You’ve probably heard it said, “It’s the little things that matter”.
The saying applies to time management, too.
Improving a little bit here and a little bit there can make a drastic difference in your productivity, your success, and your life.
Below we list 50 time management skills that could impact your life.
While it’s a long list of skills, it’s not necessary for you to try to work on them all at once. Just pick one or two, work on it, pick a couple more, and so on.
And, in full discourse, not all of these skills are specifically “time management”. However, all of them are related.
If you improve them, they can improve your time management as well.
The ability to prioritize is one of the most important time management skills you can have.
Because if you aren’t doing what’s important, it doesn’t matter how efficiently you are doing your unimportant task – you are still wasting your time.
Make sure you know what your most important tasks are at your job, what your goals are for your life, career, work, relationships, etc., and what your priorities are in life.
Then, make sure you prioritize your tasks around those.
One reason many people never reach the level of success they desire or accomplish is that they have never defined what success is!
In all areas of your life: career, family, relationships, health, etc., make sure that you have well-defined, clear goals and have them written down. Know your definition of success and where you want to go.
Then, start taking action toward them. If you haven’t defined where you want to go, don’t complain when you don’t get there.
One of the biggest hindrances people have from being more effective and efficient is that they don’t delegate tasks. They try to do it all themselves.
They may say they can do it better themselves or that it’s faster just to do it.
However, in the long run, when you delegate tasks effectively, you are able to be much more productive. You are able to pass on the tasks that aren’t as important to you (or that you are not as good at) and focus on the tasks that only you can do and/or that are the most important for you to do.
In fact, Brain Tracy says that we should always delegate tasks that are below our pay grade. For example, if you get paid $20/hour and the task can be done by someone who gets paid $10/hour, delegate that task and focus only on tasks that are worth $20/hour or more.
Another reason you may delegate is that someone may do it better and faster than you. They may enjoy it when you don’t.
Delegating can save you a lot of time and frustration.
Planning can help you focus on what’s important versus what’s urgent. It helps you make sure what you do each day aligns with your goals, priorities, and key tasks at work.
At a bare minimum, you should plan for the next day ahead of time, but planning for the week helps you better align your tasks with your priority (even if it’s just knowing the general tasks or themes of what you will do, not necessarily every task set for every day).
Planning for the month can also be helpful in focusing on your priorities.
Managing goes hand in hand with prioritization. You got to know what tasks you have, and what’s important and make sure you focus on what’s important.
Whether you work from a list or calendar, scheduling (which, of course, is part of planning) is important. Setting blocks of uninterrupted time, for example, or set times to work on certain tasks can be a big boost for your productivity.
Scheduling doesn’t mean you cut out spontaneity. What it does is helps you focus on the more important tasks. When something spontaneous pops up, you can look at your schedule, etc. to make sure the spontaneous activity is actually important and worth doing now, later, or ignoring.
Parkinson’s law says that a task will fill the time we lot it. When you set deadlines for yourself, it helps you get tasks done faster.
Procrastination can hurt your productivity in multiple ways. Not only can it cause some tasks not to be done as well as they should (or not done at all), but putting off your important tasks means you are focusing on less important tasks instead of what is important.
Focus on your most important task and get it done. Putting it off only wastes time and makes you less effective and efficient.
Singleminded focus (vs multitasking)
Multitasking is a killer of productivity.
Study after study has shown that we are less effective when we jump from one task to another, back and forth.
Think about it this way: if you are doing one task and move to another, there is a switch.
If you were in the flow, you stop. You have to put whatever materials for that task aside and get other materials. Then you have to see where you were on the new task and start working and trying to get in the flow.
Then you stop, and you repeat another task.
You save a lot of time when you focus on one task until it’s complete (though for some creative tasks, such as writing, stopping, and letting it sit for a while lets you come at it again later with a new angle).
Being self-aware is an incredibly important time management skill.
It’s important to know your energy cycles: when you are at your peak and when you slow down. This helps you know when to do what tasks and when.
Knowing what helps boost your energy lets you prepare and act when your energy starts getting low.
It’s also important to recognize when you need a break or rest and to walk away from what you are working on.
It’s important to know your strengths, limits, and weaknesses. You need to know what you are good at and what you aren’t so good at, what you enjoy, and what you don’t.
Knowing these things can help you know where you need to improve, what tasks to focus on, what tasks to delegate, and so on.
Examining and reviewing yourself honestly
Being able to examine and review yourself (honestly) on a frequent basis helps you know where you are doing well and where you need to improve. If, for appearance or other sake, you “pretend” you have it all together and are doing okay, you miss out on improving and getting better.
Examine yourself. See where you are doing well and where you need to work.
One suggestion for a daily checkup is to ask yourself every night: “How well did I do (on goals/plans/priorities/areas working on)? Where did I do well? Where can I improve? What steps can I do to improve?”
You can also examine your goals every week and see where you are and how well you did that week toward them.
Stress and time management form a kind of circle. When you manage your time better, you generally have less stress. And when you have less stress, you can focus your time better.
Too much stress can cause a lot of damage to your productivity. Not only can it hurt your health, but it can cause you to feel overwhelmed easier, cause you to make more mistakes, and so on.
Your ability to manage stress can help you deal with the pressures around you more effectively and get more done, which in turn, will likely help you reduce your stress.
What do I mean by diligent work?
There have been studies on how much time people waste at work – sometimes it’s in the hours!
Many, when they get to work, piddle, talk to people, check socials, rummage through emails, and so on.
They aren’t being productive.
If you want to be more productive (and just more successful in life), be diligent when you work. When you are at work, work. Save the piddling, socials, and so on when you are off or on break.
One of the biggest ways we waste our time on unimportant tasks is that we have the inability to say “no”.
What often happens is that we say “yes” because we don’t want to say “no”, when in reality we really don’t want to do it. We are then either miserable while we do it, may do a poor job on it, or not even do it at all.
Even if we do it, it often keeps us from what’s more important.
It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to say that you can’t do something. It’s okay to have boundaries.
Saying yes to one task is saying no to another. When you say yes to an unimportant task, you are saying no to one of your more important tasks.
So don’t be afraid of saying no. I’m not saying you should never help people, but in general, if it doesn’t move you toward your goals or priorities (and if especially someone is trying to use, manipulate, or constantly use you to rescue their poor work), say no.
You are either appreciating or depreciating. You are either growing in value or losing value.
Not only do you forget stuff over time, technology and times change, and if you don’t stay up to date, you are likely to be left behind.
Generally, those who are disciplined to committed growth succeed. There is a reason the average CEO reads about a book a week.
When you learn new tasks and skills or work on improving your skills, not only can it make you a better person and push you toward your goals faster, but it can help you do your tasks faster and better.
Just as it’s important to be self-aware, you should be aware outside of yourself.
It can sometimes be easy to have tunnel vision: you live in your world, doing your thing, your way, and you don’t see what’s around you, other ways or other opportunities.
I’m sure you’ve met someone who’s so dogmatic about doing certain things certain ways, but you knew if they would just try something different, it would make their life or work so much easier and faster.
Be open to new ideas, options, and opportunities. Look for them. You never know, you may find someone who loves tasks you hate, new software that makes you work faster, or other ideas that could improve your work.
Finding other options
Though this is more of a decision-making skill, it can also help improve your productivity.
As humans, it’s easy for us to get stuck on the “one or the other” option choice, and then we can waste time trying to decide which one to do.
Should I buy this or not?
Should I date this person or not?
Should I apply for this job or the other one?
Should I do this task or that one?
Often, decisions aren’t one or the other. Sometimes there is an AND. Sometimes, if you look, you can find a way to do both.
Or there are other options. It’s not “Should I buy this or not”, it’s “Should I buy this? Or should I save my money for something else? Or could do something else with my money?” and so on.
Find other options. This not only can help you accomplish more, but it can help you overcome decision paralysis.
For more information about decision-making, check out Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Decisive.
Your organizational skills can make or break your productivity.
While each person has their own style and level of organization, there is a point where being unorganized harms and hurts your level of productivity. If you are having to constantly search for items, dig for items when working on a task, and so on, you are wasting time.
It’s good to have some sort of system so that you know where everything is. Keep all your records and documents in one place, if possible. Have an unorganized box that you put stuff in (and have a set time to go through it and manage what’s in that box).
When you make notes or write to-do’s, keep them all in one place. Not only will it save you time from looking, but will also help keep you from losing them as well.
Keeping a clean desk can also be helpful. If you constantly have to dig through papers to find what you are looking for, your desk is too messy.
In fact, it’s a good idea to have only the items for the task you are working on your desk and to make sure you have everything out and ready when you start so that you won’t waste time digging for something while in the middle of the task.
Batching is a powerful time management skill.
When you switch between different types of tasks, there is a time cost – a switching cost. You have to not only change gears mentally, but you have to change papers, documents, or whatever it is you need for those tasks each time.
When you batch, you do similar tasks together so that you don’t have to switch back and forth between tasks.
If you have a lot of phone calls to make, do them all at the same time. If you have emails to respond to, have a set time to do them. If you have various reports to sign or review, set a time to do all of those together.
Whatever it is, find ways to group and batch tasks together.
Holding effective and efficient meetings
As important as meetings can be, they can also be incredible time wasters.
How many times have you been at a meeting that you wish would end so that you could actually work?
Or what about meetings that constantly go off-topic and chase every rabbit down its hole?
If you want to use your time more effectively (and help others use theirs), hold effective meetings.
First off, don’t hold a meeting if it doesn’t really need to be held. Some things can be discussed over email or on the phone.
If a meeting has to happen, only invite people that really need to be there. Have an agenda and stick with it. Have a strict start and stop time and start and stop on time.
And, for yourself, if it’s not really a meeting you need to be in, why go?
Maintaining health and energy
Our daily health habits can hurt or help our productivity.
If you are constantly tired and low on energy, or if you have to live on coffee or some form of caffeine just to make it through the day, you are hurting yourself and your productivity.
When you don’t get enough sleep, it hurts you physically and mentally. You won’t have as much energy and you won’t be as mentally sharp.
If you constantly eat junk food, it will also hurt your energy negatively.
Instead, try to get enough sleep consistently (generally 6-8 hours). Eat healthily. Exercise.
Doing this will help you stay mentally sharp and give you the energy you need to bulldoze your tasks and projects for the day.
If you have sleep or energy issues beyond these suggestions, you may want to go see a doctor.
Distinguish urgent from important
It’s easy to get caught up in the urgency of everyday life and work.
We get an email or someone comes by with this “giant” problem that has to be fixed right now. It seems like an important task because it’s urgent, but when you look at it from a long-term view, it really may not be.
Have you ever had a day where you spent the day so busy but felt like you accomplished nothing? That’s probably because your day was filled with urgent instead of important tasks.
These urgent tasks seem important because they are right in front of us. However, we need to learn to distinguish the difference.
That’s one reason why knowing your goals and priorities and why planning is so important – it helps you distinguish between what’s important and not.
When you have your goals, priorities, and plans in front of you, when something “urgent” pops up, you can use those to help you determine whether that task is worth doing now, later, or never.
Distractions are a killer of productivity. Whether they are external or you create them yourself, if you don’t manage them, they will hurt you.
Distractions can come from so many directions: people stopping by, emails and notifications constantly beeping and buzzing, a “quick” look at Facebook, an uncomfortable chair, the room being too hot, and so on.
Fight against them. If you can’t resist wasting time on the internet, get a blocker app that will do it for you. If it’s too hot in the office, get a fan if you can (or find a way to lower the temperature).
If people keep interrupting you, find ways to stop them (e.g. a do not disturb sign, setting times for visitors, wearing headphones, talking to them about interruptions, and so on). Turn off notifications for your email and phone and only check them at set times.
Distractions don’t have to control you. You can find ways to manage and minimize them.
Ask for help
Sometimes the best thing we can do to get something done is to ask for help.
Whether we need clarification on the task, are weak in certain skills, need someone’s help to accomplish it, or need to delegate, having the ability to ask can save us a lot of wasted time.
However, sometimes we resist asking. Maybe we fear to look incompetent. Maybe we just want to be able to do it all ourselves. Or maybe we are afraid they will say no.
That just hurts you.
Don’t be afraid to ask. It can save you a lot of time and frustration.
Jack Canfield’s book The Alladin Factor is a great book on learning how to ask.
Part of time management is being flexible. Sometimes you have to go with the flow.
Sometimes crises will pop up that you have to handle, or your day won’t go just as planned. Having a set, rigid view of your schedule and your time will hurt you.
Instead, be flexible. Do plan and know what’s important and not. But be willing to adjust as needed.
By knowing what’s important and not, you can adjust when needed while making sure you are still doing what’s important.
Seeing the forest from the trees
It sometimes can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day details and miss the big picture – to see the trees instead of the forest.
Instead, you need to be able to see the forest from the trees. Even when work or life gets crazy busy, step back and see the big picture. See how everything comes together. Look at your goals and priorities and see what tasks move you toward them and which ones do not.
Learning to speed read can be a HUGE time saver. Before I started learning how to speed read, it would take me HOURS to finish a book. Now I go through numerous books in the time it took me to finish one.
Part of speed reading is also learning to be selective. You don’t have to read every page or chapter. You don’t have to read every book or every report. Be selective about what you read and what you don’t.
Punctuality is a time management skill that not only affects you, but also affects those around you.
If you are constantly late, not only will you have less time to do what you need to do, but if people are waiting on you, you are being disrespectful of and hurting their time as well.
It also looks bad on you professionally if you are constantly late.
Be on time (or even early). Get to work when you are supposed to and get started immediately. Be on time for meetings and end them when they are supposed to end.
If this is something you struggle with, here are some tips on how to improve your punctuality.
Being disciplined to get started, staying focused, and getting your work done not only affects your level of productivity, but it can affect your overall success in life as well.
If you can never get started, or you constantly allow yourself get sidetracked, you are hurting yourself, your work, and your future success.
Be disciplined, even when it hurts. Get started. Avoid distractions.
Be disciplined to say no to others or the unimportant so that you can focus on what is truly important.
Even when you don’t “feel” it, get started, stay focused, and get it done.
Many employees’ motivation is their boss and paycheck.
Some only work when the boss is around. Some only work just enough to earn their paycheck.
There is a reason they don’t succeed very far.
You should always do your best regardless of the presence of your boss. He or she should not be your motivation.
And if you want to get paid more, do more. Don’t wait around to get paid more before you do more – that’s likely never to happen.
If you want to maximize your productivity and success, create and be your own motivation. Find what motivates you and motivate yourself.
One way is to know your goals and why you are doing what you are doing. Know your “why”.
Whether individually or in an organization, having good decision-making processes can help you make better decisions faster and help reduce decision paralysis.
Check out the book Decisive to learn more about decision-making.
Many projects and tasks are done wrong or poorly because of poor communication.
It can sometimes be easy to assume that someone “knows” what should be done or how to do it. Or sometimes we or the other person may be afraid to ask for help or clarification on the project.
Both situations smell of upcoming trouble.
When communication is not clear, work is done wrong or poorly, it may have to be done again, and that wastes both time and money.
Ability to question and challenge
The ability to question and challenge yourself and others is a time management skill that can help you improve your work and efficiency.
When ideas are questioned and challenged (in a good way), the ideas often come out much better than before. Processes are made more efficient. Mistakes are avoided. And so on.
When people are afraid to question and challenge each other’s ideas (or their own), more mistakes happen, more failure happens, and too frequently a path is taken that is more detrimental than helpful.
Being able to cope with the stress and disappointments of life can help you be productive even when times are hard.
Failure will happen. We all will face disappointments. We all have stressful moments.
It’s how we face those failures and disappointments that matter. It’s how we learn from them, deal with them, and move forward that makes the difference.
When we are able to work well together, complementing each other in our work, we are more effective and efficient.
When we can challenge each other and work together to find the best solutions without hurting feelings or working against each other, the best ideas come out, and we save time and money.
When you and/or others don’t feel safe from within where you work, when you don’t feel safe sharing and talking with one another when you see your coworkers as enemies and competition, then not only is your productivity going to diminish, but that of the whole company.
Unforgiveness can hurt you in a multitude of ways.
It can hurt your health, mental well-being, your relationships, and your personal well-being and happiness.
Unforgiveness is also damaging to your productivity.
If you are bitter toward someone, that affects your focus and mentality. It can also drain your energy.
Your focus will not be on what it should be, and it keeps you from working effectively with that person.
Forgive. Unforgiveness doesn’t hurt the other person as much as it does you. Don’t do it. Forgive and let go.
You don’t have to forget what the other person did, but you still need to forgive.
You can either control your email, or your email can control you.
Too many people are a slave to their email. They are constantly checking and responding to emails, even when they are “off” work.
Learn to control your email. Use the available tools with your provider to organize, label, and filter your email. Learn to write short effective emails and subject lines.
And set times to check your email. Just because a notification ding doesn’t mean you have to check (in fact, turn off notifications!).
Be the master of your email, not the other way around.
Receive feedback well
The better you receive feedback, the more you can learn, and the more you will improve and increase your productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency.
If you are always defensive when someone critiques or offers a suggestion to you, you are hurting yourself.
We are often blind to our own mistakes. Listening to others can help us see what we don’t see other perspectives beyond our own, and help us to do what we do even better.
Eat the frog first
Mark Twain once said:
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
This applies to time management as well (in fact, Brian Tracy named one of his books based on this quote: Eat That Frog!)
If we do our most important, hardest task first, it makes the rest of the day much easier.
It keeps us from wasting time delaying it by doing less important tasks, and it keeps us from dreading it all day.
Letting go of perfectionism
Perfectionism can kill productivity.
While it’s important that we do our best, going overboard to make it “perfect” just wastes time.
There is a point where good enough really is good enough.
And truth is, with some tasks (especially those that really aren’t that important), you may end up wasting time “perfecting” those tasks instead of spending that time on more important tasks.
Perfect is the enemy of done.
Choosing your battles
When it comes to productivity and life, it’s important to learn to choose your battles.
Not everything is worth fighting over. Not everything is worth spending hours and hours on.
Learn to know when to fight and when to let go, and it will help you not only use your time more wisely but reduce the stress in your life.
Taking good notes
As mundane as this may sound, being able to take good notes can save you so much time.
For me, there have been many times I “knew” I would remember something, whether it was a task I needed to complete or important information I should keep, and I didn’t write it down.
I forgot it.
I’ve also hurt myself with bad handwriting as well. When you can’t read what you write, you waste not only the time it takes to write it initially but the time you take trying to figure it out.
A notebook is like a second brain. When you write everything down, you free your mind from the things that you are trying to remember, and it allows your brain to focus completely on the task at hand without the distraction of trying to remember everything.
The way you talk to yourself can make or break you.
As Henry Ford said:
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
If you constantly put yourself down and tell yourself you can’t, your hurting not only your productivity, but your relationships, your confidence, your life, and your future success.
We attract what we think about. If you constantly are thinking about the negative, that is what you are going to get. If you keep telling yourself that you can’t, you can’t.
Think positively. Build yourself up. Tell yourself you can do it. Believe in yourself.
Focus on the positive, not the negative. Over time, doing so can have a tremendous impact on your life
Sometimes when we get going on a task, we get in a flow. We are focused, we are getting things done, and everything’s coming together. Time flies by and we don’t even realize it.
Other times we feel good because of a success that we just had. We are motivated and ready to keep trucking.
Keep the momentum going.
When you have to flow, don’t let things distract you. Don’t switch to completely opposite tasks. As much as possible try to keep your flow going.
When you have the momentum from a success, celebrate, and then jump to the next task. Don’t give it time to fizzle. Keep moving.
It will pay off.
Many people have the habit of starting a bunch of projects or tasks but never finishing them.
They get a “good” idea, start, lose interest, switch to something else, and never finish.
Or they start one task, switch to another, then switch to another, and they never finish anything.
These people have the inability to bring things to completion.
One of the dangers of lack of completion, besides not being productive, is that these tasks or projects end up hanging over your head, and they can pull you down and stress you even more.
Be a completer. Focus on getting things completed, not just started. It’s no good to have 30 projects started but none finished.
For as many tasks as possible, when you start, keep going until you finish it. Don’t switch around.
Get what you are working on done before starting something else. Or have a max number of projects that you are working on at one time. Set deadlines for when you will finish the different projects (or set deadlines for stages of the project).
Success (and maximum productivity) doesn’t come to those who have good ideas and start, it comes to those who, even if they may not have the greatest ideas, actually finish and complete.
Getting (and staying) in the flow
The flow is a magical place to be. Many programmers have experienced this.
They start working on a program one night, and before they realize it, it’s morning already. They were so caught up in their work time just flew.
You may have experienced the same in your work.
When we are in the flow, we are focused, productive, and time flies. We aren’t distracted by the things around us.
The more we get into the flow, the more productive we will be.
It takes time to get in the flow. You can’t do it if you are only working on a task for five minutes.
To help get in the flow, block a period of uninterrupted time to work on a task. Remove as many distractions as possible, focus on that task, and start working. Try to keep from jumping between tasks and work on keeping interruptions or distractions from happening.
Focusing forward, not backward
We all make mistakes. We all fail.
What matters is what we do next.
Too often we focus on our mistakes. We keep looking at them, regretting them, and beating ourselves up for them.
We may even get depressed because of them.
That’s destructive. When you are looking backward, you can’t look forward. Yes, you should take time to look at your mistake and learn from it, but once you have, move forward.
Focus on what’s in front of you, not behind.
It’s the next step that is most important, not the last. Focus on the next step.
Create routines and habits
One great way to increase your time management and productivity is to create productive habits.
For example, some people waste a lot of time in the morning when they get to work. Instead, make it a habit that, first thing when you get to work before you do anything, you get your most important task done.
Or make it a habit to carry a nonfiction book with you, that way if you are ever in a waiting room or with time to spare, instead of “killing time” playing a stupid game on your phone, you are being productive and learning.
Take time to examine yourself. What habits do you have now that kill your time? What about other people? What habits do you see other people have that hurt their productivity?
Learn from it and do the opposite. Replace the negative habits with positive ones.
It doesn’t even have to be all at once. Find one habit, change or add it. Over time, these small habits will make a tremendous difference in your life.
To learn more about making and changing habits, check out Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.
As time passes, you can learn to estimate how long your different tasks will take, and that can be a powerful tool.
If you know, generally, how much time each task will likely take, you then can better plan your days and weeks. You will have a more realistic view of what you can and can’t get accomplished.
Estimating your time effectively can help keep you from overloading yourself, and it also helps you know when you will need extra help to get certain tasks or projects done on time.
It helps you be more flexible because, when something important pops up, you know how much time it may take and what you can replace it.
Let go of destructive people
You may have heard the saying “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”.
And there’s truth to that statement. The people we spend time with do affect our lives and who we become.
If you are always hanging around people who complain, blame others for their lack of success, and are unproductive, it will start to reflect in your life.
If you are around people who constantly tear and pull you down, are unhealthy relationship-wise, and so on, it will affect you as well.
However, if you spend time around successful people, responsible people, and people who don’t waste time and are productive with their lives, that will start to reflect on you as well.
Cut out the destructive people in your life who pull you down (or if you can’t completely, cut down the time you have to be around them), and start spending time with people who will build you up and pull you up.
Remember, the people you spend your time around can have a dramatic effect on your productivity, your life, and your success.
Knowing methods that help you problem-solve effectively can help you overcome stalls and resolve the issues that come up.
Sometimes, when problems hit us, we can freeze. We may not know what to do.
Other times we may spend hours figuring out what to do.
If you have set methods that you follow to solve whatever problems come your way, then you will have less stress, save time, and resolve issues more effectively and efficiently.
In this article, we covered 50 time management skills. While not all of these skills are specifically “time management”, improving them can increase your productivity.
Now to you: what skill(s) do you plan to start improving? Are there any skills that I missed?