What is this, another time management piece? Don't worry, we're not going to tell you to eat a live frog in the morning - that might work for some people, but not everyone. Judging by the quantity of advice out there, good and bad, on the topic of time management, it's safe to say that if you're having trouble with productivity and focus, you've got a lot of company.
Rather than regurgitate the same old tips you can find elsewhere, we decided to take an evidence-based approach to this subject. If you're struggling with your focus or you just feel you have room to improve in the area of time management, read on.
What does the science say?
The topic of time management and the skills required to succeed at it has been studied by various researchers. The Harvard Business Review defines the term time management as the "decision-making process that structures, protects, and adjusts a person's time to changing environmental conditions". They emphasized three skills you need to have (or develop) to manage your time successfully:
Awareness refers to understanding how you currently spend your time and identifying areas for improvement. It involves analyzing your habits, routines, and behaviors to gain insights into your time usage patterns. By tracking and reflecting on your activities, you can identify time-wasting behaviors, distractions, or inefficient processes. Increasing awareness helps you become more conscious of how you use your time and identify opportunities for change.
Arrangement involves organizing and structuring your time effectively. This includes prioritizing tasks, setting goals, and creating schedules or plans. Effective arrangement ensures that you allocate time for important tasks and activities, eliminate or minimize distractions, and create a conducive environment for productivity. By organizing your time, you increase efficiency, reduce stress, and create a sense of control over your daily activities.
Adaptation refers to the ability to adjust and respond flexibly to changing circumstances and demands. It involves recognizing when your initial plans need modification and being open to making necessary adjustments. Adaptation also encompasses strategies for managing interruptions, unexpected events, or competing priorities. By being adaptable, you can maintain productivity despite disruptions and ensure that your time management strategies remain relevant and effective.
A little bit of honest introspection and attention can help you learn which of these three skills you excel at, and where you might still need some work. For most people, arrangement is where they're strongest, but many of us don't have a realistic perception of time, duration of activities, and just how easily we can be distracted. The HBR article Time Management Is About More Than Life Hacks covers a number of helpful tips you can use to improve your time management skills.
Once you know what makes you tick (pun intended), you can come up with a time management technique that works for you and can be sustained.
Time management techniques
Time management techniques are valuable tools for improving productivity and combating procrastination. Let's look at three popular techniques: the Pomodoro Technique, time-based goals, and time-boxing.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo. It involves breaking your work into focused intervals, usually 25 minutes in length, called "Pomodoros," followed by short breaks of 5 minutes. After completing four Pomodoros, take a longer break of about 15-30 minutes. The Pomodoro Technique helps you maintain focus and prevent burnout by providing regular breaks. It also adds a sense of urgency and encourages you to work with time as a limited resource.
Setting time-based goals involves assigning specific time durations to tasks or activities. Instead of solely focusing on completing a task, you allocate a fixed amount of time to work on it. For example, you might set a goal to spend 60 minutes on a particular task. This approach helps you prioritize tasks and prevents them from expanding to fill up all available time. By setting time-based goals, you create a sense of urgency and work more efficiently to accomplish your objectives within the allocated time.
Time-boxing is a technique where you allocate a predetermined, fixed amount of time for a particular task or activity. Unlike time-based goals that allocate a specific duration to complete a task, time-boxing defines a strict time limit for working on a task. For example, you might decide to dedicate two hours to a particular project. By doing so, you commit to working exclusively on that task for the defined time period and avoid getting caught up in perfectionism or excessive deliberation. Time-boxing encourages focus and prevents tasks from expanding indefinitely.
These techniques can be used individually or in combination, depending on your needs and preferences. Experiment with different approaches and find the one that works best for you.
Quick tips to snap out of procrastination
So, you've got a time management strategy you can usually keep up, but every once in a while, you "fall off the wagon," so to speak. We all experience sleepless nights and mornings when we would rather choose violence than get anything done. If you're stuck in such a rut, here are a few adjustments you can make to your day that might help you slip into productivity mode despite it all.
Change your environment
Working in a different setting for a change can help you feel more refreshed and creative. Obviously, this depends on your work environment, but working from a café or a different office can do wonders. If you can't go to another location, try moving around some of your office furniture (if you can), or just switch the position of what's on your desk.
Get the ball rolling
Starting out with a big new project can be a lot - where do you even start? Take a look at what needs to be done and pick up a small task that you feel confident you can finish in a short amount of time. This lets you get your hands dirty and takes you into work mode. Picking up the next task will be easier once you've already gotten started.
Commit to micro goals
If the mammoth task in front of you feels overwhelming, slash it down into more manageable bits. For example, even if just the thought of cleaning that pile of dishes in the sink makes you despair, commit to cleaning just five dishes. Five dishes, and then you can move on to something else - or continue. Chances are, you'll do more than the initial five, but even if not, at least you cleaned five dishes, right? You can come back later and do another five, and soon enough, they'll all be clean.
Make a game out of tedious tasks
Dull, repetitive tasks will literally drain the living energy out of you, so why not combat that by adding some fun to it? Think of a simple game you can play as you work to keep yourself amused. If you're going down a list of similar items, you can skip every other one (and come back to the rest later, of course). Get your dice out and let it decide the next item. Add a little bonus for each time you roll a 6 and suddenly, things don't seem so bleak anymore, right?
Disconnect from the web and your phone
I know it's hard. I really, really do. Go put your phone in another room, at least for one hour, and dive headfirst into deep work. Temporarily block social media and any other distracting websites you might like to
waste your time on visit. Turn off the TV, if you're working from your living room. Just go cold turkey and get to work.
Two key takeaways: take the time for some thorough introspection to get to know what works for you and what doesn't, and then dare to experiment with different techniques once you feel you know yourself.
We only covered a few tips and concepts related to time management here, but we hope that you learned something new anyway. Obligatory disclaimer: not all of these tips might work for you, but be sure to test them out nonetheless!
How do you manage your time and stay focused? Join us on Reddit and let's talk!