Today, we’re constantly interrupted by tools, notifications, emails, social media—you name it. In our distraction economy, chaos has become the norm.
It’s nearly impossible to focus on what truly matters or know if you’re prioritizing the right work at the right time. Your intentions for the day fly out the window in the face of high-priority tasks, seemingly urgent messages, and never-ending notifications. To keep up with the pace of work, 80% of knowledge workers report working with their inbox or other communication apps open. As a result, workers are less efficient, with messages, actions and deadlines more likely to be missed.
Time management can help you take back your time and bring more mindfulness into your daily routine. Instead of letting your to-do list dictate how you spend your time, you can use time management strategies to intentionally set your daily priorities and focus on the most relevant work.
There isn’t one right way to manage your time. In this article, we’ll cover 18 different tips, strategies, and quick wins to help you take back control of your tasks—and your time.
Time management is the practice of managing your work in order to ensure you’re spending your time as intentionally as possible. Time management can increase productivity—but the biggest advantage of effective time management is the ability to better prioritize your day so you can make space for rest and self care.Read: 12 tips to be more productive today
Good time management strategies can help you organize and prioritize tasks so you can:
Feel like you have more time in your day. When you’re intentional about where your time is going, you may find that you reduce unnecessary tasks, de-prioritize work that doesn’t need to get done today, and accomplish things in less time. You won’t literally have more time in your day—but you may find that you accomplish more in the same amount of time.
Establish boundaries between work and personal time. Improving your time management isn’t about squeezing out every second of productivity you have at work. Rather, these strategies can help you get your most important work done—and identify what work can wait until tomorrow. By prioritizing the work that needs to get done today and clarifying what work you can defer to a later date, you’re also establishing boundaries between your work time and your personal time.
Reduce stress. Without effective time management, it can feel like you never have enough time at work. You might feel like you’re running around and putting out fires—which can lead to increased stress and, ultimately, burnout. In fact, according to the Anatomy of Work Index, 71% of knowledge workers reported feeling burnout at least once in 2020.
Improve productivity. There are a variety of time management tips to help reduce procrastination and increase productivity. By identifying your main priorities for the day, you won’t just be more productive—you can also feel confident that you’re working on the right things each day.
Break bad habits. No one wants to procrastinate. But over time, bad habits can pile up and get in the way of high-impact work. (Trust us, we’ve been there too.) Time management strategies can help you identify and break out of bad habits.
One of the easiest ways to build your time management skills is to incorporate a tried-and-true time management strategy into your daily routine. Time management strategies help you set time limits on work, tackle one task at a time, and schedule your day with more intention.
Timeboxing is a goal-oriented time management strategy where you complete work within “timeboxes.” This strategy is particularly effective if you aren’t sure how much time you’re spending on each task and want to approach your to-do list more intentionally.
Timeboxing helps you break down large tasks into smaller pieces, and then complete those pieces in a reasonable amount of time. Each task should have its own unique timebox that lasts no more than three hours. For example, if you need to write a blog post, you might create a two-hour timebox to write an outline. Then after taking a break, you can create another three hour timebox to begin the first draft. By breaking the work into smaller pieces, you can make steady progress towards your goal over the course of days or weeks.Read: Try timeboxing: The goal-oriented time management strategy
Time blocking is similar to timeboxing, but instead of scheduling specific time for each individual task, you’ll practice blocking off set periods of your calendar for related work. When you use time blocking to schedule your work, you’re effectively breaking the work week into discrete time slots where you can work on projects, communicate with coworkers, take a break, or even exercise. Time blocking can help you dedicate more time to flow and deep work by allowing you to focus without being interrupted.
To create a time block, start by figuring out your daily or weekly priorities. Then, group similar tasks so you can work on them in one time block. Finally, practice scheduling blocks of focus time on your calendar to help you stick to your time blocked schedule.Read: Are you time blocking your calendar? Here’s why you should start now
Similar to timeboxing and time blocking, the Pomodoro method helps you tackle work within short time frames and then take breaks between working sessions. The Pomodoro time management strategy is particularly helpful because it actively encourages regular breaks, which are good for intrinsic motivation—and good for your brain. In fact, research suggests that taking breaks makes people more creative.
To use the Pomodoro method, you need a timer, a prioritized to-do list, and a “snooze” feature on your notifications. Start by setting your timer for 25 minutes, and try to spend that time exclusively working on a task—avoid checking your text messages or social media if possible. Then, once time is up, take a five minute break. Ideally, aim to do something physical during your break, like grabbing a snack or getting up to stretch—but it’s ok to check your devices or see if you got an important ping while you were focused on your task.
Repeat the process of working for 25 minutes and then taking a five minute break four times. Then, after the fourth working session, take a longer 20-30 minute break.
Mark Twain famously said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.” The Eat the Frog time management strategy takes inspiration from this quote and encourages you to tackle big or complex tasks first before working on your less important or less urgent work. This strategy is particularly helpful if you split your days between regular, daily work and high-priority tasks.
With the Eat the Frog method, you can ensure you’re getting to your most important work every day. To get started with this time management strategy, make sure you’re tracking your work and priorities in a centralized tool. Look for a way to connect your daily tasks to company goals. That way, you can better identify which tasks to prioritize every day, and make sure you get those to-dos done first. Then, once you’ve eaten your frog for the day, you can move on to the rest of your work.
If eating a frog first thing in the morning doesn’t sound appetizing, you might prefer the Pareto time management strategy. The Pareto principle is the opposite of the Eat the Frog method—this strategy encourages you to get quick tasks out of the way, so you can feel more accomplished and motivated as you head into your day.
Often called the “80/20 rule,” the Pareto principle has one fundamental rule: you spend 20% of your time on 80% of your work. If you can get those 80% of your tasks out of the way in relatively quick order, you free up your workday to tackle the 20% of your work that will take 80% of your time.
The Getting Things Done method was invented by David Allen in the early 2000s. According to Allen, the first step to getting things done is to write down everything you need to do. By freeing up brain power and instead relying on task management tools, you can focus on taking action—and not remembering what you need to do.
To use the GTD method, capture all of your upcoming work in one place. Then once you’ve written down everything you need to do, sort and prioritize your work. For example, you might have work you no longer need to do (that goes in the “trash”), work you want to do eventually but not right now (that goes into a “later” project or folder), work that is dependent on other tasks, and so on. The tool should capture all the details—it’s your job to take action on them.Tired of not Getting Things Done? Master the GTD method in 5 steps
You may or may not like using an established time management strategy to organize your work. Not every time management strategy is effective for every person—that’s why there are so many of them in the first place. Instead, try these six tips to build your time management skills.
Time management isn’t always about getting all of your work done—rather, it’s about identifying and prioritizing your most important work. In order to do that, you need to connect your day-to-day work to team or company goals so you can identify the most important tasks to tackle daily. But, according to a recent survey of over 6,000 global knowledge workers, only 26% of employees say they have a very clear understanding of how their individual work relates to company goals.
The best way to coordinate work and priorities across all levels of your organization is with a work management tool. With work management, you can connect daily work and team projects to company objectives, so your team members always understand how their work impacts company priorities.
Whether you like the Eat the Frog method or prefer the Getting Things Done approach, it’s critical to know which tasks are important. Inevitably, you’ll have a task that shifts in priority or a deadline that gets moved up or down. If you don’t have clarity on which work is more important, you won’t be able to adapt and prioritize the right work.
Why does prioritizing work matter? You might be familiar with burnout, which impacts a growing number of global employees every year. But what’s less documented is how unclear priorities contribute to burnout. According to the Anatomy of Work Index, 29% of the knowledge workers who reported feeling burnout cited feeling overworked from a lack of clarity on tasks and roles as a contributing factor. Knowing which tasks to prioritize can help reduce that feeling and increase confidence that you’re working on the right tasks every day.Read: Four ways to manage tight schedules and shifting priorities
The workday often feels like a scramble because we’re already behind by the time we get started. If you’re the type of person who goes through emails every morning trying to figure out what to prioritize for the day, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there’s a better way.
Instead of trying to figure out what you should be doing in the morning, spend the last five minutes of each day preparing for the next one. This can increase motivation because you know exactly what you’re doing every day before you even log on. It’s also a valuable way to make sure you’re going to get your most important work done every day. Instead of reacting to an email or request at 4:30 in the afternoon, you can make sure to incorporate that important work into the next day’s schedule.
One advantage of clarifying your priorities is that you gain an understanding of what’s less of a priority as well. It’s not always easy to say “no” to work—but it helps when you can explain that you’re saying “no” because the work doesn’t align with your current priorities. Defining priorities for yourself—and sharing those priorities with your team members—can give everyone more clarity.
If the work has to get done, but still isn’t a priority for you, see if you can delegate it to another team member. Keep in mind—delegating doesn’t mean the task isn’t important, it just means the work isn’t in line with your current priorities. It could be that this work is more relevant for someone else’s expertise—and when you reassign it to them, you’re ensuring the work is done by the best person for the job.
Similar to saying “no” to work, take some time to look through tasks you committed to a while back and are still working on. Is there anything that’s currently on your plate that no longer aligns with your team’s goals?
When you find these tasks, ask yourself if this work needs to be done at all. If it’s no longer important to your team, consider putting the work on hold. If the task still needs to be done, ask yourself if you’re the best person for the job—and if not, go through the same delegation exercise to figure out who is.
If you’re still tracking your work by hand, it’s time to upgrade to an online tool. As satisfying as it can be to take notes manually, written to-do lists are disorganized, prone to mistakes, easy to lose, and ineffective.
Instead, make sure the majority of your project management is happening in a dedicated tool. Project management tools offer a variety of features that make it easier to get the most out of your time. With a project management tool you can:
Coordinate cross-functional work and track exactly who’s doing what by when.
Communicate about work, share feedback, and report on project status in one place.
Track progress in real time to accurately see where work stands.
See due dates and dependencies so you can hit your goals without scrambling.
Plus, if you think there’s nothing quite like crossing a task off your written to-do list, wait until you see a herd of celebration creatures fly across your computer screen.
The time management strategies and tips we outlined above are helpful—but they take some time to implement. Looking to get started in the next five minutes? Try these six quick wins to improve your time management right now.
We’re constantly bouncing between apps, notifications, and tasks. In fact, the average knowledge worker switches between 10 apps up to 25 times per day. That’s why it’s harder to focus on the task at hand and get into a good flow—which means work takes longer.
When you can, turn off your notifications or use “Do not Disturb” features to temporarily disable notifications. That way, you can dive into deep work—while also letting your team know you’ll be getting back to them later. Most tools show that you’re temporarily snoozed, so team members know not to expect a reply from you right away. If necessary, they can usually choose to override the feature, so you’re never too far out of reach.
Think back to how clean your desk was when you first set it up. You likely had a computer monitor and a keyboard, maybe a notepad, but probably not much else. If you’re anything like us, that clean desk didn’t last long. Over time, you’ve inevitably accumulated papers, boxes, books, sticky notes, and stray wires.
A messy desk might not seem like much, but visual clutter can influence mental clutter, and make it hard to focus. Take a quick five minute break to organize your desk. Throw away any papers that are no longer necessary, stack your books in a neat row, and coil any stray wires that might be lying around. Then, when you get back to work, you may find that it's easier to focus.
Every time you switch between tasks, your brain has to find the relevant context and information for that new task and bring that knowledge to the forefront of your mind. Sure, it takes mere seconds for your brain to do that—but if you’re constantly switching between tasks and projects, that means you’re forcing your brain to work overtime.
This can lead to reduced productivity—not to mention increased exhaustion at the end of the day. So instead, try to group like tasks. See if you can work on all of your tasks for one project, or all tasks for the same deliverable, in the same time block. When you do, you’ll spend less time context-switching and more time focused on getting high-impact work done.
You likely have a few tasks every day that take five or 10 minutes to complete. These can be quick responses to a team member, fixing a typo on a document, or submitting a work request form to another coworker.
If you have this type of work, store it somewhere that’s front and center—like a project management tool—but don’t immediately work on it. Instead, save these tasks for those five minutes between meetings or 10 minutes immediately after lunch as you get back into the swing of things. Not only will you be able to quickly tackle this work—and feel good for doing it—they also won’t take up valuable mental energy that could be spent on more complex work.
Simply put, multitasking is a myth. While it might feel like you’re doing more than one thing at the same time, when you attempt to multitask you’re actually forcing your brain to quickly switch between tasks. Every time you switch between work, your brain needs to find the information and context for that task. Not only does this take more effort than simply focusing on one to-do, it also exhausts your brain.
Instead of multitasking, aim to work on one task at a time, so you can get into flow while working. Flow state happens when you’re so focused that you feel like you’re “in the zone.” When you get into flow, you’re able to get more work done more efficiently, since your brain is only focusing on one task at a time.Read: 5 multitasking myths debunked, plus 6 ways to be productive without task switching
It might seem counterintuitive, but one of the best things you can do to improve your time management is to take a break. We tend to react to feeling behind on work by just doing more of it, but your brain needs time to rest and recharge. If you’re overworked and burnt out—you won’t be able to get anything done, much less tackle your most important work.
If taking a break feels hard to do, you’re not alone. According to our research, 32% of knowledge workers who feel burnout report not being able to switch off or disconnect as something that fuels their burnout. Because they can’t switch off, they get burnt out, and when they’re burnt out, they can’t switch off—it’s a never-ending cycle.
If you struggle to remember to take breaks, consider scheduling them into your calendar. Then when the break pops up on your calendar, force yourself to take it—even if you just stand up to stretch. Even though it might feel stressful to take that break, you’ll feel better once you do.
Ultimately, time management is more of a state of mind than anything else. To effectively manage your time, prioritize your work so you know to work on each day. Instead of letting your to-do list dictate your priorities, focus your attention on your intention to really drive impact.
To get started, make sure you’re tracking work in a centralized tool. Ready to get started? Learn how Asana can help you organize your tasks and hit your deliverables.Try Asana for free