To Do Lists, Managing Tasks, and Planning Skills

==> Go back to Time Management Tips, Techniques, and Skills

In this section of the webbook, we’re going to discuss the major ways that you can organize and plan your day to day and week to week activities: the humble to do list. Of course, there are many different ways beyond the to do list to plan your tasks, but in this article we’re going to focus on this most common time management activity.

Creating Your Daily To Do List

In this section, we’re going to discuss the nuts and bolts of creating to do lists for your daily tasks. I encourage you to come up with your own system, as you’ll find tricks and tips that will work best for you and you alone. There is no way I can predict that, so I’m just going to give you the basic ingredients that go into any good daily task list.

  1. The first thing you should do is come up with a list of all the activities you need to do that day. If you are using a long term calender or to do list (see below), you can use these activities as ingredients to add to your list of things to do. Collect all the activities you need to do for that day; don’t be afraid to cut the unimportant or not urgent ones. Delegate if possible, because the fewer tasks you have to do, the better you can do the tasks that you’ve got on your plate.
  2. You will then need to have a place to put all these tasks. We’ll discuss much more about this in a second, but let’s assume for a second that you’ve got your task book ready.
  3. Next, prioritize. Do the activities that are most important first, though of course leave room for those that may be both urgent and important. (I’ll have more to say about prioritizing tasks in a section below.)
  4. Now that you’ve got your list up, the hard part: actually do the tasks! This is where the rubber hits the road. You may also need to come up with a reward system to help you incentivize and reward your successful task completions.
  5. Avoid incessant task switching. You’ve got a lot of goals todo, I know, but you need to focus on one at a time. Multi tasking never works, as I’ve stated in other chapters of this book, so pick a task, do it, complete it, and move on to the next one. You’ll be more productive and effective, and it will actually lower your stress as well, because multi tasking can be taxing and tiring.
  6. Stay organized. Organizational skills are critical when it comes to productivity (as I’ve discussed earlier), and part of maintaining your things to do list is keeping all the papers, materials, and other resources you need to do the work close at hand. Keep your desk or work area tidy; even if you think that you know where “everything is,” you will still benefit from having a clear and well-defined work area, at least subconsciously.
  7. Use the tools that are right for you. I’ll talk about this more in a later section on online to do list software’s benefits and drawbacks, but for now just know that sometimes paper and pencil is better than any kind of task list software. Some others like to mix the two, as they create printable to do lists on their computer in a word processing program which they then modify as necessary. (This is also how I manage my longer term templates.)
  8. One trick that I’ve found useful is to create a to do list template that I can reprint every day. This daily to do list template lists all the activities that I commonly do on particular days of the week. I can then add to that list or eliminate as needed based on what’s happening that particular day. You can find these templates out there for download, but I found the best way to get them is to make them yourself, as everyone’s needs and work habits are different. There is no one size fit all todo list out there!
  9. Note that it’s not the list itself that is important – it’s simply the act of organizing and planning. It’s what the list represents, not what it is!
  10. It may take time for you to build the todo list habit. Like all habits, you may forget or fail to use it; don’t worry if you make a mistake, just go back and try again. Eventually, you will build the habit to the point where you’ll forget how you could have gone without the list in the first place.
  11. Make sure the list is in a place that will remind you of its presence. If you ‘forget’ to consult your list, then what’s the point of making it in the first place?

Creating a Weekly (and Longer) Todo List

Of course, knowing what you’re doing on a particular day is the core principle when it comes to being productive and getting things done. However, you can only know what you really need to do if you have an idea of the bigger picture – what are you working towards in the long term? This is where creating weekly “todo lists” can come in handy.

Note that there are many ways to plan out your goals and objectives; we’ve discussed many different such systems and ideas in this webbook. You don’t need to create a “to do list” in the manner of the daily list for your weekly; you can do whatever system you want. The point is that you need to have some way of keeping track your long term goals so that you get the ‘ingredients’ for what you can include on your shorter term task lists.

The key aspect of this goes beyond organization skills, though – it’s also about breaking down these goals into smaller tasks. One of the best things you can do is take each large project and slice and dice it into as many miniature tasks as you can. These are tasks that you can reasonably complete in about an hour; when it comes time to do the work, you can simply add each of these mini tasks to your task queue.

You will need to review this list at least weekly, just to remind you of your larger goals and to adapt to any changes that might have occurred in the period between the last review and this one.

Some Tips on Prioritization

One of the most pieces of your arsenal of planning skills should be your ability to prioritize. Here are some tips:

  1. Organize your daily tasks by priority. The method I use is the “ABC” system. The most critical tasks get A, then the important tasks get B, and the tasks lowest on the list get B. When you tackle your tasks, finish the A tasks, then go for the B, and then hit the C tasks if you have time.
  2. One important tip is to always tackle your most important task first thing in the morning. “Eating your frog” is an important tip because it will give you the energy and focus to go after the other tasks on your list. And, if for some reason you don’t get anything else done, you will at least take solace in the fact that you completed your most important task for the day.
  3. Priority management isn’t a rocket science. What’s important to do “right now” depends on your short term and long term needs and goals. There’s a balance to be had there, and with experience you will figure out what works best for you and leads you to the highest levels of productivity and success.

Should I Use To Do List Software?

Of course, the answer to this question is not “yes” or “no” but “if it helps you get things done.” That’s the only measure of whether or not you should use any special equipment or technology is if it actually helps you. And this should really matter to you especially if you are paying for it; the only reason you should not download to do list freeware is if a paid version will really supercharge your productivity.

I believe, however, that sometimes this to do software and other task management software can be more trouble than they are worth. You can get programs that run directly on your desktop, or you can get ones that work through a web browser, but perhaps the most popular are the ones that can be used in hand held devices. I used some various to do list apps on my iPhone, and I’ve seen others use such applications on their android and other smart phones. However, my experience was that it was more annoying to have to pull out my phone, switch it on, go to the app, and interact with the tasks there than just having it on a piece of paper that I could scratch off and edit instantly. It seems to me that sometimes using this technology can be more of a crutch; we are trying to make our task system “fun” when it should just be about getting down to business.

There are also some disadvantages to using technology to keep track of your tasks. For instance, if you use a task planner on your computer, you will only be able to have access to it when you are actually near the computer, even if you are able to sync your to do list online so that you can access it anywhere. Even in that case you will still need to be around a computer; having an online todo list is nice, but sometimes just having a pad of paper in your pocket is better for the convenience.

Another disadvantage to any kind of to do app is that it stays “out of sight, out of mind.” You can forget about your list and what’s on it if you have it in your pocket. Having a regular, paper and pencil task organizer can of course have this problem too, but at least you can keep it out and in front of you at all times. There’s also something nice about having your tasks laid out in a physical manner, and there’s really nothing better in many ways than taking a pen and crossing out the tasks that you’ve just completed. It’s quite satisfying!

Sometimes these programs can also be annoying to handle, in that entering a task can be more trouble than its worth. This may be just my feeling, though, as I am biased towards the paper and pencil variety – your mileage may vary.

There are benefits, of course. Being able to keep your day in your smartphone is quite convenient, and many of these online todo sites and programs are free or at least very cheap. In addition, they can offer you interesting features that can streamline your planning process. Plus, sometimes todo online programs and apps are just plain old fun to use – and if this makes you use them and actually get stuff done, nice!

There are plenty of other articles out there that will give you the best to do list software, programs, and apps, but I think that goes beyond the point. The software should never be the focus – the tasks and getting them done should always be primary. So I won’t go ahead and give you my top 10 list of todo list software and where to download these items. If you want them, you’ll find them. I just ask you to try the paper and pencil method first – it may be all you need!\

==> Go to Chapter 9: The Best Time Management Books, Courses, and Programs

Time Management for Teachers

==> Go back to Time Management in Context

Teachers have a tough job, as they aren’t just teaching students in a classroom: they have to be able to juggle the demands of students, parents, supervisors, departments, and the government, all the while disciplining kids, setting up lesson plans, grading assignments, and potentially having some semblance of a social life.

That’s why time management tips for teachers are so important – the amount of stuff that needs to be get done will crush even the hardest worker if the tasks aren’t approached with care. So here are some additional tips for those who work in our schools, colleges, and universities:

Time Management for Teachers

  1. One of the most important tips on time management for teachers is to not let ‘time sinks’ take over your classroom. You know that there are some students that just drain your time unnecessarily, and there are also some colleagues and tasks that do the same. Minimize their influence as much as possible!
  2. The typical time management tips apply – schedule your time, create to-do and other task lists, and fill in ‘free’ time with work instead of letting it go to waste.
  3. Try to avoid meetings or minimize their impact whenever you can.
  4. Take breaks through the day – don’t miss your lunch!
  5. Don’t let paperwork and other materials drag down your productivity – sometimes managing all this junk can be a huge task in itself. Throw out or give away what you truly don’t need to save.
  6. In terms of time management in the classroom, discover the activities that give you the biggest bang for your buck. Some activities will yield little to no educational benefits, while others will give your students a great learning experience. Focus as much as you can on the latter, though of course sometimes the former can be unavoidable. In general, though, focus on the 80/20 rule.
  7. Keep a balanced life. Of course, the demands of the classroom are great, but you’ll get burned out quick, and maybe even hate teaching, if you don’t take some time for yourself.

Time Management at Work Tips

==> Go back to Time Management in Context

Much of the advice on time management, productivity, and working hard applies very well to any work or business endeavour. Thus, I’ll try not to repeat myself in the following time management tips at work. For more details on some of these topics, check out the rest of this webbook!

Time Management at Work

  1. Delegate. Sometimes it’s not worth it for you to do certain tasks if someone else can do them better, faster, or cheaper.
  2. Don’t be afraid to say no. This is perhaps the best business time management tip you can get, simply because “not doing” tasks is infinitely better than even doing them fast, if you can swing it.
  3. Prioritize. If you own a business, focus on the activities that actually make you the money. If you are an employee, focus on the activities that will give you the best results for your time input, of course depending on what you consider to be “good results,” all depending on your goals.
  4. If you are a manager, you will also have to worry about employee time management. That’s why reading and understanding the tips in this book are so important – you can use them to train your employees to be more  efficient.
  5. Encourage and support team work. Sometimes the best work can be done when people are working together than if they are working in an isolated fashion.
  6. Meetings are deadly most of the time – they are huge time wasters. One of the most appreciated tips of time management for managers is the ability to make meetings more efficient. Not only will they increase productivity, they will also improve morale.
  7. Don’t let distractions take over your work. Sometimes office time management is controlled by the blocking of distracting websites and the discouraging of “water cooler talk,” but distractions will still have to be controlled in this environment. It’s even worse if you are self-employed or if you work at home – then the distractions will near be infinite. Make sure you realize this and set up your workspace to minimize the potential for distraction.
  8. Time management in business depends on what the goals of the company are. If the goals are off, and if the means to those ends don’t correlate with best practices, then everyone in the organization will suffer.
  9. Time management in the workplace depends on the specific qualities of that environment. For instance, these tips will vary depending on if you are a bureaucrat, office worker, construction worker, etc. Time management for nurses will have different requirements than time management for work-at-home writers, for example, so keep that in mind when you’re reading these tips. As in everything, adaptability and flexibility are the key skills.
We will be adding more time management tips at work soon! Come back often.

Time Management for Moms

==> Go back to Time Management in Context

The big change when dealing with time management for moms is the fact that scheduling and planning needs to be very flexible to adapt to the changing needs of babies, kids, teens, spouses, work, play, and so on. The other big difference is that the ‘work’  never ends – there are always new demands and tasks that remain undone, so much of the time management for kids will also focus on prioritizing and evaluating tasks – are they urgent, important, or some combination?

Thus, these time management tips for mothers focus on this: being flexible in the moment while also being rigorous and disciplined enough to get things done. This will help lower stress and make you more effective in all spheres of life.

Note again that the usual tip applies: check out the other chapters of this webbook for more general advice!

Time Management at Home

  1. The first tip is to stay organized. Keep things in their ‘right’ places, and don’t let clutter take over the home and your work spaces. Keep a calendar that you can use to schedule appointments. When possible, arrange blocks of times for important but ‘long term’ focused tasks, such as cleaning and organizing. Keep a to-do list, especially if you expect a hectic and varied day to come.
  2. Sometimes part of your time management skills will involve managing the time and activities of others. For instance, time management for teens can be difficult, especially when they are juggling the demands of school, work, family, and a social life. This webbook can give you tips that you can communicate to your children to help them be more efficient and productive – this will ease your load further.
  3. Don’t skip exercise, eating right, or getting enough sleep. You may need that hour for “work” instead of exercising or sleeping, and you may be tempted to get crappy foods on the go, but avoid those temptations as much as possible, for they are false claims. Sure, you may ‘save’ an hour by not exercising, but what are you losing on the back end? You may find your lower energy levels actually lead you to being less productive and effective than if you simply went to the gym and got your energy levels up int he first place.
  4. Prioritizing is going to be the key skill for many moms and dads who are juggling a hectic schedule. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to unimportant and non-urgent tasks. Getting help with tasks can also really lighten the load, so having friends or colleagues that can give you this aid can be invaluable. This is an important skill to cultivate, because it’s not possible to please everyone. Figure out your “must do” tasks and do them first and completely; delegate other tasks to those who can do them for you or, even better, totally eliminate them if at all possible.
  5. Focus is the key to time management, and that can be described in many ways here, as it has been described in other chapters. The tip I’ll give here is to “focus” on people – give your kids, family, coworkers, etc. undivided time. Twenty minutes of undivided attention is worth two hours of diverted, distracted attention! In terms of the time investment and effectiveness, it’s a no brainer.
  6. At the same time, take time to smell the roses. While life can be stressful, we shouldn’t let that make us rush through life without enjoying the great, if small, moments.
Any more tips? Leave them in the comments!

Chapter 10: Time Management in Context

==> Go back to The Best Time Management Software

As we’ve stated earlier, some time management and productivity tips depend on the kinds of activities you are doing or what you are responsible for. While general tips and advice can help, sometimes more specific guidance is warranted so that you can be the best in what you are trying to do, not just good at managing time generally.

Thus in this chapter we’ll discuss some of the more common areas where people will want to manage their time better. We focus on students, moms, teachers, and the workplace. We will be adding more topics as we go and as this webbook expands. Note as well that many of the general tips discussed in earlier chapters will apply to all of these cases as well, so make sure you read them all to get the best cross-section of time management tips in and out of context that you can.

==> Go to Time Management for Students

==> Go to Time Management for Moms

==> Go to Time Management at Work

==> Go to Time Management for Teachers

Time Management for Students – High School and College

==> Go back to Time Management in Context

Perhaps the group that complains of the highest levels of procrastination and most difficulty focusing and getting things done are students. The procrastination epidemic has always hit students hard, but perhaps no harder than it has today. The proliferation of digital devices and social networking sites, among other technologies of distraction, has made it easier than ever before to be distracted by short term impulses, all to avoid working towards more fulfilling long term goals. As a result, student time management skills are pretty much pathetic across the board, as most students can probably attest to!

Thus, this article will give advice on time management for students, an area of sore need for many. We intend to give tips for students at all levels, so this will also apply to those looking for time management for high school students or time management for college students. Try to integrate as many of these tips into your life as possible, but don’t try to tackle them all at once or you may have trouble making any of them stick. Focus on one or two at a time and make it stick; then move on to the next one. As is the name of the game: FOCUS.

Of course, while much of this advice may be characterized as time management for teens and young adults, note that a lot of this can also to apply to students of an older age group, including returning students and adult education students.

Time Management Tips For Students

  1. Plan your week, semester, year, and beyond. Planning is the first step – you need to know what you need to be doing before you can do it effectively. Use whatever resource or device you’d like, but make sure it’s easy to use and maintain, because you don’t want your planning and organizing to be an unwieldy tool itself. You probably will know ahead of time the major dates for tests, exams, projects, papers, and other assignments – so make sure you pencil them in and come up with a game plan on how you will tackle all of those tasks. Mix in extracurricular activities – sports, music, volunteering, and other student groups – and you will be quickly overwhelmed if you are not on top of your game.
  2. If you have to work to support your education, this adds more pressure on your time budget, so make sure you are especially careful to organize your time.
  3. If you are having issues with procrastination, check that chapter of this webbook – it will help you! In fact, you can find many other productivity tips scattered throughout this webbook, so have a look around if you already haven’t.
  4. Get tools to help you focus your time, but don’t let those tools take over either.
  5. Block out time in your schedule to do unbroken periods of work. Focus is the key to any kind of success; being scatterbrained or (worse) multitasking will not let you be as productive as you can be. This is the unfortunate thing about multitasking: many students believe that it is “normal” and that they are being their most productive while checking Facebook, looking at sites, listening to music, watching TV, and texting to their friends. In fact, they are getting nothing done. If they just sat back and worked on their task, they’d get it done in a quarter of the time. Unfortunately, modern technology sometimes gives the illusion of productivity; switch off and avoid distractions if you want to manage your time properly.
  6. Use the time in between classes and other periods of ‘down time’ to do more work. Don’t let these little periods of 15 – 30 minutes go by – they can add up over the course of a week, semester, and school career! Don’t just sacrifice them to ‘rest’ or socializing – actually make use of them when you can by studying flash cards, reading the book or article due, or other useful activities.
  7. Don’t cram. You’ve heard this before, and maybe ignored it, but it’s unbelievably important. First, you can’t hope to learn a bunch of stuff in one day, simply because the physiological processes of learning (read: sleep) require multiple days to give you the highest benefit. Second, it’s just a better use of your time to spread out the studying over many days and weeks rather than trying to cram it in into one session. A third benefit is that you’ll lower stress, and you might actually find that studying ahead of time is enjoyable.
  8. This also goes with long term project. Leaving papers to the last minute is no way to build good writing habits, and you won’t be able to truly say your best in the writing if you have to do it all at once. Sure, you may get away with it at first, even through high school and college, but you are truly short changing yourself. And it may eventually catch up to you when you get to the ‘real world’ of business, where deadlines will be more firm and the consequences of missing those deadlines more severe.
  9. Part of time management in college and high school is not just about planning and budgeting time, but also about how you study. Take this time to build good study habits; this is key to working not just harder but also ‘smarter.’ There are certain ways to study that will get you more benefits per hour invested than others, and this will depend on the subject you’re studying as well as your learning style. Study skills and time management go hand in hand – so don’t look at an hour spent “studying” as equivalent across many different activities. Some activities will be longer, but more rewarding, than others, so don’t necessarily take the short cut if you will have to pay for it down the line.
  10. Create an environment conducive to study. For many people, this means going to the library, though others may find it hard to study there simply because they have to much exposure to their friends and other distractions. Working at home thus has its benefits – no friends there to distract you – but also has its dangers. The allures of the TV, computer, video game system, or your bed are there to seduce you all the time you are trying to work. Thus, if you do work at home, be sure to reduce or eliminate distractions. You will know what your particular issues are, so focus on those and do what you can to eliminate temptation and get focused on your positive activities.
  11. Of course, make sure you have fun and actually relax – being a workaholic is not exactly the point of life at this or any age. This is one of the time management strategies for college students that will be easy to follow – perhaps too easy. We need to maintain a work-life balance, and this means balance on both sides of the equation. Have your fun, but also do your work.
  12. You may be able to find college time management seminars and other offerings on campus; in high school, your teacher or guidance counselors may offer you similar advice. Take these opportunities to learn some tricks and tips that can help you manage your time that may be more specific to your school, major, situation, etc. Of course, everything in life is about adapting, so make sure you are open to change yet rigid enough to maintain discipline – it can be a fine line!
  13. Practice and hold on to these strategies as much as you can. Time management skills for students (college or high school) don’t come naturally – in fact, there is a certain “culture of procrastination” that rages throughout most campuses and classrooms. Thus, you’ll have to go against the grain here, but what better way to be ‘educated’ than to learn the benefits of not conforming to what the crowd accepts.

The Best Time Management Software

==> Go back to The Best Time Management Books, Courses, and Programs

One doesn’t have to use time management software to help manage their workflow. Sometimes just a pad of paper and a pen will work enough; in fact, if you haven’t at least tried to plan your day in this ‘old fashioned method,’ I believe you should before you go out and buy any kind of program.

Still, sometimes the allure of technology will help us in unexpected ways. Thus, getting time management software may be a great option for you, especially if you are technologically inclined. There’s not many choices of programs out there that serve this purpose, but there’s one program in particular that I can recommend with the highest honors.

The Best Time Management Software to Buy

I recommended this piece of software in the procrastination resources chapter, and I’ll repeat that recommendation here because I think very highly of this planning, organization, and ‘action’ tool. This tool is The Action Machine. Here is a screenshot:

As you can see from the image, this program lets you plan out your day in exquisite detail. On the left side is a list of tasks that you have added yourself; when you do a new task not on the list, it will add to it for your future use. You then assign each task a certain amount of time that you’ll dedicate to it for that day. When you’re ready to do the task, simply hit “play,” and the timer you set up will start going down. When you’re done with the task, an alarm will sound, and you can move on to the next one.

This program is incredibly easy to use, as it’s really intuitive and takes no time to get used to. The only drawback to it is that you need to be near your computer in order to use it, but that’s a small price to pay for the power it offers.

The other great aspect of The Action Machine is that it’s not just a planning tool, though it certainly is strong in that area. The best part of this time management solution is that it’s also an “action” tool, hence the name. It gives you a way to get started and to monitor your progress on tasks. Plus, it gives you many of the benefits of good time management practice that have been discussed elsewhere in this book. For instance, it make you focus on one task at a time, and it allows you to break up larger tasks into more manageable chunks. We can also know, at the end of the day, how much work we actually accomplished. This is very useful for time management because we will have the truth about our work habits, and not some fantasy that lives in our head.

Click here to check out The Action Machine.

A Word of Warning

While most time management apps and software can be very helpful when you’re trying to be more efficient, sometimes these tools can be more of a distraction than anything else. Having to constantly update and monitor and change the information in the program can be a task in itself. Sometimes it may be sufficient to use the old school “pencil and paper” method or a physical time management planner to keep track of your tasks.

For example, I recently tried using a free time management app on my iPhone. Even though the application was pretty cool at first, I found after a few days that it became more of a hassle to use than a useful implement. Having to constantly open the app became a chore. Sometimes I just wanted to be able to write down a note very quickly, and having to type it all out, letter by letter, on the touch screen interface was annoying. I stopped using it after those days and haven’t touched it since; I’ve gone back to a combination of pencil and paper and using The Action Machine.

This isn’t to discourage you from using time management tools like The Action Machine; it is just a note that sometimes these programs can be a crutch or a way of avoiding the reality of actually having to do work.

==> Go to Chapter 10: Time Management in Context

Chapter 9: The Best Time Management Books, Courses, and Programs

==> Go back to To Do Lists, Managing Tasks, and Planning Skills

We’ve just discussed some ways to improve our time management skills, but what if you want more information, advice, and tools? There is plenty of stuff out there that can help you on your productivity journey. Even though the time management articles found in this webbook will help, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore the other awesome resources out there.

But there are just so many, how do we know where to start? I’ve looked at a lot of time management courses, books and other programs that are designed to teach people about time management and help them incorporate these best practices into their lives. This article will thus give you a rundown and review of some of the better time management resources out there. The next section of this chapter will cover time management software.

The Best Time Management E-Courses

There are many time management workshops and seminars that you can take in real life. I have little experience with these, so I can’t say much about them except to say that they will probably be useful only if they give you some kind of hard copy of the program to take with you. I also have no recommendations when it comes to time management coaches, gurus, experts, and so on. I can make some recommendations about books and the like, but not about individuals who may purport to teach you how to manage your time successfully. Some will be good, but I fear that most will not be worth it, especially considering how much they will charge.

I can say a bit about online courses, however. There are some e-courses out there that can help you crush procrastination and increase your productivity. I mention a couple good ones in the procrastination help resources chapter. However, in terms of time management, there are no courses dedicated “specifically” to time management, though really any course on productivity, getting stuff done, and procrastination will touch on this issue. Remember that time management, as we defined it, touches on a lot of different activities and practices. Thus, while there may be no one “guru” course, anything you do to increase your productivity is also improving your time management skills.

Note that if you want to teach a time management seminar or class, you can use the information you’ve learned in this book as a good foundation. In fact, you could direct your students to this book as a way for them to learn about the many issues surrounding managing time, such as productivity, laziness, hard work, procrastination, and more! I am considering releasing this webbook as a time management pdf as well; if you’re interested in possibly obtaining this e-book, let me know in the comments below!

The Best Time Management Books

First, I have to point out this webbook as a resource – though it’s not a time management blog, I will be updating it regularly with new content, chapters, tools, approaches and so on. I may actually eventually add time management exercises, worksheets, quizzes, tests, and other activities. A good survey or questionnaire can really enlighten you, but at this point I’m sticking to just giving out some information. So check back regularly (bookmark and share this page) for more information and resources.

Unlike e-courses and e-books, there are plenty of great time management books out there. I can’t review them all, obviously, but there are a few that I quite like. Note that many of the same books I talk about in the procrastination resources chapter will also apply here too!

Perhaps the gold-standard book when it comes to time management is David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. In this book, Allen discusses the foundations of time management, and teaches you a system for organizing all the tasks you have to do – for your life! – and gives you the framework to attack them one by one. This is a great time management book if you like to be organized; if you’re not someone who likes to write everything out, you may not like this system. However, realize that part of time management is writing things out, so that may be something you’ll have to get over.

There are of course a ton of other time management books out there, including Time Management For Dummies if you really want, but this is perhaps the best one to start with. If this system doesn’t fly for you, you can try other ones, though GTD in combination with this webbook should be enough for most people. To see other time management books at Amazon, click this link.

The main problem sometimes with books on time management and other ‘self-help’ books is that we rely too much on the actual reading of it. In the end, what will make us change is a concerted effort to change our habits. Too many people skip this part and wonder why reading one book hasn’t miraculously changed their lives. Instead, action should come first, second, and third – with reading and learning a distant fourth.

Much More to Come

I will eventually provide some more time management tools and resources – including presentations, powerpoints, videos, schedules, templates, forms, and other downloads.

==> Go to The Best Time Management Software

Chapter 8: Time Management Tips, Techniques, and Skills

==> Go back to What is Time Management?

Now that we have determined the proper definition and meaning of time management, let’s do something with that knowledge and actually improve our skills. Here is a list of some of the best and most useful time management activities out there. We will continually add more ideas to this list as we think or find them.

Note that different time management systems and products will have their own philosophies about how best to manage your time. In a later chapter we will recommend and review some of the more popular time management programs and courses out there, but for now we’re just going to give general tips that can apply to any system. In addition, these time management tips should apply to almost anyone in any situation. They should be universal enough that, when properly applied, they should work for anybody who is looking to be more efficient and productive.

Of course, the usual caveat is in order – read the other chapters of this webbook for more information and tips regarding killing procrastination, increasing productivity, and so on. While many of those tips may be repeated here, each chapter will have its unique perspective!

How to Improve Time Management Skills

  1. Get used to writing down your tasks, goals, and progress. One of the critical time management ideas is this: we spend too much of our time letting things happen by chance. We don’t plan our goals enough, we don’t write down our tasks, and we don’t monitor our progress closely. We just kind of wing it. This won’t fly if you want to improve your time management abilities. Get used to keeping some kind of journal or log – it doesn’t matter if it’s a notebook, binder, spreadsheet, word document, blog, or whatever, as long as you’re keeping track of three things. These three things are:
  2. Goals. Make sure you have them, both long and short term. If you don’t know what you’re working for, then how can you do any kind of meaningful work? Sometimes the goals will be set out for you by someone else (finish this project, do this job) and other times your goals will be self-directed (clean the house, learn a language). Whatever the goals, you’ll need to get in the habit of writing them down. Then you need to…
  3. Translate these goals into tasks. The problem with some time management techniques is that they don’t focus enough on the individual tasks, or “action steps,” that you need to do to actually complete the goal. Procrastination occurs because we see the task “clean the house,” and have no way of getting ourselves motivated to take on that Herculean task. It would be much more doable to, say, “clean the bedroom,” and make that part of a series of tasks that can help us reach some kind of goal.
  4. Finally, we need to monitor progress. You need to know where your time is going, and how effective you are being. Many people claim, “oh I worked for 12 hours today!” Sounds great. But if you actually could go back in time and observe them, you may find that they would be using the majority of that time for pointless activities that don’t help them move towards the goal at all! That’s why self-monitoring yourself is so key. Again, you can keep track of your progress in any kind of log or journal that you want, but you need something that you can audit at a later date so that you can truly say to yourself, “I’m this productive.” Without the written trace, you’ll be lost like everyone else who doesn’t dedicate him or herself to time management training.
  5. A good temporary time management technique is to keep a detailed log of your daily activities, maybe for as long as a week. After the week, analyze your study to see where your big time sinks are and where you can clean up some inefficiencies. You may be surprised about what you find!
  6. One of the simplest ways to budget your time is to make lists. The to-do list is a great way to sort and organize your tasks for the day – as long as you use it the right way. What consists of the “right way” depends on your tastes and situation; some people only like putting their AAA priority tasks on the list, while others put almost everything they have to do on the list. There is no one “right” way – there is only the way that is right for you, a way that you can only discover through trial and error.
  7. You may also want to use a time management chart. Time management charts allow you to “block” your time over a certain period, usually a week. The one main weakness about these is that they are a bit too rigid; if something changes or something else comes up, you may find it difficult to handle the changes that will reverberate through the rest of the week. However, if you like more structure, these charts work better for you.
  8. One of the best way to learn time management methods is to continuously practice. Like all habits, breaking old ones (your time wasting activities) and learning new ones (the ideas mentioned in this chapter) will take time and repetition. In addition, you will also need feedback of some kind to let you know that you are making progress (or stagnating, as the case may be). Otherwise, you will be floating around in the ether with no bearing, and you will not make progress towards your time management goals. Training time management isn’t something that happens in one day or one week – in fact, it really doesn’t even happen in one lifetime! This is something we’ll work on and improve forever; this shouldn’t be depressing, but in fact exciting, as we can always get better at what we do.
  9. Of course, your time management strategies will have to be tailored to your personal situation. If you have a bunch of free time and need to make sure you spend it wisely, this is a different problem than if you have a hectic, busy schedule with lots of other commitments and things to do for others, so many things that you need help winnowing the field. In addition, your strategies will depend on your tasks, your job, your goals, and so on. Thus, we can’t exactly tailor this advice for you in particular; you’ll have to do that job yourself over time. Don’t be afraid to adapt the system or your approach to the situation as it calls for it. You don’t “have” to do anything here if it doesn’t make sense for you.
  10. A huge difference between someone who has better time management over someone who doesn’t is how well they use their “down time.” By this I don’t mean time for recreation, as you need to budget in time to enjoy life and recuperate. (This is sometimes called the Unschedule.) What I mean by down time is the time in between other appointments, or the time spent waiting for something else. This is essentially wasted time, mostly because we don’t really try to get work done during the transition. We think of it as time that’s part of other activities. The person who is better at managing themselves will actually use these precious minutes, whether they are 5 or 25, to get small pieces of work done. If you are commuting, for instance, you can get some reading or other paperwork done. If you are waiting for 10 minutes between a meeting, start doing some other work that is productive. With the rise of smart phones, it’s easy to just burn those minutes away in pointless surfing and chatting. Resist that urge.
  11. Learn to prioritize. This comes into play when we discussed “working smarter, not harder,” and it comes into play again with respect to time management. Spending your time “working” is great, but if you’re working on something that’s low priority, it suddenly doesn’t look very good. That’s because there are opportunity costs at play here – the more time you spend doing one activity, the less time you can spend doing a (potentially) more valuable one. Learn to distinguish between urgent and important tasks. (You may recall seeing the ‘urgent-important’ time management quadrant in other sources). Are the urgent things in your life truly important? Some may be, but a lot won’t. Focus instead on the long term projects and goals that will lead you to the promised land of success and satisfaction.
  12. Delegate and learn how to work with other people to increase overall productivity and save more time. This is probably one of the most effective time management strategies, simply because you can get more done with more people in a way that’s more than simply the sum of the parts. This is because people can synergize and strategize – who can do what activity the best and fastest? What is the best use of the collective time. Of course, if you are more of an individualist, you don’t have to go out and find partners. But do think about delegating some tasks to assistants or colleagues, if possible. Time is money, so sometimes it will “pay” to pay someone else to do a rote task for you.
  13. Learn to “block” your time and focus on one task as you go. Multitasking is the bane of many peoples’ existence, especially with the increased speed of technology and communication these days. Despite what it seems like, you are actually less productive and effective when you are multitasking than when you are focused on one task until you crush it. Of all the time management tips and tricks laid out here, I truly think it is this one that has changed my life for the better. I’ve banished the multitasking demon, largely by switching off my computer when possible, and I’ve seen great increases in my productivity.
  14. Kill procrastination. This is one of the more desired time management goals out there, which is why we dedicated multiple chapters to the topic.
  15. Don’t forget to reward yourself for a job well done. Improving time management is not just about deprivation and struggle. The ability to control your impulses and discipline yourself is a rare skill, one that should be rewarded when it works out for you. If you have a productive day, make sure to reward yourself with some quality time with friends, family, or yourself. Enjoy hobbies and general relaxation. Don’t become a workaholic. We have much more to say about work ethic and working hard in other chapters of this webbook.
  16. Get a time management system. These systems (products, books, software, videos, etc.) can give you a more integrated and developed perspective on time management. Everyone has their own different take on the issue, and we’ve given you a good general grounding here, but it may also be useful for you to get one of the great products or time management tools out there to aid you in your quest. We’ll have more information on this (reviews and recommendations) in the next chapter.
  17. Be careful about these personal time management tools, though. Sometimes they can be cumbersome and unwieldy in themselves. If your software and tools are themselves taking up too much time, what’s the point? Sometimes simpler is better, indeed!
  18. Kill distractions. This is something I had a problem with – the Internet, especially – and it takes some effort to remove their tentacles from your life. Identify your problem areas and work really hard to remove or limit them. For instance, if you are in a social environment, you may burn up a lot of time simply by getting interrupted by visitors. Try to avoid this as much as possible by putting up signs, lowering your availability, etc. Do whatever you have to do to get your blocks of time finished.
  19. Phone calls, e-mails, and social network status updates (Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc.) are huge distractions and time burners. Good time management skills include managing these constant distractions. Turn off notifications, let calls go to voicemail when possible, and limit your checking of these things to just a few times a day.
  20. Watch out for the huge time burners – those activities that you do that are utterly pointless and, in the worst case, counterproductive and destructive. These are deadly sins because you are burning up time that you can never get back. It is worse than burning money.
  21. Sometimes the best time management strategy is the simplest: eat right, exercise, and get sleep. Be positive and don’t dwell too much on the negative. Take care of yourself and that will often take care of time.
  22. Don’t rush through tasks to get them done. We want to get things done right; don’t let your time management training activities make you obsessed with meeting some arbitrary “time limit” or “deadline.” Make sure the job is done right so that you don’t have to go back and redo your work.
  23. Teach time management to others. Teaching time management forces you to understand the concepts and know how to communicate them to yourself and others. You will internalize them to a degree you won’t believe when you can explain them to a newbie.
  24. Be rigorous with your system, but avoid burnout. All the time management help in the world will be useless if you can’t fathom picking up a pen or doing an ounce of work simply because you’ve burned yourself out on the notion. Take your time, don’t rush, limit your stress, and take breaks! You don’t have to be a marathon man; as Tony Schwartz recommends, life your live like a sprinter – periods of focused energy followed by periods of rest.
  25. Finally, this is not the most pertinent of the tips on time management discussed here, as it doesn’t deal with the present, but don’t forget the deep future – what do you want to be doing or have accomplished five, ten, or even twenty years from now? Your activities today should reflect these long term goals in some way. You may want to dedicate some of your weekly or monthly time to thinking these questions through so that you are always oriented towards a brighter future of your own design.

Chapter 7: What is Time Management? Definition and Meaning

==> Go back to Working Smarter, Not Just Harder

Now we get to the important topic of time management. Of course, this topic combines much of what this webbook has already discussed: procrastination, productivity, laziness, hard work and work ethic, and so on. I hope that this piece differs from other articles on time management in its depth, scope and complexity.

Time management is a piece of this puzzle, but a very important piece…and ultimately perhaps the most important piece of all. This article on time management will discuss the basic definition of time management, why time management is important, and the benefits of time management. It is an introduction to a topic that will eventually lead us, in the next chapter, to discuss ways to improve our time management skills and abilities. I won’t waste your time with time management quotes; instead, we’ll get to the nitty gritty of the topic so that we can understand it on the most basic level. But first, let’s figure out what exactly we’re talking about here.

A Preliminary Time Management Definition

So what is time management, really? The definitions that you’ll find out there will vary. One good definition of time management, from Wikipedia, is “the act or process of exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase efficiency or productivity.” Thus, time management is defined in this decent attempt as related to our efficiency and productivity with respect to particular activities, including projects, tasks, and goals.

In addition, the issue is made more complex by the fact that time management is a constellation of many different activities. For instance, organizing, focusing, planning, goal setting, allocating resources and personnel (if necessary), maintenance of time, monitoring of time spent and efficiency of products, prioritization, scheduling, and many more activities are all involved under this umbrella term of ‘time management.’ Thus it is not so simple to define time management, as it is a complex activity.

The Meaning of Time Management

All of these official definitions are nice, but what about the meaning underlying the concept of time management? The meaning of this concept is quite profound once you peel back the layers of the issue and truly think about what time management can do for us. This discussion may get a little philosophic and “out there,” as most essays on time management don’t hit the topic this hard, but I think truly understanding the deep meaning of the concept – and its importance – is key to help us improve our skills in this domain. Here then is a brief “theory of time management” – and as you’d expect, it all comes down to the unique quality of time itself.

Time is the most important and priceless thing we have at our disposal. Many innovations and economic advances in life are simply those that make things go faster, or allow us to do more in less time. That is, it’s all about efficiency with respect to the resource of time. Things that grow the economy and each individual life are things that increase the amount of collective time we have at our disposal, and thereby increasing the capacity of each individual. Thus, it’s not even about time management in itself, but rather the capacity of each individual to produce over his or her lifetime.

In addition, time management is bound with not only what we are doing but also our goals in life, career, education, etc. The idea is to get the most done in the shortest period of time (a.k.a. high productivity) while not missing the forest for the trees during the process. Thus we are not so much managing “time” as we are managing products or outcomes; we want to get the most out of the least investment we can. There’s a sense of efficiency here, of productivity, of industry, and of hard work, all rolled into one. Thus, the discussions in earlier chapters all contribute in their own way to our understanding of this complex concept of real time management.

Time management used to be focused on business and corporate settings in the context of increasing employee productivity. But more and more individuals are finding the idea critical for their own personal success, leading to a huge influx of literature and products on how best to manage time.

Why is Time Management Important?

Time is truly all we have – it is the most precious resource, and for that reason it must be preserved and conserved. We can never recover those lost seconds, so every second we waste on a pointless pursuit or feeling is a second we’ll never get back. On this basic level, then, time management is about preserving this time so that we can have more of it.

In addition, because effects can compound over time, to lose a second is to lose more than a second – it is to lose a period of time that will grow and compound over the rest of time. For instance, to produce something of value now with our time is to create something that will last for our lifetimes and probably beyond. Thus, wasting time now is also being a thief of time and value later.

On a real and individual level, successful time management helps us to be successful in our lives. If we waste time and don’t act efficiently, we won’t get as much done, and we will probably be unhappier during and for it. Bad time management can lead to all problems – not just lack of success and disappointment in life, but also to stress and other emotional issues. Bad time management and stress and time management and procrastination go hand in hand. Thus, time management is not just a practical issue but also an emotional, spiritual, and even physical one. Poor time management leads overall to negative life outcomes, and in the end it just holds back our potential. Squandering time is worse than squandering money, because unlike money, we cannot earn that time back. It is lost forever.

Thus, the importance of time management lies in what it can do for our lives and for society in general. But what is effective time management anyway, and what are some examples of time management that we can use to guide us?

What is Effective Time Management?

There are of course tons of time management theories that give their own reasons what makes time management useful. We will discuss how to improve time management in the next chapter, but for now let’s just discuss what we consider the qualities of effective time management. Good time management will be:

  1. Productive – we’ll get more done
  2. Efficient – we’ll get more done with less effort
  3. Beneficial – we will feel better and act better
  4. Easy to implement – hard, complex time management systems can cause more problems than they solve
  5. Adaptable – these systems should be able to apply to many different areas of life, whether career, health, relationships, hobbies, and more
  6. Useful – time management should solve problems

Great time management is not just about watching clocks and counting minutes. It’s also about prioritizing, goal setting, and becoming clear on values. Sure, the minutes count, but it’s also critical to spend the minutes on the right things, not just “acceptable” things. Opportunity cost is key here – the time we spend doing something else is time we could have spent on a more productive and valuable activity.

Examples of good time management systems, skills, and ideas that follow these principles are TODO lists, scheduling, the 80/20 rule, “unscheduling,” and more. We’ll discuss these and other ideas on how to improve time management in the next chapter. And in a later chapter we will discuss the best time management products and resources out there. For now, let’s just leave the qualities here as markers for what would constitute solid and workable time management advice.

The Advantages and Benefits of Time Management

The benefits and advantages of these skills may be obvious, but let’s list some of the more critical ones anyway (we’ve already mentioned some above):

  • Less stress
  • Better health (physical and mental)
  • More money
  • More time for fun and fulfilling activities
  • More success at lower personal costs
  • More success at lower societal costs
  • Meeting your potential
  • More time with family
  • More discipline
  • Greater sense of purpose

This is just a small sample. Unfortunately, many people don’t see, or ignore to see, the benefits of these practices. Time management studies and other research into human productivity (many of which have been discussed in other chapters of this webbook) have shown that we are terrible, overall, at managing our time, and I believe we are getting worse. With entertainment and other distractions at our fingertips, we will continue to get worse with managing our time if we don’t take action now. Time management statistics show that we are getting more and more unable to ‘unplug’ ourselves from the social and digital network; for that reason, we get lost in activities that seem to be ‘useful and productive’ but are in fact nothing of the sort.

People who have time management problems obviously will experience the opposite of some or all of these benefits. They will be huge disadvantages and negative draws on energy, vitality, and happiness.

Let’s Figure This Out!

With all this out of the way, let’s figure out how exactly to improve our time management skills.

==> Go to Chapter 8: Time Management Tips, Techniques, and Skills