How to improve your time management skills

Time is something we all want more of. Research shows that over half of people around the world say they just don’t have enough time. Between a never ending work schedule, parenting, socializing, exercising, cleaning, and attempting to get a proper amount of sleep, it may feel like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all.
But it seems that good time management isn’t all about action. It may start in your head.

A study by Harvard Business Review explained that it may take more than an organizational app or waking up 30 minutes earlier to improve your time management. The study attributed time management to a combination of three things: awareness (thinking about time realistically), arrangement (more hands-on organization or scheduling in order better utilize time), and adaptation (monitoring and changing your use of time based on awareness).

While many people think that better time management can be achieved simply by arrangement (actionable tweaks that allow you to work faster or more efficiently), that’s not always the case. The study (which used 1,200 people), showed that effective time management is an equal combination of all three factors. It also showed that most people struggle the most with awareness and adaptation.

Just understanding the breakdown of time management can already help you on the road to better organizing your time. From something as small as changing your attitude to a complete overhaul of your time, these time management tips will help you add more time to your day and be more productive — starting with your thought process.

1. Work smarter, not harder by taking control of your time

You may associate working harder with getting things done quicker. After all, getting less done in more time is always a goal. But that may not be the case. You need to create a smarter workflow in order to take back control of your time. The first step is understanding that while time is always limited, it’s also a perceived sense of attitude. You don’t have to feel like you’re constantly at the mercy of time.
While it may seem like you have absolutely no control over your long work hours or your baby’s sleep schedule, if you perceive that you have more time, it may help you make better time management decisions and prioritize the right daily tasks. It’s true that there are only 24 hours in each day, and obviously, you’ll need to spend a certain amount of those hours sleeping or working. But you do have some semblance of control with the rest of your time, so use it wisely.

2. Rethink your relationship with time and money

Many people think of time as money. It’s not necessarily the wrong way to look at time, but be perceptive of how you view this relationship. If time is money to you, then it may be more useful to outsource less important tasks and pay others to do them, so your time can best be spent doing the most lucrative activity possible.
It’s also important to take a close look at how you perceive leisure time. If relaxing seems like you’re wasting time, you may need to rethink your outlook. Just understanding the connection in your mind between your time and money may help you realize why you rush certain tasks and why you work harder at others. Once you have this understanding of how you approach time on the inside, you can begin to make changes, guiding you towards a better work-life balance.

3. Audit your time

It’s time for some more actionable tasks, starting with a time overhaul. Start using systems to track your time, helping you to understand exactly how long you do specific tasks for. For example, many people may think they only spend one hour per day checking email or 10 minutes scrolling social media, but if you take an honest audit, the results may surprise you.
Understanding exactly how you spend your time (and what your time wasters are) is the perfect way to decide what you’re spending too much time on, and how you really should be using your time. This, in turn, will help you make ‘arrangement’ changes: things like waking up 30 minutes earlier, stopping that multitasking habit, taking shorter breaks, or changing up your office space to better avoid distractions. This leads us to the next point: the 80/20 rule.

4. Use the 80/20 rule.

The 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto Principle) is popular within industries like business or marketing, but it’s easy to apply to time management. It states that 80% of results/outputs come from 20% of causes/inputs.
Applying the rule to time management is simple. First, write down your goals (depending on how you want to apply this, you can set goals for the week, month or year). Think about your goals as a measure of importance: if only a few were achievable, which one’s would be the most important or positive for you?
Once you’ve established your most important goals, think about your tasks each workday. When making a to-do list, ask yourself if each task is in the top 20% of your efforts, or the bottom 80% in getting you towards your goals? This will ensure that you tackle the more important tasks first, even if they seem larger or more imposing. Leave the smaller tasks that matter less for later, even if you can do them quickly in order to get them off your plate. Think about if urgent tasks are really that urgent, or if they’ll help you meet your goals. You want to focus on prioritizing the high value tasks and make that a habit.

5. Learn how to say no (nicely)

Your time is precious. Learn when saying no is completely fine, and when it’s not. This may seem silly, but it’s something many people struggle with in both their professional careers and personal life.
In some cases, doing that favor for your co-worker or client is well worth your time. You want to keep up the right professional and personal image — and be a team player.
But don’t let people take advantage of you, or apologize profusely if you need to say no. A firm but kind “no” or a polite decline is perfectly appropriate in many instances, especially if you’re trying to improve those time management skills.

6. Use your tools

We aren’t just talking about time management or organizational apps. Yes, Trello, Asana,Toggl, and Calendly are extremely useful, even essential for some. But tools go beyond just software and apps.
People can be tools, and outsourcing or delegating non-essential tasks to assistants, interns, babysitters, cooks, nannies, Uber drivers, parents, partners, co-workers and beyond can help you free up your time to focus on the more important tasks at hand.
Tools can also come in the form of tech. It’s actually amazing what a pair of noise-cancelling headphones or a proper desk chair can do for productivity and time management, especially if you’re working from home.
Finally, don’t forget that sleep, fitness, meditation, and yoga are also tools you can use to clear your mind and better focus on the tasks at hand.

Bottom line

Time management goes beyond just better scheduling your time. Changes need to start from a high level position: your perception of time, the way you relate it to money, and how you plan to achieve your goals.
Once you have a better insight on your relationship with time, you can begin to nourish that relationship, adapting and making the tactile changes to your time management habits in order to improve them.

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