an audit on how you spend your time. You just might be surprised by how much time you spend on tasks like reading email or catching up on social media. A time audit helps you understand where your waking time goes each day. And, of course, there’s an app for that! Several, in fact. Try RescueTime, Toggl, or Calendar to help you get a clear idea of where your time goes.
2. “Single task.” Did you know only 2% of us efficiently multitask? That mean that 98% of us actually lose time when we try to multitask! So when you go to tackle your to-do list, pick one task, focus solely on it, and when it’s done, you’ll know you gave it your best.
3. Organize, organize, organize. One thing the experts agree on is that organization is key to effectively managing your time. So, we’re sorry to have to tell you, but your mother was right: It really is best if everything has a place and everything is in its place. An organized workspace (and thus a more organized mind) saves more time than we think.
4. Plan ahead. There’s no substitute for good planning. Take a few minutes at the end of your day to prepare for the next day’s tasks. Create your to-do list and get your workstation reset, restocked, and ready to go. In the morning before you begin, take time to review your list and prioritize the three or four tasks you need to complete that day. Additionally, take some time on Saturday or Sunday to reflect on what you’ve got coming up the next week and set a week-at-a-glance priority calendar. Then you’ll have an attack plan for the week. Make sure to leave some flexibility for those last-minute tasks that always seem to appear just when your plan is working well.
5. Set goals correctly. Experts suggest using the SMART system for setting goals. In other words, your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely (SMART). Use this system with every goal you set, small or big. If it doesn’t meet the SMART criteria, consider whether or not it truly is a goal (or even necessary). Eliminate any “goals” that aren’t really goals and hone any that need a little more direction.
6. Set a time limit for each task. We’re not multitasking anymore, so this should be easier. Set a time limit to achieve each goal. Say you have a report to write for your boss and it should take about two hours to complete. Make that your time limit. It helps you stay on track and complete the task. You can even turn it into a game. Think of it as “work solitaire.” If you give yourself a time limit, chances are you will stay more focused and use your time more efficiently.
7. Take a break between tasks. The human brain can only focus for about 90 minutes at a time, so build mini breaks into your workday. They don’t have to last long. Take five minutes to grab another cup of coffee or tea or fill your water bottle. Spend five or ten minutes checking in on social media or to listen to a segment of a podcast. Anything that works for you to reset your brain and prepare to double down on your to-do list once again.
8. Spend mornings on your MITs. “Most Important Tasks” (MITs) are the items on your to-do list that have the highest priority. Experts suggest you spend your morning hours focused on these tasks because early in the day is when we tend to be most focused and have the most energy. Leave less important tasks for later in the day, especially when those mid-afternoon blues set in.
9. Instill “keystone habits.” These are what John Rampton, writing for Forbes, calls the habits that transform your life in a positive way. Things like adding exercise to your daily routine, or eating healthier, or meditating. These are the habits that replace our bad habits and help us become healthier, more focused individuals. So even if you think you don’t have time, make time. In the long run, it’ll actually give you more of that precious commodity.
10. Use a calendar. Actually, the experts say, “Use a digital calendar.” A digital calendar can be accessed from multiple devices and carry across several applications. However, if you’re like some of us at Powerhouse, you swear by your old-school paper calendar. Whichever you prefer (or go hybrid!), using a calendar helps you stay on top of your schedule and means you won’t overschedule yourself. Using a calendar also gives you a broader perspective on when you are busiest and when you can schedule activities like that yoga class or school volunteer opportunity you’ve been trying to work in.
11. Use a to-do list. It seems like one of those givens, right? Everyone has a to-do list. Yes, but do you write yours down? Writing out your to-do list helps you stay on task. Or, you can simply organize the tasks you need to do by order of priority. While you’re at it, add a “done” section to your to-do list. While it’s satisfying to cross off items, it’s just as satisfying to see that “done” list grow the more tasks you complete. Plus, it helps you organize (and remember) what you’ve done when it comes time to send in lists of your deliverables, create invoices, etc.
12. Just say “no.” Nobody likes to say “no” when asked to do something. While we secretly might want to say it, often times we don’t want to be that person. Still, learning how to say “no” is one of the best things you can do to manage your time. Only you know when you’re reaching that critical point between being able to manage the tasks you have and being overbooked. If you just don’t have time to contribute to this month’s bake sale or to organize the costumes for the school play, just say “no.” We promise it gets easier the more you practice. And you’ll find that when you are able to say “yes,” you appreciate it more.
13. Don’t waste time. There is plenty of waiting time built into our daily schedules. Whether it’s waiting to pick up kids from school, waiting to see the doctor, waiting for your oil change to be done…You get the picture. Wait time doesn’t have to be wasted time. Bring a book you’ve been meaning to read with you or listen to an episode of your favorite podcast. Or, work on small work tasks that don’t necessarily require you to block out your surroundings. It might surprise you how much you can get to just by utilizing all that wait time.
14. Block out distractions. In the times we’re living in, this may seem like an impossible task. With parents and students working more from home these days, distractions seem to be the norm. Still, to be the most productive you can be, try your best to block out distractions. Close a door if you can, lower your blinds and turn on a light, silence your phone. Remember, just because a phone is ringing doesn’t mean you have to answer it. If diffusing some essential oils or putting music on low helps you focus, then do that. The idea is to create a zone where you can forget about your surroundings and focus on what you need to accomplish.
15. Don’t chase perfection. Believe me, as a not-so-in-the-closet perfectionist myself, this is probably the hardest tip to follow. However, perfection really doesn’t exist and trying to attain it can waste a lot of time. Do your best and move on. Your best is almost always better than sufficient (and better than you think) to get the task done. Do your best, add it to your “done” list, and start on the next task—after a small break, of course.
16. Don’t wait for inspiration. This is a perfect partner to #15. We can sometimes get bogged down in waiting for inspiration to strike, but the fact is it might never strike. The best thing to do is just to dig in and get started. Inspiration might strike while you’re working. Or it might not. Still, chances are great that you’ll still complete your tasks in a way that will satisfy your boss or clients.
17. Before meetings, determine your desired results. When preparing for a meeting, make sure you and your team have decided what you hope to accomplish. Build an agenda and stick to it. We’ve all been in those meetings that drone on and in which nothing seems to get accomplished. We all think those meetings are huge “time sucks,” so change the way you meet. Determine what you want to happen and stick to it; if it becomes apparent that you won’t see your desired results from that meeting, then cut it short and schedule a follow-up meeting. This flexing gives everyone a chance to go back and reassess or complete some more work in order to meet effectively next time.
18. Delegate. Most of us are not great at delegating tasks. We get it. Either we feel embarrassed that we can’t do it all, or we’re control freaks, or maybe we just never learned how. Still, learning how to delegate—and then doing it—is one of the quickest and easiest ways to “gain time.” Of course, we at Powerhouse excel in this area. It’s why we exist, after all. So if you can’t delegate tasks to those within your organization, check out all the ways we can help give you back some time so you can focus on the MITs on your own to-do list.
19. Train the other side of your brain. This is a tip from the time management experts at Toggl. Engage in activities that use the part of your brain you don’t use at work. You’ll find that it’s easier to solve problems and you’ll work more efficiently the more you develop both sides of your brain.
20. Sleep well. Strive for seven to eight hours of sleep per night. We really can’t stress enough how getting good sleep will help you with your time management skills. There are key reasons humans need to sleep: It refreshes our brains, our bodies, and our emotional well-being. So cut out caffeine after lunch time, put down those screens and TV remotes at least an hour before going to sleep, and enjoy the ways a good night’s sleep will help you feel as if you’ve gained time in your day.
In the end, each of us has the same 24 hours in a day. What you do with those hours—and how well you manage them—matters. As Gandalf famously says in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” So how are you spending yours?