When was the last time you’ve heard someone mention that they were too busy to do something?
It wasn’t long ago when I’d wake only with enough time to get ready for work and had little time to do anything when I’d get out. Today, I write 1000 words, read at least one hour, listen to Podcasts, go to the gym, while managing a full-time job. This isn’t to brag because there are people who do much more than I do.
That’s what’s possible when you use the most effective time management techniques.
Time management isn’t complicated. It comes down to having the discipline to execute what’s required each day–when no one is looking. It means being productive on days when you’re not in the mood. Time management is challenging, but having control of your day is worth the sacrifice.
Here are some effective time management techniques you can use to take back control of your days.
1. Let Your Burning Desire Fuel You
Have you ever wondered how some people are able to go to the gym 5 to 7 days per week for years? Or how some entrepreneurs are able to sacrifice their weekends to be successful?
They’re able to achieve so much because they’re committed, avoiding distractions daily.
Take Kobe Bryant, for example, who woke up hours before training to practice his shooting.
Some call it finding your passion, others finding your life meaning. Don’t overthink it – just picture how your ideal life would be.
What type of work would you be doing? What type of lifestyle would you have? Odds are that there’s some gap between your current life and where you want to be.
Use these answers to set meaningful goals towards living your ideal life. You’ll be able to push through tough times and be laser-focused on managing your time.
This article will help you find the fuel:
2. Track How You’re Using Your Time
If you don’t know how you’re spending your days, you’re wasting your time.
Don’t believe me?
Data shows that the average person spends 3 hours on their phone daily.((comscore: Mobile Matures as the Cross-Platform Era Emerges)) And this is only time on your smartphone, not including your “breaks” and other parts of your day. That’s why tracking your time is key to understanding how you’re spending your time and how to optimize it.
A great app to help you track time is Atracker. When you first use this app to track your time, you’ll feel “weird.” Imagine logging in your time during and after your break, when you’re reading and watching TV.
The truth is tracking your time isn’t sexy and can make you feel like a robot. At least this was the case for me after tracking my time for close to a year.
Instead, focus only on tracking your most important tasks. For example, if your goal for the day is to write 1000 words, track this. Tracking all your tasks for an entire day can cause you to burn out. A good rule of thumb to follow is making 2–5 hours available for your productive tasks each day.
It’s better to complete 4 tasks feeling motivated than 8, feeling stressed.
3. Master Adjusting to Unexpected Events
Imagine setting your goals for the next day:
You write what you’ll do and estimate how long it would take you to complete each task. Because it’s a Monday, you know how your day will play out. Then, out of nowhere, your boss asks you to complete a demanding task that pushes to work until 7 pm. You come tired but your kids and wife are demanding attention – so you spend time with them. Before you know it, it’s 10 pm and time for you to go to bed.
The scenario above is different for everyone, but the outcome is the same – nothing gets done.
Many times, I’ve experienced days like this and remained disappointed going to bed. But, the reality is you need to get great at adapting to the unexpected.
By securing as much time during your day as possible. This means waking up 2 to 3 hours earlier to complete your most important tasks. It also means evaluating your current environment to take full advantage of it.
In your commute to and from work, listen to an educational Podcast instead of music, carry a book with you at all times so you can read during your idle time.
Now, think about which areas in your day you’re not taking full advantage of.
4. Use This Word for Effective Time Management
“One can’t have something for nothing. Happiness has got to be paid for…” –Aldous Huxley,
I get it, you hate saying “no.” I don’t like to say this word either. But, the reality is you’ve been saying “no” without knowing. For each time you’ve said “yes” to something, you’ve said “no” somewhere else.
There’s no such thing as getting something for nothing. When a friend asks you out to go for drinks and say “yes”, you’ve said “no” to writing 500 words, or you’ve said “no” to spending time with your family.
Throughout your day, you’ll get bombarded with different requests — from taking out the trash to spending time with friends. It’s up to you to focus on what’s important and how you’ll spend your time.
Saying “no” isn’t always the answer but learning when to do so will help you free up more time throughout your day.
5. Add Important Tasks to Your Schedule
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” –Abraham Lincoln
You can spend 5 hours being productive each day and still be wasting your time.
By working on the wrong tasks.
This is something I’ve struggled with in the past and something you need to avoid if you want to maximize your time.
Spend a good amount of time planning for how you’ll reach your goals. For example, if you hope to build a successful business study those who’re already where you want to be. Then, set one or two goals that you believe will help you get there. Make your goals SMART.
SMART goals are specific and relevant. This way you can track them and ensure that they’re attainable. Setting SMART goals guarantees that you’ll be productive, working on your important tasks.
A few years back, I’d wanted to create an SEO (search engine optimization) business. The problem was that I didn’t know any better and spent months building my website.
After finishing my website, I’d realized that I wasn’t as interested in SEO as I’d thought before. So, I started from scratch–wasting dozens of hours building a website I’d never used.
Having SMART goals would’ve avoided me this fate.
6. Only Complete What’s Important
Filling your calendar with productive tasks isn’t the only goal with time management. It’s about accomplishing only your most important tasks. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in a race to the bottom–having unfinished to-do items each day.
First, figure out what you’re trying to do — Are you looking to get a new promotion? Are you wanting to start earning money through freelance writing?
Once you’ve set your SMART goals, break them down into daily actionable goals. Focus on your most important tasks and complete them first. Spend no more than 3 to 4 hours daily completing these goals. This is assuming you have a full-time job, or else you’ll burn out.
Many successful entrepreneurs like Gary Vaynerchuk work an enormous amount of hours daily. But, this isn’t sustainable for most people.
Not too long ago, I’d filled my schedule with over 5 hours of work on top of my full-time job. When I focused only on being productive, my relationships suffered. I also wasn’t getting the results I’d wanted.
However, having less time forced me to find shortcuts and focus only on my most productive tasks.
7. Limit Your Time on Each Task
Parkinson’s law states that work will expand until it fills the time available.((Harvard Business Review: Why We Procrastinate When We Have Long Deadlines)) So give yourself 4 hours to complete something and you’ll spend that amount of time to do so.
Think back when you were in school and had a paper to write, if you were like most, you’d procrastinate until the last moment – and somehow complete the paper in a few hours.
That’s Parkinson’s law in motion.
To be efficient with your time, you’ll need to set a cap for every task you work on. It’ll be challenging in the beginning but you’ll soon learn to maximize your time.
For example, if you have to write a 1500 post give yourself 4 hours to complete it. This factors in 2 hours to write 1500 words, and 2 hours to edit. If you find yourself short in time, add an extra hour next time.
This is a never-ending process. But, you’ll become more efficient the more you practice it.
8. Recharge Your Mind Daily
You can have all the drive int he world; but without a clear mind, you’ll burn out.
Meditating isn’t hype, it works. Despite the research backing up its positive claims, meditating helps you be present.((National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Meditation: In Depth))
If you’ve come home, tired from work, wondering where your day went, you know what not being present is like. Imagine showing up to class half asleep. Then, imagine feeling energized in class and asking questions.
The second example is how being present can affect the quality of your work. Instead of completing your tasks half engaged, your work quality will improve.
So, how do you meditate?
When I first started meditating, I had no idea what I was doing. Eventually, I’d started using a guided meditating app and have enjoyed meditation since.
9. Use This Strategy to Stay Laser-Focused
Are you a great multi-tasker?
If you’d answered yes, then you’re sacrificing efficiency.
In today’s time, most people pride themselves with being a great “multitaskers.” Even managers at big corporations pride themselves on juggling many tasks.
Despite corporate America’s pressure to do more, multitasking isn’t the solution.
Because you’ll take longer to complete tasks and make more errors. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Instead, focus on completing one task with efficiency. Doing so will help you avoid burning out and make fewer mistakes. But, focusing on one task is easier said than done.
As a previous multitasker, I needed to look at my phone while I was writing, and watch TV while I was reading. Despite me wanting to focus, it was one of the most challenging things to do and for a good reason. In today’s Western society there are thousands of distractions daily.
Research shows that an average person sees 5000+ ads per day.((SJ Insights: Part Art or Part Science?)) Factor in work commitments, family obligations and it’s clear on why we have a hard time focusing.
A solution that’s worked for me has been meditating and working in Pomodoro sprints. The Pomodoro technique involves working in 20 to 45 minute intervals– with a 5 to 10 minute break in-between. For example, you’d work non-stop for 25 minutes, have a 5-minute break, then repeat.
Using the Pomodoro technique will help you stay focused without burning out.
10. Constantly Seek to Improve
Time management isn’t a skill you practice once and slap into your resume. It’s a skill that requires a huge time investment and patience. You’re not going to be an expert at managing your time only by reading this article.
You also don’t need to learn a dozen strategies. Chances are you know some techniques on how to better manage your time but aren’t applying them. Your solution is to create a productive environment.
Follow productive people, and listen to experts who share tips on productivity. Soon their good habits will begin to stick for you.
As you track your time, journal your progress; so that you can keep track of how well you’re managing your time and where you’re falling short.
As you become better, you’ll know how long a certain task will take you to complete and be able to plan ahead.
The Bottom Line
Imagine setting a goal and feeling confident that you’d achieve it.
Even if you didn’t achieve it, you’d know that you’d at least make significant progress. All because you became a master at managing your time.
Managing my time better has allowed me to be in control of my days. It has given me the strength to say “no” and improve the quality of my work. You too can achieve great things if you’re willing to put in the work!
Now that you know some of some the most effective time management techniques, choose one to work on. Once you’ve mastered one move on to the next one.
Soon you’ll be a productivity machine–accomplishing more by 10 am than most of the world does in their entire day.