How to Improve Your Time Management Skills in 15 Steps

Are you managing your time efficiently?

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Illustrated image of professional lady using a to-do list

Do you often find yourself stressing out at work and just wishing there were more hours in the day? Do you find yourself ticking one task off your list, only to end up adding five more to your never-ending pile of to-dos? If you can relate, you’ve come to the right place.

In today’s fast-paced work environment, it’s common to get snowed in under piling workloads, with no visible light at the end of the tunnel. This is where effective time management skills come into play, which is why we’ve created this list of tips and techniques to help you work more productively and efficiently. As the age-old saying goes, after all, you should work smarter, not harder.

So, here’s how to improve your time management ability!

The importance of good time management

If you’re here, you probably know what happens when your time management skills aren’t in tip-top shape — there’s no need for us to go over that. But what happens when you are able to manage your time better? Let’s get into it.

1. You produce higher quality work

All of us have experienced being pressed for time at work. But it’s one thing to occasionally rush through a task or stay at the office until late, and it’s a whole other story to consistently produce hurried work. When you’re overwhelmed more often than not and sacrificing your downtime, your output likely won’t reflect your ability.

2. You work at a comfortable pace

We all have a friend who, as a student, used to refuse starting their assignments early and would constantly pull all-nighters. Perhaps you are that friend, even! Although it might seem as though the random spikes in adrenaline that come with an approaching deadline make you more productive, it’s actually not a sustainable way to work. Not to mention it leaves you feeling exhausted the more you do it.

3. You experience less stress

According to the American Institute of Stress, “83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress”. Does this number seem exaggerated to you, or can you relate?

No matter how you would rate your own stress levels in the workplace, if you’re anything like the average worker, then you could benefit from a little extra peace of mind. Luckily, the more you work on your time management, the less stressful your professional life can become.

4. It helps you accomplish goals faster

This one is a no-brainer, right? The better you manage your time, the more efficiently you work; and the more efficiently you work, the faster you accomplish goals. When you’re setting your own professional objectives, outside of the ones your employer assigns to you, time management becomes even more important, as it helps you progress in more ways than one.

5. It boosts your confidence

Less stress and more accomplishments combined can certainly boost your confidence as a professional. You’ll be prouder of the work you produce, which will make you likelier to pursue things outside of your comfort zone, negotiate better terms of employment for yourself and set healthy boundaries in the workplace.

15 best ways to improve time management

So, how can you go about mastering the art of time management? These tips will come in handy:

1. Start early

Be honest. How often do you postpone getting started with a task even though you could, in theory, start working on it right away? Although it’s natural that you’ll sometimes need longer breaks between tasks, it’s no good when you consciously choose to delay getting started over and over.

If you do this, consider what things make you more prone to procrastinating. Is it when you find tasks boring or overwhelming? Have a think and come up with a plan of action to cope with these scenarios, such as dividing your tasks into smaller, less daunting subtasks.

2. Prioritize

Many people find themselves struggling with their workloads when they fail to prioritize tasks. If you consistently start with all your small tasks (even ones that can wait!) and end up delaying getting started with more demanding projects, then you’re setting yourself up for trouble.

It’s important, therefore, to identify what’s top priority and to handle those tasks firsts. You might even want to consider using a number or color system to help you keep track of everything.

3. Create a to-do list

Begin your week by creating a list of all the items you need to accomplish by Friday afternoon. This will help you arrive at an action plan for the week and to prioritize your tasks. You can then take this one step further and split each day into blocks, adding in any meetings or training sessions that might require you to spend time away from your desk.

When everything’s mapped out, it’s easier to move from one task to the next without wasting time figuring out what your next step should be.

4. Notice when you’re most alert

As far as time management strategies go, this is one of the most vital. Since productivity levels naturally fluctuate for everyone throughout the day and week, it’s important to notice what time of the day you’re at your most awake and focused. If you leave the cognitively demanding tasks for when you’re most concentrated, you’ll be able to tackle them faster.

5. Create a schedule

Now that you’ve become an expert at making to-do lists and know what hours of the day are your most productive, you can come up with a schedule that works for you. To stay on track, you might also want to consider making use of reminders for when your due dates are approaching.

A carefully thought-out schedule, however, goes beyond what you do in the office. Going to bed around the same time each night, for example, and eating your meals at fixed times are also important. A healthy routine outside of work will encourage a healthy routine at work.

6. Break down your tasks

Some tasks are really difficult to tackle head on, so we often put them on the back burner and neglect them. If you find yourself doing this, why not consider breaking the task down into bite-sized errands? Remember to complete one project before you move onto the next one!

7. Plan for interruptions

Let’s face it: things don’t always go to plan, especially when you’re working in a busy environment, where last-minute projects or issues often creep out of the woodwork. Make sure you factor in time in your day for such interruptions, like (virtually endless) meetings or long client calls.

8. Clear the clutter

With all those messy icons on your screen and towering piles of paper on your desk, finding the file you need takes a miracle. It’s time to work on your organizational skills and tidy your desktop (real and digital) — and rediscover the benefits of having some form of structure in your workspace. This will eliminate the time and stress that comes with searching for misplaced important documents.

9. Avoid multitasking

Some workers and even bosses believe that multitasking is an effective way to get things done but, in reality, it just divides your attention across a bunch of different things. This often leads to careless mistakes and more time spent jumping from one task to another. This is guaranteed to slow you down even if you don’t notice it.

10. Take breaks

Although you may think you’re a work ninja that can get through an eight-hour day without taking a break, you’re forgetting that, at the end of the day, you’re not a machine.

There’s been a wealth of research into the subject, all coming up with the same conclusion: taking frequent breaks at work is of great importance, as it boosts your productivity and uplifts your mood. If you do a few stretches while you’re at it, it can also decrease those awful aches and pains that come from sitting in front of a screen all day.

11. Learn to say “no”

Saying “yes” to everything is a very common culprit for poor time management. If you find yourself taking on additional tasks, even though you know you won’t be able to finish them without working late, it’s important that you start saying “no”. Otherwise, you’ll end up jeopardizing the quality of your work and start taking sure steps towards burnout.

Not to mention saying “yes” to everything (despite what you might think) can harm your career progression in the long term. Unless your boss is one of those poor leaders that lack humanity, they’ll be able to appreciate your ability to know your own limits, prioritize your tasks and ask for help when necessary.

12. Write it down

Most of us are guilty of massively overthinking (even when it involves pointless things!), and it always seems to happen when we’re trying to focus on something important. For example, you could be working on a budget report when, suddenly, you start thinking about what you should have for lunch tomorrow or how to decorate your house for Halloween.

The best thing to do is to write down these thoughts in your diary — this will help you “unload” the information from your brain and get back to work, knowing you can return to your musings later.

13. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of staying grounded in the present moment and, most importantly, observing what’s going on without judgment. For example, if you’re working on a stressful task, your mind, being so taxed, might start telling you things like “I’m not capable” or “This will never end”. Although this is normal, it doesn’t help; it only adds to your stress and eats away at your productivity more.

As such, mindfulness is a great skill for employees to master. It reduces stress, boosts your resilience, improves your mood and even has a positive impact on your work relationships.

14. Eliminate distractions

As students, we used to stare out the classroom window and let our mind wander. As adults in the workplace, most of us have swapped staring out the window with mindlessly scrolling through our social media feeds. On average, people tend to spend 151 minutes a day on social media, or two and a half hours. (Ouch.)

So, while you’re at the office, consider logging out of your social profiles, and putting your phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode (if the circumstances allow it) or simply placing it in your bag.  If you have a feeling that your screen time might be jeopardizing your ability to focus, consider doing a digital detox. It can do wonders for your productivity!

15. Get some tech help

If you’re a tech geek, why not get some help from some trusted apps? There is a variety of time management apps out there that can help boost your productivity and ensure you’re doing what needs to be done. They do this by allowing you to break down your goals into manageable chunks and reminding you of deadlines and milestones. A couple of great examples are RescueTime and Toggl.

Learn how to work more efficiently by watch this video:

Key takeaways

Developing great time management skills won’t happen overnight, but if you keep practicing these tips, you’ll enjoy a much more effective and stress-free workday. To summarize what we’ve talked about:

  • Better time management comes with a range of benefits, from reduced stress and enhanced performance to faster achievement of personal goals and higher levels of confidence.
  • There are many proven ways a person can boost their time management. Some might work better for you than others, so experiment a little and find out what makes a difference.
  • Chronic procrastination has been linked to depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. If you think you might be suffering from any of these, remember there’s no shame in seeking professional support.
  • Time management is closely linked to other skills, namely decision making, organization, prioritization and delegation. Improving these soft skills will have a positive effect on your time management.

Have you struggled with time management in the past? If so, let us know what you did to improve in this area in the comments section below.

Originally published on May 29, 2018. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.