10 Timeless Time Management Techniques

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Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, but some people seem to be so much more productive with that time than others. If you're not feeling productive, the usual solution that comes to mind is that you need to manage your time better. You can't really “manage” time, though, because there are 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, 60 seconds in a minute, and that never changes.

You can, however, control where and how you spend your time and take actions to reduce or eliminate time wasters. In fact, managing time is really all about managing yourself.

Following are ten timeless ways to take control of your schedule each day to make the most of the time you have available.

1) Establish prioritized goals

Without goals, you might find that you tend to chase after whatever seems most urgent or is staring you in the face. It's tough not to get distracted by shiny objects. To prevent this, figure out your true your priorities in life, and move towards them by setting yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals or desired outcomes. Rank each of these using the following system:

  • Importance: (A=high, B=medium, C=low)
  • Urgency: (1=high, 2=medium, 3=low)

Always work on the most urgent and important goals and tasks (A1) first, and then move on down your list.

2) Follow the 80/20 rule

The “80/20 Rule,” also known as Pareto’s Principle, says that 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your actions. It’s a way to view your time usage, prioritize your chosen tasks against your most important goals. Are you focusing in on the 20 percent of activities that produce 80 percent of your desired results?

3) Learn to Say No

When others make requests from you, these tasks may be important to them, but conflict with your most important goals. Especially when it's something you'd like to do, but simply don’t have the time for, it can be very difficult to say no.

While it’s great to be a team player, it’s also important to know when and how to be assertive and let the person know you can’t handle their request at the moment. If you do agree to take on the task, negotiate a deadline that helps them achieve their goals without sacrificing your own.

4) Overcome Procrastination Using the “4D” System

  • Delete it: What are the consequences of not doing the task at all? Consider the 80/20 rule; maybe it doesn’t need to be done in the first place.
  • Delegate it: If the task is important, ask yourself if it’s really something that you are responsible for doing in the first place. Can the task be given to someone else? See “10 Things a Manager Should Never Delegate.”
  • Do it now: Postponing an important task that needs to be done only creates feelings of anxiety and stress. Do it as early in the day as you can.
  • Defer: If the task is one that can’t be completed quickly and is not a high priority item, simply defer it.

5) Eat the Frog

From Brian Tracey’s book, Eat That Frog, "If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long."

Your frogs each day are the tasks that will have the greatest impact on achieving your goals, and the tasks that you are most likely to procrastinate starting.

6) Reduce the Number of Meetings 

Poorly run meetings are time wasters, multiplied by the number of people in the meeting. See “How to Lead a Team Meeting.”

7) The Glass Jar: Rocks, Pebbles, Sand, and Water

Categorize your tasks in this way, then tackle the “rocks” first. If you keep tackling the small things (the sand, pebbles, and water), and not the important strategic items, the rocks, then your jar will quickly fill up with no room for more rocks.

8) Eliminate Electronic Time Wasters

Everyone has certain distractions that interrupt them and take their time away from their work. Is yours Facebook? Twitter? Email checking? Continuous messaging with friends and family? Stop checking them so often by batching these types of tasks. Set a time, then check and deal with all of them at once. Give yourself 30 minutes and then get back on task. Batch them and take a break once or twice each day to respond.

9) Get Organized 

In order to effectively manage your time and be productive each day, you have to create the right environment. Eliminating useless clutter, set up an effective filing system, have a nearby place for all of the work items you need frequently, and utilize workflow management tools to help you create a productive environment.

10) Take Care of Your Health

A good night’s sleep, healthy eating, and exercise will give you the energy, focus, and stamina required to make the most out of your day. It may seem that work is more important and you can always catch up on sleep, food, and exercise later. If you lose your health, though, you can't work, or do much of anything else for that matter, so don't skimp on taking care of yourself.