How to use your time productively

Many of us are familiar with the maxim “Don’t mistake activity for productivity.” It refers to people who juggle multiple tasks, under the guise of staying busy all the time, without ever inching towards their goal. Their time is completely wasted in thinking about what to do next—leaving no time for the actual job at hand.

To bring a renewed sense of productivity to your work life, we offer this list of 7 ways to use your time more wisely.

Related: Productivity tips for businesses

1. Prioritize your projects

Prioritization is not only about completing more tasks within a stipulated time frame; it also refers to eliminating unnecessary tasks. Planning and prioritizing offer clarity of thought when you feel like procrastinating. When backed by strong reasoning, prioritization empowers you to focus on the most important target, while shelving unimportant work for later.

2. Know yourself—and avoid comparing yourself to others

It’s up to each individual to discover their most productive time of the day. For some, early mornings bring a rush of energy, while for others, late evenings prove best for tasks that demand concentration and mental agility. This self-awareness relieves the confusion of how and when to engage in focused work, helping you make the most of your time.

Work as though you’re running your own race. Your thoughts and efforts should be focused on completing the task at hand—not getting bogged down by others’ expectations or worrying about how they will meet their own deadlines. Do away with the urge to seek validation or compare yourself to others, and pour that time and energy back into your own work. The results of your work will be better, and you’ll avoid a lot of unnecessary stress along the way.

3. Make time for your passions

A clear-cut timetable that balances work with play is imperative to striking the right work-life balance. Irrespective of the task, everyone should engage in hobbies and sports occasionally to bring variety, excitement and rejuvenation into their lives. Good hobbies are effective stress-busters, so make space for them in your daily or weekly timetable. Not only does it give you something to look forward to, but you’ll be more relaxed and prepared to tackle the day when you return to work.

4. Unlock the power of saying “No”

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. While proving one’s competence at work is always a concern nagging at even the most accomplished of us, it’s important to be firm in setting realistic boundaries about what you can and can’t deliver. We all have our limits, and if you think you’re going to burnout from work stress, learning to say “No” to extra assignments will save you in the long run. Rather than spreading yourself thin across a variety of projects, you can dedicate yourself to excelling with your most important ones.

5. Resist the urge to multitask

Doing one thing at a time is the secret behind improved productivity. When we’re in a race against the clock, we’re all tempted to indulge in multitasking, hoping to complete several jobs within a stipulated time. But none of us deliver our best work this way. The lack of focus and concentration impairs the quality of our creativity, our decision making, and our results. Errors could even lead to repeat work, which defeats the whole point of saving time in the first place.

If you have several items to focus on within the same day, try segmenting your work time into short, focused bursts. The Pomodoro method is a popular strategy where you spend 25 minutes working and 5 resting. This way, you’re still focusing when it counts, but also giving yourself the freedom to jump between different tasks.

6. Use reminders to stay motivated

The clock is ticking, and with every passing moment, you should be moving closer to meeting your deadlines. When every second counts, it’s critical to stay motivated. Staying motivated will help you push yourself and inspire you to reach ever further to accomplish your goals.

What motivates you? Write it down, and take a moment to review whenever you feel yourself flagging. You might even bring photos to your workplace that remind you of what you’re trying to achieve. Maybe it’s photos of your family, a gorgeous vacation destination, or an aspirational business card. Having a tangible reminder of what motivates you can provide that last burst of energy you need to cross the finish line.

7. Be honest about your progress

Did your work today bring you closer to your goals, or did you just have a busy day? Honest introspection should become a daily practice as you find out which productivity methods work best for you. Take a few moments at the end of each day to meditate on what went well and what didn’t. Consider taking notes so you can tweak your methods as you go along.

There’s much pleasure to be had in this time-bound journey called life, and it’s important to live each moment to the best of your ability. Discipline and repetition form the key to transforming your habits. We hope these tips help you enjoy more productive and fulfilling days.

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Brian Zeng

Brian Zeng is the owner of Ponbee.com. He is an entrepreneur by spirit. Brian likes to share his insights on an array of topics related to business, e-commerce, digital marketing & entrepreneurship. For example, his recent collection of inspirational quotes by highly successful people will surely help you to see failure & success in a different perspective.

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How to use your time productively

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If you’ve got a big block of free time, the best way to put that to use is to relax, have fun, decompress from a stressful day, or spend time with a loved one. But if you’ve just got a little chunk — say 5 or 10 minutes — there’s no time to do any of the fun stuff.

So, what to do in free time?

Put those little chunks of time to their most productive use.

Everyone works differently, so the best use of your free time really depends on you, your working style, and what’s on your to-do list. But it’s handy to have a list like this in order to quickly find a way to put that little spare time to work instantly, without any thought. Use the following list as a way to spark ideas for what you can do in a short amount of time.

1. Reading Files

Clip magazine articles or print out good articles or reports for reading later, and keep them in a folder marked “Reading File”. Take this wherever you go, and any time you have a little chunk of time, you can knock off items in your Reading File.

Keep a reading file on your computer (or in your bookmarks), for quick reading while at your desk (or on the road if you’ve got a laptop).

2. Clear out Inbox

Got a meeting in 5 minutes? Use it to get your physical or email inbox to empty.

If you’ve got a lot in your inbox, you’ll have to work quickly, and you may not get everything done; but reducing your pile can be a big help. And having an empty inbox is a wonderful feeling.

3. Phone Calls

Keep a list of phone calls you need to make, with phone numbers, and carry it everywhere.

Whether you’re at your desk or on the road, you can knock a few calls off your list in a short amount of time.

4. Make Money

This is my favorite productive use of free time. I have a list of articles I need to write, and when I get some spare minutes, I’ll knock off half an article real quick.

If you get 5 to 10 chunks of free time a day, you can make a decent side income. Figure out how you can freelance your skills, and have work lined up that you can knock out quickly — break it up into little chunks, so those chunks can be done in short bursts.

5. File

No one likes to do this. If you’re on top of your game, you’re filing stuff immediately, so it doesn’t pile up.

But if you’ve just come off a really busy spurt, you may have a bunch of documents or files laying around.

Or maybe you have a big stack of stuff to file. Cut into that stack with every little bit of spare time you get, and soon you’ll be in filing Nirvana.

6. Network

Only have 2 minutes? Shoot off a quick email to a colleague. Even just a “touching bases” or follow-up email can do wonders for your working relationship. Or shoot off a quick question, and put it on your follow-up list for later.

7. Clear out Feeds

If my email inbox is empty, and I have some spare time, I like to go to my Google Reader and clear out my feed inbox.

8. Goal Time

Take 10 minutes to think about your goals — personal and professional.

If you don’t have a list of goals, start on one. If you’ve got a list of goals, review them.

Write down a list of action steps you can take over the next couple of weeks to make these goals a reality. What action step can you do today? The more you focus on these goals, and review them, the more likely they will come true.

9. Update Finances

Many people fall behind with their finances, either in paying bills (they don’t have time), or entering transactions in their financial software, or clearing their checkbook, or reviewing their budget.

Take a few minutes to update these things. It just takes 10 to 15 minutes every now and then.

10. Brainstorm Ideas

Another favorite of mine if I just have 5 minutes — I’ll break out my pocket notebook, and start a brainstorming list for a project or article. Whatever you’ve got coming up in your work or personal life, it can benefit from a brainstorm. And that doesn’t take long.

11. Clear off Desk

Similar to the filing tip above, but this applies to whatever junk you’ve got cluttering up your desk. Or on the floor around your desk.

Trash stuff, file stuff, put it in its place. A clear desk makes for a more productive you. And it’s oddly satisfying.

12. Exercise

Never have time to exercise? 10 minutes is enough to get off some pushups and crunches. Do that 2 to 3 times a day, and you’ve got a fit new you.

13. Take a Walk

This is another form of exercise that doesn’t take long, and you can do it anywhere. Even more important, it’s a good way to stretch your legs from sitting at your desk too long.

It also gets your creative juices flowing. If you’re ever stuck for ideas, taking a walk is a good way to get unstuck.

14. Follow up

Keep a follow-up list for everything you’re waiting on. Return calls, emails, memos — anything that someone owes you, put on the list.

When you’ve got a spare 10 minutes, do some follow-up calls or emails.

15. Meditate

You don’t need a yoga mat to do this. Just do it at your desk. Focus on your breathing. A quick 5 to 10 minutes of meditation (or even a nap) can be tremendously refreshing.

16. Research

This is a daunting task for me. So I do it in little spurts.

If I’ve only got a few minutes, I’ll do some quick research and take some notes. Do this a few times, and I’m done!

17. Outline

Similar to brainstorming, but more formal. I like to do an outline of a complicated article, report or project, and it helps speed things along when I get to the actual writing. And it only takes a few minutes.

18. Get Prepped

Outlining is one way to prep for longer work, but there’s a lot of other ways you can prep for the next task on your list.

You may not have time to actually start on the task right now, but when you come back from your meeting or lunch, you’ll be all prepped and ready to go.

19. Be Early

Got some spare time before a meeting? Show up for the meeting early.

Sure, you might feel like a chump sitting there alone, but actually people respect those who show up early. It’s better than being late (unless you’re trying to play a power trip or something, but that’s not appreciated in many circles).

20. Log

If you keep a log of anything, a few spare minutes is the perfect time to update the log.

Actually, the perfect time to update the log is right after you do the activity (exercise, eat, crank a widget), but if you didn’t have time to do it before, your 5-minute break is as good a time as any.

How to use your time productively

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You only get 24 hours every day, and while there are plenty of ways to wring more out of the time you have, there isn’t a way to get more of the stuff. But no need to worrythere are plenty of ways to use the time to have better. Here are 7 of them!

1. Slow down

Slowing down to get more out of your time may seem counterintuitive, but when you actually slow down, you will find that what you do becomes a lot more meaningful.

Imagine for a second that you’re driving through a beautiful forest. Your stereo is blasting a new song, you’re talking to a friend in the passenger’s seat, and before you know itwhooshyou passed right through the forest, and it was like you weren’t there at all.

Now imagine that instead of driving in a noisy car, you’re walking through the same forest. Summer is changing to fall, and as the leaves fall around you, you take in a deep breath of warm, October air.

Your walk is ten times more meaningful, because you slowed down. You were able to notice the sights, sounds, and smells around you, and what you were doing became much more meaningful. Slowing down brings meaning to how you spend your time, whether you’re walking through a forest, spending time with a loved one, playing an instrument, or even working on a report at work.

2. Structure your free time

According to researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book “Flow”, Sunday at noon is the “unhappiest hour in America” because that’s the time people are the least productive. According to his research, people are oddly more motivated and focused at work because of the structure work provides, and he recommends structuring your free time.

That might sound counterintuitive: shouldn’t your free time be, well, free?

Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced CHEEK-sent-me-hi-ee, if you’re playing along at home) argues that when we don’t structure our time, we either spend it on pointless stuff, or just ruminate without much care or focus. Structuring your timeeven your free timeis proven to make you more motivated, focused, and ultimately, happier, because it gives you a direction and a purpose.

It’s totally counterintuitive, but when you have a purpose behind your actions, you will feel much more productive and happier (even if that purpose is to do nothing for an hour or two!)

3. Keep a time diary to see what you’re doing wrong

Keeping a time diary of how exactly you spend your time throughout the day is one of the most powerful ways to discover how you can better use your time. Keeping a time diary:

  • Allows you to see patterns and trends (favorable or otherwise) in how you spend your time
  • Lets you see what activities impact your productivity the most (e.g. whether getting a good night’s sleep affects your motivation the next day)
  • Makes you second-guess yourself when you want to spend your time on low-leverage stuff
  • Lets you see whether how you spend your time matches up with your priorities (e.g. if you consider family important, but spend every night watching TV)

When you keep a time diary, it’s much easier to make changes to how you spend your time, because you can see, right in front of you, exactly what changes you need to make with how you spend your time. When I track my time, I keep it as simple as possible in order to reduce the mental friction I have to actually tracking my time. In front of me, throughout the course of a week, I keep a notepad that tracks: what I’m doing, when I start/stopped an activity, and any observations I have.

Keeping a diary of exactly how you spend your time seems simple on the surface, but produces profound results when you actually do it.

4. Do less

Apple is one of the largest and most successful companies in the world for one big reason: they make only four main product lines. Apple makes the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and the Mac (with software to support them), and that’s pretty much it. Apple is a $431 billion company that puts all of its weight behind four small product lines.

Taking a similar approach with your life is also incredibly powerful. When you do fewer things, you spread your time over less, and so you have much more of yourself to give to everything you do. I think one of the best ways to boost your focus, become a better person, and use your time better is to do less.

Question the elements of your life, and constantly ask yourself if you’re doing too much. Doing less may seem like a counterintuitive way to better use your time, but it boosts your focus and success because you can invest so much more of yourself into the things you want to do.

5. Think about what matters most to you

Everyone spends their time differently: one person may invest a lot of time into developing a successful career, while another may care more about investing their time into building a rewarding family life.

Take the time to think about what you really, truly care the most about, then invest your time in what you care about. This seems like simple advice, yet hardly anyone does it. A lot of people wing their way through each day, not thinking about whether how they’re spending their time will produce meaningful results.

I think the only way to make sure you get the most out of your time is to start with what matters the most to you, and work backward to your actions to figure out how you should act.

6. Focus on high-leverage activities

You may have heard of the 80/20 rule, which says that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. I like looking at the 80/20 rule a different way: every action you take is either high or low leverage. The higher leverage an activity is, the more you’ll get out of a small amount of effort.

Some people invest their time into low-leverage activities, which they get almost nothing out of. Take watching TV, for example. If you watch 3 hours of TV a day (the average is more than 4) and you live until you’re 80, you’ll spend 10 years of your life watching TV! That’s time you’ll never get back, and time you could have invested into a much higher leverage activity, like reading a book, having a coffee with someone you want to learn from, exercising, writing, or meditating.

When you invest your time in high-leverage activities, you can cut the cruft from your life and make sure that what you invest your time in the activities that produce the greatest returns on your time.

7. Know how little time you have, and live accordingly

This may sound like a corny tip, but it isn’t. You really don’t have that much time.

If you’re average (I know you’re not, but bear with me), according to the American Time Use Survey, each work day you’ll spend: 7.6 hours sleeping, 8.8 hours working, 1.1 hours eating, and 1.1 hours doing chores around the house, leaving you with about five and half hours left over for doing what you want to do. And these figures don’t include investing time into your relationships, caring for others, or any other commitments you have already.

You start every day with 24 hours, but once you subtract all of commitments from that, you’re not left with much. When you constantly remind yourself how little time you have, you light a fire under yourself to make the most out of your time. You start to say “no” to commitments that don’t mean much to you. You bring more energy and drive to your work. You become more defensive of your free time, and make the most of it.

Knowing just how little time you have will let you put the time you do have to much better use.

“We can think of time the same way we think of money. We are constantly advised to invest, to set an emergency fund, to track our expenses, and to spend our money with intention. So why not invest and bank our time more intentionally as well?”

How to use your time productively

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“Where did my day go. ”

This is a common lament among adults with executive function challenges, especially now that so many of us are working from home, and our daily routines are off-kilter.

Without commutes and Little League practices, we may feel like we have more time — but that doesn’t mean we should fill every minute doing “stuff.” The key to effective time management is in our relationship with time itself. Making smart choices doesn’t mean adding in more activities, but improving the ways we choose to spend the time we have.

We can think of time the same way we think of money. We are constantly advised to invest, to set an emergency fund, to track our expenses, and to spend our money with intention. So why not invest and bank our time more intentionally as well?

You wouldn’t spend the day idly dropping dollar bills around the house, but chances are that you often waste valuable bits of time each day – in the grip of social media or gaming, scrolling though endless streaming content, procrastinating, or mindlessly perusing the fridge for the tenth time. Before you know it, the day is over and you guiltily settle into the couch for a binge watch before bed, vowing to do better next time. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there. But there is a way out.

8 Strategies to Use Your Time Wisely

1. Conduct a Time Inventory

For two or three days, keep an hour-by-hour journal of how you spend your time. That includes work, exercise, meals, social media — even procrastination and avoidance.

Then, without judgment or self-criticism, review:

  • Where did your time go each day? How was it spent?
  • What times of day were the most productive?
  • When was your brain least energized? When was little accomplished?
  • Where were the pockets of “wasted time” that could be used more intentionally?

By really examining your time inventory, you can see more clearly what exactly is getting in the way.

2. Create a New Daily Plan

Planning your day is like mapping out a trip to an unknown destination. You wouldn’t set out on an adventure without a GPS to guide you – so don’t start your day without one.

Using what you observed in your time inventory, create a new and improved plan, starting with a list of everything you need to accomplish that day. Follow up with those tasks or activities you want to accomplish. Now, establish a timeline, task by task, taking you through your day from start to finish. Try to arrange tasks in an order most likely to lead to success.

If exercise is something you will put off and then possibly abandon, do this first thing in the morning. Save calling your best friend or online shopping until the essential tasks are done. Streaming or gaming? Put off till evening. Be sure to schedule brain intensive activities for when your mind is at its sharpest. Save easy and more enjoyable tasks for when your mind is less resilient and your willpower is draining. Keep your daily plan visible, sticking it on the fridge or above your work computer.

3. Create Time Intentionality

Make it a habit to stop and think before starting an activity – is this intentional? Am I choosing to jump on Instagram or clean out the kitchen junk drawer, or is it a result of avoidance or boredom?

Picture a jellyfish in the ocean, bobbing and drifting through the water, versus a salmon, swimming upstream toward its singular goal. Are you being pulled mindlessly through your day, drifting this way and that by impulses and whims, or intentionally moving forward, choosing each task and activity according to your goals and larger daily plan?

Taking a quick Candy Crush break or stopping to play with the dog during a busy day is not a bad thing if you are intentionally choosing to do so. The problem is when these activities become distractions and avoidance mechanisms.

4. Prioritize

If you could do one new thing with the time in your day, what would it be? Maybe it’s a hobby, craft, or learning a musical instrument. Writing letters or reconnecting with friends or family. Maybe it is doing absolutely nothing at all! Take one of those ideas and intentionally work into your weekly schedule a short, dedicated block of time for it.

5. Schedule Time for “Dreaded” Tasks

Calling a doctor’s office, paying bills, cleaning the bathroom – we all have chores we avoid and often waste precious time putting off. Schedule specific “appointment” times in your daily schedule for these tasks and then just get them done.

6. Establish Task and Time Goals

The ADHD brain often see-saws between the extremes of inattention and hyperfocus, depending on the activity. Setting goals and limits helps you stay focused and flexible.

Establish a time limit and set an alarm before starting an enjoyable task into which you might get sucked. Likewise, set a work or time goal for obligations you dislike. Committing to “I’ll write just one page of this report” or “I need to spend 30 minutes on my taxes before I have lunch” cuts through procrastination and moves you forward toward your larger goal.

7. Schedule in Down Time and Regular Breaks

Walks in nature, reading, watching a sun set, listening to music, even just gazing out the window – a regular, daily “downtime” block, no matter how small, goes a long way toward a healthier lifestyle.

We are prone to overlook breaks when we feel we’ve spent time inefficiently or that we’ve wasted it with mindless activities. But our brains need to be regularly recharged, even for just 5 or 10 minutes, so be sure to plan in regular breaks during the day.

8. Anticipate Roadblocks

What’s most likely to hijack your time and energy and pull you off track? Phone or internet? Friends or family requests? Avoidance around difficult tasks? All of these distractions can get in the way, making it harder to return to your daily plan.

Technology has become the number one distraction in most of our lives. If this is true for you, set firm limits around your use of gaming, social media, and streaming content by intentionally scheduling short blocks of screen time into your day, preferably after all obligations are complete. Turn off alerts and badges on your smartphone and, if possible, practice putting your phone away for longer durations before checking for messages.

Work emails can also be a time drain. Schedule in one or two email “read and respond” sessions a day, and then forget them about them in between.

Changing our habits around time and how we spend it can take effort, but with persistence and practice, investing more wisely in each day can become part of a more balanced and healthy lifestyle that leaves more time for the things we truly enjoy.

Set the right tone for your day.

How to use your time productively

Your morning is really the most important part of your entire day, as it sets the tone for what follows. If you are behind from the outset, your workday will be filled with tension and perhaps some panic. The best way to avoid this stress is to start out right. Here are 10 ways, in no particular order, to be more productive in the morning.

1. Eat a healthy breakfast.

Pretty much every one has heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and it is true. Start with a healthy, full breakfast; a great breakfast will not only get your body going but your brain as well.

2. Work out.

Let’s face it, not everyone can do an Olympic-training-type workout every morning, but it is very important to at least do something. Get your heart going and your blood pumping. Even if it just means 10 minutes on a treadmill or some pushups, do some type of physical activity in the morning before work.

3. Get important communication out of the way.

Nothing sidetracks you more for the entire day than knowing you have to talk to someone about something important. Whether it’s personal or business related, if you have to communicate something important do it first thing. Remember, the morning is when your brain is the freshest, so if you do your most important communicating then, you will probably do so in a more efficient manner.

4. Get a coffeemaker.

You will be amazed how much better your mornings go when you have your coffee made for you and ready to go first thing.

5. Strategize morning tasks.

The morning is that time when you put your brain on autopilot and do your hair and brush your teeth. Sit down and map out your morning tasks and see if you can’t do some at the same time or faster. Remember, these are things you do every day; if you can save five minutes in the morning by brushing your teeth in the shower, that adds up to almost 20 hours over the year. One of the keys to productivity is to multitask the automated things you do, the things your brain does without thinking. Then focus specifically on the tasks that require the most attention.

6. Plan your day.

A workday is busy, so you really have only one chance to plan what you’re going to do. The morning is the most important time to think “What have I got to do today?” Prioritize and list the most important things. If need be, physically write them down and carry the list with you during the day.

7. Eat fruit.

Fruit is a great way to start the day, and it has essential vitamins to energize your mind.

8. Wake up early.

We all like to sleep in, but break the habit and try to get out of bed 10 minutes earlier than you normally do. If you find this successful, then try another 10 minutes earlier than that.

9. Work in a cool room.

Most people don’t notice it, but you are more productive when it’s cool. This is particularly true in the mornings. Your bed is hot, and you need to get into a cool environment to get your brain out of sleep mode and into work mode.

10. Have a pregame routine.

If you ever watch a sporting event, you see that the athletes all have their routines before a game. Playing a sport is a task that requires focus and skill, and the same is true for you doing your job. So follow the advice of the pros and get a pregame routine. Whether this is a quick bit of meditation in your car before you walk into work or playing with your dog for a few minutes before you head for the office. Find habits that take your mind off the day for a few minutes and allow your brain to seem refreshed and focused afterward.

How to use your time productively

11 tips to use your time productively

As a business owner, you may find yourself accomplishing numerous tasks and taking on different roles during a day. So you find that there are never enough hours in the day! While your employees are likely counting down the hours, wishing time would speed up so they can clock off, you wish you could pause time so you can catch up on things.

Unfortunately time can’t be paused, but these time-management tips will help you increase your productivity and feel like you’ve got some time in the day.

Recognise that ‘time management’ is a myth

No matter how coordinated we are, there are always only 24 hours in a day. Time doesn’t change. We can’t manage time; all we can really manage is ourselves and what we do with the time that we have. Think about it as ‘self management’.

Find out who/what/where you’re wasting time

Most of us are prey to time-wasters that steal the limited time that we should be using more productively.

Who, what or where are your time-bandits? Is it a customer who spends lots of your time talking chitchat? Do you spend too much time on the web, Facebook, news sites? Or maybe your time is taken up taking personal calls or doing simple admin duties.

Looking at your everyday activities will give you a good idea of where your time is being utilised. Being aware is the first step to making a change.

No matter how coordinated we are, there are always only 24 hours in a day. Time doesn’t change. We can’t manage time; all we can really manage is ourselves

Create some time-management goals

Time management is altering your behaviours, not altering time. Eliminate time-wasters by taking some of your time-bandits and set some goals to eliminate them. For example, you’re not going to take any personal calls during work hours.

Create a time-/self-management plan

After you’ve successfully reached a few goals, you then want to change your actions over time. Maybe the first month is eliminating personal phone calls, then the next month you work on stopping unnecessary chitchat.

Set longer-term plans to reach goals like increasing your productivity or reducing stress. Create a pathway and a plan so you can refer to it and see if you are on track to meet your time-management goals.

Use time-management tools

Whether it is a physical diary, an Outlook calendar or a time-management app on your phone, using a tool to organise your time is vital for success. You can plan how you spend your time. Rather than just acting reactively, you are proactive in your actions. Programs like Outlook let you schedule your calendar easily and set alarms and alerts for certain activities, which make time management much easier.

Plan & prioritise daily

Every day you should plan your day.

Look at what needs to be completed and schedule time for each task.

Prioritise them and ensure that the most important jobs are scheduled in.

You will find that often the least important tasks may not even really need to be done.

Delegate & outsource

No matter what size your business is, you should not need to do everything! To leverage your time and manage it effectively you need to pass some tasks to others to free up your time. Look at your own productivity and attribute a dollar value to each task you do. If you are a plumber and you charge $100 per hour, yet you are spending five hours doing admin work that you could pay someone $30 per hour to do, you are wasting $500 of billable time just to save $150.

Look at the jobs you are doing that would be better suited outsourcing or delegating to someone else, then make the shift.

Schedule regular tasks & stick to them

There are some tasks that need to be done every week or month, things like following up overdue invoices, updating social media, reporting, paying staff. The best thing to do is schedule these tasks into your calendar and stick to it – that way you don’t need to find time to do them.

Set time boundaries

It is important to set some boundaries with your time. For example, reading and responding to emails could consume your entire day if you let it. Instead, set aside a set period of time where you do just that task.

Systemise & organise

You may find yourself wasting a lot of time looking for a particular document on your computer? Or maybe you need to re-train a staff member on a task that isn’t documented. If you take the time to properly organise your files it will save a lot of time in the long-run. Also creating easy to follow systems allows you and your staff to carry out tasks with wasting time ‘figuring it out’ or asking for help.

Learn to wait productively

Whether you have a doctor’s appointment or you are waiting for a supplier to call you back, you can’t avoid having to wait. But you don’t need to twiddle your thumbs. Be proactive and have tasks that can be done while waiting – maybe you need to read a report, so rather than reading it at your desk when you could be doing more productive tasks, plan to read it during a waiting period. Take a pad of paper and brainstorm business ideas during your wait time, make those quick phone calls. Do anything rather than just sitting there.

If you follow these 11 time tips you will feel much more in control of yourself and you’ll get a lot more done in that short 24 hours we have each day.

Avoiding Common Pitfalls

How to use your time productively

When you thrive on being busy, it means that you’re rarely being effective.

How well do you manage your time? If you’re like many people, your answer may not be completely positive! Perhaps you feel overloaded, and you often have to work late to hit your deadlines. Or maybe your days seem to go from one crisis to another, and this is stressful and demoralizing.

Many of us know that we could be managing our time more effectively; but it can be difficult to identify the mistakes that we’re making, and to know how we could improve. When we do manage our time well, however, we’re exceptionally productive at work, and our stress levels drop. We can devote time to the interesting, high-reward projects that can make a real difference to a career. In short, we’re happier!

In this article, we’ll look at 10 of the most common time-management mistakes, as well as identifying strategies and tips that you can use to overcome them.

Mistake #1: Failing to Keep a To-Do List

Do you ever have that nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten to do an important piece of work? If so, you probably don’t use a To-Do List to keep on top of things. (Or, if you do, you might not be using it effectively!)

The trick with using To-Do Lists effectively lies in prioritizing the tasks on your list. Many people use an A – F coding system (A for high priority items, F for very low priorities). Alternatively, you can simplify this by using A through D, or by using numbers.

If you have large projects on your list, then, unless you’re careful, the entries for these can be vague and ineffective. For instance, you may have written down “Start on budget proposal.” But what does this entail? The lack of specifics here might cause you to procrastinate, or miss key steps. So make sure that you break large tasks or projects down into specific, actionable steps – then you won’t overlook something important.

You can also use Action Programs to manage your work when you have many large projects happening at once. (Action Programs are “industrial strength” versions of To-Do Lists.)

Mistake #2: Not Setting Personal Goals

Do you know where you’d like to be in six months? What about this time next year, or even 10 years from now? If not, it’s time to set some personal goals!

Personal goal setting is essential to managing your time well, because goals give you a destination and vision to work toward. When you know where you want to go, you can manage your priorities, time, and resources to get there. Goals also help you decide what’s worth spending your time on, and what’s just a distraction.

To learn how to set SMART, effective goals, read up on Locke’s Goal Setting Theory . Here, you’ll learn how to set clearly defined goals that will keep you motivated.

You might also enjoy our Book Insight into Long Fuse, Big Bang by Eric Haseltine. This book teaches you how to focus on your long-term goals without overlooking your short term priorities.

Mistake #3: Not Prioritizing

Your assistant has just walked in with a crisis that she needs you to deal with right now, but you’re in the middle of brainstorming ideas for a new client. You’re sure that you’ve almost come up with a brilliant idea for their marketing campaign, but now you risk losing the thread of your thinking because of this “emergency.”

Sometimes, it’s hard to know how to prioritize , especially when you’re facing a flood of seemingly-urgent tasks. However, it’s essential to learn how to prioritize tasks effectively if you want to manage your time better.

One tool that will help you prioritize effectively is the . This helps you understand the difference between urgent activities, and important activities. You’ll also learn how to overcome the tendency to focus on the urgent.

The –>Action Priority Matrix , which will help you determine if a task is high-yield and high-priority, or low-value, “fill in” work. You’ll manage your time much better during the day if you know the difference.

You might also want to go through our Bite-Sized Training session How to Prioritize , to further enhance your skills.

Mistake #4: Failing to Manage Distractions

Do you know that some of us can lose as much as two hours a day to distractions? Think how much you could get done if you had that time back!

Whether they come from emails, IM chats, colleagues in a crisis, or phone calls from clients, distractions prevent us from achieving flow , which is the satisfying and seemingly effortless work that we do when we’re 100 percent engaged in a task.

If you want to gain control of your day and do your best work, it’s vital to know how to minimize distractions and manage interruptions effectively. For instance, turn off your IM chat when you need to focus, and let people know if they’re distracting you too often. You should also learn how to improve your concentration , even when you’re faced with distractions.

Additionally, our article on managing email effectively teaches you how to gain control of your email, so that it doesn’t eat up your entire day.

Mistake #5: Procrastination

Procrastination occurs when you put off tasks that you should be focusing on right now. When you procrastinate, you feel guilty that you haven’t started; you come to dread doing the task; and, eventually, everything catches up with you when you fail to complete the work on time.

Start by taking our procrastination quiz to find out if procrastination is a problem in your life. If it is, then learn the strategies you need to beat procrastination .

For instance, one useful strategy is to tell yourself that you’re only going to start on a project for ten minutes. Often, procrastinators feel that they have to complete a task from start to finish, and this high expectation makes them feel overwhelmed and anxious. Instead, focus on devoting a small amount of time to starting. That’s all!

You might also find it helpful to use Action Plans . These help you break large projects down into manageable steps, so that it’s easy to see everything that you need to get done, and so that you can complete small chunks at a time. Doing this can stop you from feeling overwhelmed at the start of a new project.

Our Bite-Sized Training session, Overcoming Procrastination , gives you more in-depth strategies and tips for dealing with procrastination.

Mistake #6: Taking on Too Much

Are you a person who has a hard time saying “no” to people? If so, you probably have far too many projects and commitments on your plate. This can lead to poor performance, stress, and low morale.

Or, you might be a micromanager : someone who insists on controlling or doing all of the work themselves, because they can’t trust anyone else to do it correctly. (This can be a problem for everyone – not just managers!)

Either way, taking on too much is a poor use of your time, and it can get you a reputation for producing rushed, sloppy work.

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How to use your time productively

What is Productivity?

Let’s define productivity. Productivity is a measure of efficiency of a person completing a task. We often assume that productivity means getting more things done each day. Wrong. Productivity is getting important things done consistently. And no matter what you are working on, there are only a few things that are truly important.

Being productive is about maintaining a steady, average speed on a few things, not maximum speed on everything.

My Top Productivity Strategies

  • Eliminate Time Wasting Activities by Using the Eisenhower Box: This simple decision matrix will help you take action, organize tasks, and get more done. The great thing about this matrix is that it can be used for broad productivity plans (“How should I spend my time each week?”) and for smaller, daily plans (“What should I do today?”).
  • Warren Buffett’s “2 List” Strategy: How to Maximize Your Focus and Master Your Priorities: This method comes from the famous investor Warren Buffett and uses a simple 3-step productivity strategy to help you determine your priorities and actions. You may find this method useful for making decisions and getting yourself to commit to doing one thing right away.
  • The Ivy Lee Method: The Daily Routine Experts Recommend for Peak Productivity: This productivity strategy is straightforward: Do the most important thing first each day. The Ivy Lee Method is a dead simple way to implement this strategy.
  • The 15-Minute Routine Anthony Trollope Used to Write 40+ Books: There is one common problem with the approach of ranking your priorities and doing the most important thing first, though. After ranking your priorities for the day, if the number one task is a really big project then it can leave you feeling frustrated because it takes a long time to finish. Writer Anthony Trollope, however, developed a solution to this common problem.

More Productivity Ideas

Most productivity strategies focus on short-term efficiency: how to manage your to-do list effectively, how to get more done each morning, how to shorten your weekly meetings, and so on. These are all reasonable ideas.

We often fail to realize, however, that there are certain strategic choices we need to make if we want to maximize our productivity for the long-term. In these articles below, I break down some ideas about long-term productivity.

Looking for more articles about productivity? I have a full list at the bottom of this page.

Simple Ways to Be More Productive Every Day

Step 1: Manage your energy, not your time.

If you take a moment to think about it, you’ll probably realize that you are better at doing certain tasks at certain times. What type of energy do you have in the morning? Afternoon? Evening? Determine what tasks each energy level and time of day are best suited for.

Step 2: Prepare the night before.

If you only do one thing each day then spend a few minutes each night organizing your to–do list for tomorrow. When I do it right, I’ll outline the article I’m going to write the next day and develop a short list of the most important items for me to accomplish. It takes 10 minutes that night and saves 3 hours the next day.

Step 3: Don’t open email until noon.

Sounds simple. Nobody does it. It took me awhile to get over the urge to open my inbox, but eventually I realized that everything can wait a few hours. Nobody is going to email you about a true emergency (a death in the family, etc.), so leave your email alone for the first few hours of each day. Use the morning to do what’s important rather than responding to what is “urgent.”

Step 4: Turn your phone off and leave it in another room.

Or on your colleague’s desk. Or at the very least, put it somewhere that is out of sight. This eliminates the urge to check text messages, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. This simple strategy eliminates the likelihood of slipping into half–work where you waste time dividing your attention among meaningless tasks.

Step 5: Work in a cool place.

Have you ever noticed how you feel groggy and sluggish in a hot room? Turning the temperature down or moving to a cooler place is an easy way to focus your mind and body. (Hat tip to Michael Hyatt for this one.)

Step 6: Sit up or stand up.

When you sit hunched over, your chest is in a collapsed position and your diaphragm is pressing against the bottom of your lungs, which hinders your ability to breathe easily and deeply. Sit up straight or stand up and you’ll find that you can breathe easier and more fully. As a result, your brain will get more oxygen and you’ll be able to concentrate better.

Step 7: Develop a “pre–game routine” to start your day.

My morning routine starts by pouring a cold glass of water. Some people kick off their day with ten minutes of meditation. Similarly, you should have a sequence that starts your morning ritual. This tiny routine signals to your brain that it’s time to get into work mode or exercise mode or whatever mode you need to be in to accomplish your task. Additionally, a pre–game routine helps you overcome a lack of motivation and get things done even when you don’t feel like it.

Power up and be more productive

How to use your time productively

How to use your time productively

How to use your time productively

The Balance / Theresa Chiechi

Do you feel the need to be more organized and/or more productive? Do you spend your day in a frenzy of activity and then wonder why you haven’t accomplished much? Then these time management tips are for you — they’ll help you increase your productivity and stay cool and collected.

1. Realize That Time Management Is a Myth

This is the first thing you have to understand about time management, that no matter how organized we are, there are always only 24 hours in a day. Time doesn’t change. All we can actually manage is ourselves and what we do with the time that we have. Appreciate this. Internalize it. And move on as soon as possible to the next tip.

2. Find out Where You’re Wasting Time

Many of us are prey to time-wasters that steal time we could be using much more productively. What are your time bandits? Do you spend too much time Internet surfing, reading email, Facebook posting, texting, or making personal calls?

In a survey by salary.com, 89 percent of respondents admitted to wasting time every day at work:

  • 31 percent waste roughly 30 minutes daily
  • 31 percent waste roughly one hour daily
  • 16 percent waste roughly two hours daily
  • 6 percent waste roughly three hours daily
  • 2 percent waste roughly four hours daily
  • 2 percent waste five or more hours daily

Are you a time-waster? Tracking daily activities helps to form an accurate picture of how much time you spend on various activities, which is the first step to effective time management.

3. Create Time Management Goals

Remember, the focus of time management is actually changing your behaviors, not changing time. A good place to start is by eliminating your personal time-wasters. For one week, for example, set a goal that you’re not going to take personal phone calls or respond to non-work related text messages while you’re working.

4. Implement a Time Management Plan

Think of this as an extension of the third time management tip. The objective is to change your behaviors over time to achieve whatever general goal you’ve set for yourself, such as increasing your productivity or decreasing your stress. So you need to not only set your specific goals but track them over time to see whether or not you’re accomplishing them.

5. Use Time Management Tools

Whether it’s a planner, a software program, or a phone app, the first step to physically managing your time is to know where it’s going now and planning how you’re going to spend your time in the future. A software program such as Outlook, for instance, lets you schedule events easily and can be set to remind you of events in advance, making your time management easier.

6. Prioritize Ruthlessly

You should start each day with a session prioritizing the tasks for that day and setting your performance benchmark. If you have 20 tasks for a given day, how many of them do you truly need to accomplish?

7. Learn to Delegate And/Or Outsource

Delegation is one of the hardest things to learn how to do for many business owners, but no matter how small your business is, there’s no need for you to be a one-person show — you need to let other people carry some of the load. Delegation shares the tasks you’d be better off leaving to someone else, so you can make the most of the time that you have.

8. Establish Routines and Stick to Them as Much as Possible

While crises will arise, you’ll be much more productive if you can follow routines most of the time. For most people, creating and following a routine lets them get right down to the tasks of the day rather than frittering away time getting started.

9. Get in the Habit of Setting Time Limits for Tasks

For instance, reading and answering email can consume your whole day if you let it. Instead, set a limit of one hour a day for this task and stick to it. (The easiest way to do this is to assign a solid block of time to this task rather than answering email on demand.)

10. Be Sure Your Systems Are Organized

Are you wasting a lot of time looking for files on your computer? Take the time to organize a file management system. Is your filing system slowing you down? Redo it, so it’s organized to the point that you can quickly lay your hands on what you need.

11. Don’t Waste Time Waiting

From client meetings to dentist appointments, it’s impossible to avoid waiting for someone or something. But you don’t need to just sit there and twiddle your thumbs. Technology makes it easy to work wherever you are; your tablet or smartphone will help you stay connected. You can be reading a report, checking a spreadsheet, or planning your next marketing campaign.

A Bonus Tip: Your Time Belongs to You

And here’s the most important time management tip of all. You can be in control and accomplish what you want to accomplish — once you’ve come to grips with the time management myth and taken control of your time.

Through using smaller blocks of time you can cover material in chunks (more on the next page) and not have to worry about the larger whole. A mistake that many people make is that they try to cram information into their minds in one large session. This isn’t a successful strategy for most students.

Look for smaller blocks of time to study. If you are a public transit user, you can likely spend 20 minutes on your bus ride to read or review for your upcoming class or exam. You could even listen to an audio recording of your notes. In the evening, instead of watching three episodes of your favourite TV show, you could watch one and spend the remaining time preparing for your studies. Going out to eat often? Consider making something simple at home that you could put in the oven to cook without needing tending to; that time could be used doing some work for class and still leave you time for other activities once dinner is done.

Making time for your studies can be overwhelming. The following video introduces you to ways to use smaller blocks of time to get your tasks done, while not using up numerous hours at once.

Click on the video to learn more as you continue down this pathway. Answer the questions (by clicking on the icons that appear) to further your learning. When you are finished, click the next section arrow to move ahead.

Video Transcript: Using Small Blocks of Time Productively

One trick to balancing work and study is taking advantage of small blocks of time to get things done.

In this video, you will consider the small blocks of time in your schedule, and identify strategies to increase your productivity during these moments in your day.

Often, we think we need to have a lot of time available for study, or we think that we can only study at home or in the library. By adjusting your thinking, you’ll be able to open up additional productive learning time.

  • Do you commute by transit? Though it wouldn’t be ideal to try to master detailed or complicated reading material on the bus, perhaps you can do some initial scanning or skimming while in transit, to prepare yourself for class or deeper reading later.
  • Consider creating flash cards for material that you need to learn. You can take a set of flash cards with you and work whenever a few minutes become available. If you use one of the many flash card or self-testing apps available on your phone, you’ll be able to easily pull out your phone and make use of those small blocks of time.
  • Self-testing is one of the most effective ways to learn. Create a list of study questions for your course. Pull out the list when you have time available, and review a few questions. Keep track of those you answer correctly, and those you need to study more.
  • Does your course include access to online videos that explain and review key concepts? Watch a video or two to review, or to improve your understanding of a key course idea.
  • Some courses also include access to online self-study questions. Try answering a few review questions in your spare moments. These online quizzes usually provide immediate feedback on what you understand, and what you should study further.
  • Do you like to learn by listening? Make an audio recording of the important points you want to remember, and listen while you commute or exercise. Maybe audio books are for you – are any of your course materials available in this format?

How to use your time productively

The Time Chunking Method

  • The first step in being productive is establishing a good reason for doing something
    • Need to explicitly state goal to yourself and make it personal
    • Reason needs to be compelling enough to motivate you; shift your mindset and you’ll be more productive
    • Provides a sense of accountability: Write down your reasons for taking action and put it on a sticky note à There’s something powerful about having your goals written in front of you
  • How it Works: Schedule your entire workday in 30-min chunks
    • First 25 minutes is spent doing a particular task or a batch of tasks
    • After 25min, take a 5min break
    • Repeat 4 times, then take a 15min break
      • Work for 25min
        • Take 5 min break
      • Work for 25min
        • Take 5 min break
      • Work for 25min
        • Take 5 min break
      • Work for 25 min
        • Take 15minbreak
    • You can do whatever you want during a 5min break, as long as it fits in the timeframe
      • 5 min may not seem like a lot of time but that’s the point
      • Gives you enough time to get up and stretch your legs/get a snack, BUT NOT enough time to go down a rabbit hole of YouTube videos or social media
  • During 25 min work chunks…
    • Focus on performing a SINGLE TASK and IGNORE EVERYTHING ELSE
  • Batching: focus on a group of small, related items on your to-do-list
    • Doing dishes, tidying up, doing laundry, etc.
    • None will take entire 25min
    • Working in batches can be extremely time-effective; devoting an entire 25min segment reduces distraction; get a lot done without getting lost in a huge pool of tiny tasks
    • NOTE: BATCHING HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MULTI-TASKING; FOCUS ON ONE SINGLE TASK AT A TIME

How to use your time productively

Why is Time Chunking so Effective?

  1. Limits the amount of time the brain is forced to focus: We can only give full focus to a particular task for short periods of time, and 25 min work periods have been scientifically proven to be the most effective.
  2. Greatly reduces the tendency to procrastinate à Anyone can work for 25 min, not that bad and pretty manageable
  3. Reduces distraction that stems from attempting to multitask
  4. Pushes the individual towards actually completing tasks rather than just endlessly working on them à you become aware of exactly how long it is taking you because of uniform 25min work segments
    1. Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”
    2. Discourages Perfectionism

The Time Chunking Method: A 10-Step Action Plan For Increasing Your Productivity by Damon Zahariades

Everyone gets 24 hours in a day. Here’s how to use them effectively.

Everyone has 24 hours in a day, but some people work harder at maximizing their time than others. Nasdaq CEO Bob Greifeld, for instance, changes clothes in his car. Inventor Yoshiro Nakamatsu says his best ideas are formed underwater, so he uses a waterproof memo device to jot them down while submerged. Sociologist and entrepreneur Anna Akbari tries to reduce decision fatigue by eating the same breakfast and lunch every day.

If taking notes underwater is the system that makes you most efficient, that’s great. But for most of us, maximizing each day isn’t so much about shaving off a few minutes here or there, but focusing on the tasks that have the biggest impact.

Here are three systems for truly using your time to the fullest, no car-changing required.

The Most Important Task (MIT) method

Just because every item on your to-do list has its own bullet point doesn’t mean they’re all of equal weight. But how to figure out which ones matter most?

Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA, uses what he calls the Most Important Task (MIT) method to figure out which tasks take precedence over all others.

At the beginning of each day, create a list of between two and three MITs by asking yourself what things, if you get them done today, will make the biggest difference. Write only those tasks on your MIT list, which you should keep separate from your general to-do list.

Tackle your MIT list during your prime hours, and give yourself permission to avoid interruptions or distractions that will interrupt your flow. You can even combine it with Parkinson’s Law (“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion”) and set a self-imposed deadline to keep you on track.

The Impact Matrix

As helpful as the MIT method can be, entrepreneurs often have several competing projects or ideas all vying for our attention, and it’s not always obvious which one we should pursue.

To help myself prioritize, I use a simple formula: Impact = scale x improvements. By scale, I mean metrics like customers, users, money, savings, etc. Improvements, of course, refer to improvements.

With this in mind, I make a four-box matrix, which you can access here. Label the rows “small improvement” and “big improvement,” and the columns “small number” and “large number.” This leaves you with four boxes.

Box A (small improvement, small number): Box A houses tasks that are low-risk, but also low-return. Even so, they do have a time and a place: At my company, Jotform, we start new hires off with “Box A” projects, like fixing minor bugs, while they get the hang of things. That said, most of us should avoid sinking too much time on Box A.

Box B (small number, big improvement): Box B tasks are my least favorite. These are projects that are incredibly resource-intensive but serve very little purpose. Say you’re a designer, and you pour tons of time into creating a UI feature that only applies to 1 percent of users. Sure, maybe a handful of people find it useful, but you’ve also added lots of complexity to the UI, which is a net negative. Avoid Box B tasks whenever possible.

Box C (large number, small improvement): Box C tasks are those that are relatively easy to implement but have a sizable impact. At Jotform, we regularly release small tweaks and improvements that make our users’ lives easier.

Box D (large number, big improvement): Box D tasks have it all. This quadrant represents a heavy lift that pays major dividends, be it a product release, a redesign or something else entirely. For example, at Jotform, we recently implemented a new HR system that positively impacts all 250 of our employees, enabling them for the first time to quickly and easily access key info. Sure, 250 doesn’t sound like a huge number, but because it represents 100 percent of our workforce, it’s definitely a Box D-worthy win.

The Eisenhower Matrix

The matrix I describe above can help discern which projects will have the most impact. But beyond scale and improvements, there’s another crucial metric to consider: Urgency.

Former President Dwight Eisenhower was known for focusing on importance and urgency when it came to prioritizing his actions. It was from this rationale that the Eisenhower Matrix was born.

Before you even draw out the matrix, take a minute to consider your parameters, suggest Ellen Auster and Shannon Auster-Weiss in a piece for Harvard Business Review. How do you define “importance?”? (Your impact matrix could be of help here.) Next, think about what “urgency” means to you. Does a project have a deadline? Has a client made a timely request? Think about the consequences of doing the task promptly, or delaying it.

Now you’re ready to create the matrix. Use the upper right corner to write tasks that are both important and urgent. These are high-priority tasks that need to be done now. In the upper left corner, write tasks that are important, but not urgent. Because these tasks are at risk of being postponed indefinitely, it’s a good idea to schedule a specific time to deal with them. As Auster and Auster-Weiss caution, “if these items are ignored, they will change from simmering on the back-burner to boiling over.”

The lower right corner is for less important but urgent tasks. Getting them done might be helpful to someone else on your team, and they’re a surefire way to knock some nagging items off your to-do list. Finally, there are the lowest-priority tasks; those which are less important and less urgent. If possible, eliminate any that are outdated or no longer useful. Think about the consequences of postponing them, or if ticking them off will result in a quick win.

There are plenty of kooky ways that people use to save time. But if you really want to get the most out of your 24 hours, you have to figure out what matters most, and start with that.

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Sue Hampson – Last Update: 18 Nov 2021

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Time management means using your time in an efficient and productive way.

Knowing how to divide your time between responsibilities and activities is an important skill, especially at work. It allows you to work smarter without necessarily working harder, getting more done in the time available instead of frantically scrabbling to tick everything off a rapidly expanding to-do list.

As well as making you a more efficient and productive worker, good time management can have a positive impact on other aspects of your life. People who are skilled at time management tend to be high achievers, earning a positive professional reputation. What’s more, effective time management tends to result in lower stress levels, making you a happier and more relaxed person.

So what’s the secret behind effective time management? In this article, we’ll cover some practical ideas you can use to better manage your time at work, as well as advice for leading teams to work smarter and be more productive.

How to be more productive and efficient with your time

Let’s start by considering what good time management looks like in practice. Think of a day when everything seemed to go well for you at work. What was it about this particular day that caused things to run more smoothly than usual?

Perhaps you started the day with a positive morning routine. Beginning your day with simple but productive tasks like exercise, journaling and meditation can give you a positive foundation to work from, putting you in the right mindset to achieve all the tasks you’ve set for yourself.

Maybe you batched your tasks in a way that reduced distractions and enabled you to get more done in less time. For example, instead of checking your emails every time you get one, you could assign a couple of half-hour blocks in the morning and afternoon to tackle and respond to all your emails at once. This means you won’t be interrupted by emails when you’re in a productive flow of work, allowing you to get things done more efficiently.

Another factor could be your style of communication. Communicating concisely means less time wasted writing long emails, or sitting through meetings that lack a clearly defined purpose. Many hours are lost at work through slow or inefficient communication; committing to a more succinct approach frees up time to focus on other tasks.

Consider how your time is currently filled when you’re at work. It might help to create a pie chart comprised of daily tasks like answering emails, attending meetings, completing admin and writing documents.

Which of the segments on your pie chart can be optimised, allowing you to complete the same amount of work in less time? When you’ve figured this out you can adjust your schedule accordingly, working smarter instead of harder to complete tasks in a more efficient and productive way.

Top tips for working smarter and avoiding procrastination

#1. Shorten your to-do list. Most people feel overwhelmed when they’re faced with an intimidatingly long to-do list, and this can lead to procrastination. A better approach is to rank your tasks in order of importance, and to focus solely on the top five most important activities of the day. By reducing the length of your list and beginning with high-priority tasks, you’re much more likely to achieve what you set out to do each day.

#2. Eliminate distractions. Distractions are the enemy of productivity. If you want to use your time efficiently and stay focused on work for longer, it’s essential to remove distractions such as email and social media notifications. These are common culprits for interrupting workflow, taking up valuable headspace and decreasing productivity. Turning off notifications can help to ensure that you aren’t distracted while working.

#3. Listen to your body clock. We all have peaks and troughs in our energy levels and ability to focus throughout the day. For example, it’s common to feel energised and motivated to tackle work in the morning, and to experience a slump in energy during the late afternoon. Figure out the times when your mind is at its prime, then use this information to plan when your most important tasks should be scheduled.

How to improve time management as a leader or manager

As a leader or manager, it’s especially important to understand the benefits of time management and instil a culture of productive working within your team.

Consider how your team’s environment might be affecting their productivity levels. Some employees might prefer to work in a quiet space, away from time-sapping distractions and talkative colleagues. Others may listen to music on headphones in order to focus their minds on the task at hand. Invite your team to share their preferred productivity methods and give them the chance to put these into practice at work.

Working hours can also be adjusted to optimise productivity within your team. Prioritise results and positive outcomes over hours worked – if it’s possible for a team member to fulfil their responsibilities more efficiently at a particular time of day, this should be encouraged.

Keep an eye out for areas where time is regularly wasted within your team. It might be that people are booking unnecessary meetings when a message could be more efficiently conveyed in an email. Conversely, colleagues might be spending too much time writing out lengthy emails when a quick phone call would do the job. When you’ve identified unproductive activities, suggest practical alternatives that your teammates can use to complete their work more efficiently.

Effects of time management on staff

The advantages of time management are clear to see: positive outcomes produced quickly, reduced stress levels and a culture of productive, results-focused work.

While time management is an important skill, leaders and manager should ensure that it doesn’t come at the cost of increased pressure or reduced morale.

Time management isn’t a tool for pushing staff to produce more work in less time. It should instead be seen as an enabler that allows everyone to work at their best, without wasting time on unproductive activities or distractions.

Need to develop your Leadership and Management skills?

Here are just some of courses we offer at TSW:

How much time do you waste in a typical workday? Minutes, hours or more? Whatever your industry or role, time management matters.

How to use your time productively

If you’re working from home without a daily commute, perhaps you feel time-rich. Or maybe the distractions or the lack of structure/organisation in the office might be weighing down on your productivity. Maybe you find yourself unable to shut off. Whatever the case, it’s more important than ever that you use that time wisely.

Effective time management leads to efficiency savings for companies, thereby increasing revenue. People with good time management skills tend to be more productive, motivated, and likely to meet deadlines. But, it’s not always easy to get this right.

‘Unlocking the UK’s ‘Daily Savings Time’, a report from US software company Workfront delivered alarming statistics about the amount of time wasted at work.

Key time management statistics

  • Workers waste 11.4 hours a week, costing £11,225 per employee per year.
  • Less than 60% of our working day is spent productively – with impromptu meetings and email being the most significant time wasters.
  • Workers waste 2 hours every day because of interruptions and distractions, even though 80% of these are trivial.
  • Workers spend up to 4 hours a day checking and managing email, receiving 300 + emails per week, although only 14% are crucial to their work.
  • Over half of workers spend an hour a day finding things, with 57% of workers spending up to an hour a day looking for missing documents.
  • Many attend up to 60 meetings per month if they are in professional roles.

Top tips to improve your time management skills

1. Produce a time log for a week

A weekly log will show you how you currently spend your time and how much you spend on non-productive tasks.

2. Use the important/urgent matrix to prioritise tasks

That ensures that you only spend time on important and urgent tasks (i.e. your top priorities). Anything else can wait!

3. Focus on important/urgent tasks when you’re most alert

This allows optimum concentration. But, remember to flip between high and low-attention tasks or take a micro-break (see point 5 below) to let your brain recover from mentally demanding activities.

4. Compile a ‘To-do’ list every day

A to-do list tracks all your priorities in one place and your progress. It structures what you have to get done, and you’ll get a sense of achievement as you’ll see you’re making progress. It is particularly useful when working from home as you’ll need to be more self-disciplined. Some choose to do this at the end of each day, others first thing in the morning.

5. Take micro-breaks between tasks

If you’re working at home, making a coffee and walking around for a short time reinvigorates you and benefits your posture. It ensures optimum concentration when you return to your desk. What’s more, if people around you (colleagues or family members) know you’ll be available later, this can limit their interruptions.

6. Look for signs of procrastination and take action

We procrastinate for many reasons (everything from unpleasant tasks to a fear of failure, perfectionism, feeling overwhelmed or a lack of organisation). Homeworkers beware: Daytime TV, long lunches, and social media can all lure you away from your primary focus. Don’t let them take over. If you procrastinate, figure out why and take action before you end up swamped. If you don’t, you’ll be working late into the night to catch up!

7. Manage meetings

Avoid all unnecessary meetings . If there’s no agenda or the right people (i.e. decision-makers) cannot attend, reschedule it.

8. Manage email

Switch off email notifications and check emails just two or three times a day; keep emails succinct and avoid ‘Replying to All’. Don’t look at your emails first thing. Instead, complete important/urgent tasks. Set aside short bursts of time (15-20 mins max) for responding to emails unless it’s core to your job; use folders to organise emails.

9. Learn to say no

What can you do to deal with a chatty colleague, a demanding boss who’s heaping more work on you, a customer who’s in no hurry to let you get on, or – at home – an unexpected visitor or curious family member? Rehearse strategies for dealing with interruptions and learn to say no without offending.

10. Reduce your exposure

For tasks that require intense focus, don’t be afraid to turn off your emails or instant message notifications, put your smartphone on silent, even go and work in another office to minimise distractions. If you’re home working, headphones help limit interruptions. Plus, they are a visual reminder to others that you are busy. Finally, remember to respect others’ time by keeping your interruptions to a minimum too! By making every second of work time count, you’ll have even more time to spend on the other things you love.

How to use your time productively

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How to use your time productively

If your company subscribes to the “results only” philosophy, when you’re done with your work for the day, you’re free to go. (Hello, happy hour!)

But if you’re like most of the corporate world, you’re stuck to a rigid schedule—even if you’re done with the day’s duties, you have to sit at your desk twiddling your thumbs (or clicking your way through the wilds of the internet) as you wait for the clock to strike five.

So, it’s barely tea time, and you’ve had a cuppa, finished all your work, and nobody seems to need a helping hand. What are some ways you can spend this free-yet-caged time productively?

My advice: Embark on some continuing work education. Here are four suggestions for self-directed learning that you can easily fit into the last hour or so of your day.

1. Immersion

Sure, there’s flood of information on the web, but are you using it to your advantage? Do you know about (and keep up with) all the media streams that are relevant to your field? What are people talking about on industry blogs and LinkedIn? When you find yourself with a few extra minutes in your workday, immerse yourself in that stream of current events and catch up on relevant news.

And if you keep up with your industry happenings already, why not take steps to be recognized as an expert, too? Tell people about what you’re interested in—whether through writing your own pieces, answering questions on Quora, or interacting with social networks. Sharing your opinions is a great way to connect with others in your field and establish your own voice on topics that are important to you.

2. Expansion

If you miss the classroom or just love learning on your own, consider taking some courses to expand your knowledge base and skill set. There are tons of free online courses available, whether you choose a class in your current field or try out a completely separate interest. For example, you can learn to code (a superstar skill in this modern age) at Codecademy or visit MIT’s website for management lessons.

And don’t be afraid to branch out to subjects that aren’t directly related to your work, as long as they help you develop skills that you could use for the benefit of your company (after all, you are on company time!). For example, if your firm has locations in other countries, consider learning a new language—which, as an added benefit, has been shown to help keep your brain in tip-top shape!

Check out Open Culture for a great collection of links to free courses and language lessons, and Lifehacker for great course picks that change every semester.

3. Time Restoration

The repetitive Office Space aspect of work (TPS reports, anyone?) is almost inescapable, no matter how cool your job is. So, one effective way of spending your extra time is to pinpoint particularly redundant or time-consuming little tasks that you or your colleagues do regularly, and search for ways to help you streamline those processes.

For example, if you type the same thing over and over again, TextExpander can save those frequently used snippets of text to help you breeze through repetitive forms. If you use multiple interacting apps (like Facebook and Twitter, for example), IFTTT allows you to connect them (so, for instance, a tweet could trigger an identical Facebook status). Tech blogs and sites like BestVendor are a great place to brush up on your app knowledge, so you can always have suggestions ready for your co-workers.

4. Reflection

We spend so much time at work doing stuff that we rarely take a moment to step back and evaluate how we do that work. But taking a little time to reflect can increase your self-knowledge, help you maximize your potential, and shed some light onto areas where you can improve.

To do this most effectively, keep a regular work diary. There’s no one right way to journal, but start by taking a few minutes each day to write down what you accomplished (it’s important to focus on the positives!), as well as any challenges or setbacks you encountered. Over time, you’ll be able to identify patterns in your productivity and creativity, recognize unconstructive habits, and capitalize on your strengths. (Check out The Progress Principle for an example of how an engineer, who was fraught with anxiety after several of her team members were laid off, used a work diary to develop a plan to move forward.)

There’s more to your career than your assignments and task list—so when you have the extra time, take advantage of it to further your professional development. By cultivating new knowledge and self-awareness, you’ll become more engaged with your field, understand how to work better, and perhaps even discover something exciting about yourself.

Everyone’s time is valuable, whether they assign a dollar value to it or not. Poor time management skills can cause:

  • lack of sleep
  • unhappiness
  • health complications and stress.

Just the thought of having too little time to complete work is enough to make most people feel stressed!

While there are many ways of improving time management – such as writing a schedule, prioritizing, adjusting your sleeping patterns and downloading productivity apps – if you don’t fully understand why time management is important, you may not have the motivation to change.

That’s why you need to look at the big picture. Why is time management so important? Here are the top ten reasons.

Reason #1. It improves your self-discipline

Let’s face it, if you have good time management skills, the chances are that you’re highly self-disciplined. You’re the kind of person who stops procrastination dead in its tracks and drives forward to achieve your goals. This self-discipline improves other areas of your life too, from your career to your relationships. In other words, the better you get at time management, the better your self-discipline will be. This will make you more successful at meeting goals in all areas of your life.

Reason #2. It improves the quality of your work

Having good time management skills doesn’t mean that you pull all-nighters to meet a deadline. It means that you manage your time effectively and space out your work while keeping your regular sleeping routine. According to research, almost half of Americans regularly get insufficient or low-quality sleep and report that this interferes with their daily lives. You need a good night’s sleep if you want to produce quality work; good time management skills will help you get the rest you need.

Reason #3. Winding down is essential

Between work, family commitments and running errands, most of us don’t get enough time to relax. If you want to have enough time to unwind, relax and prepare for the following day, good time management skills are essential. You need to know how to organize your work times and your break times to recuperate mentally and physically after a long day’s work.

Reason #4. It reduces stress

Take a few moments to reflect on your day:

  • Do you feel as though you’re always busy, but accomplish little?
  • Is there something that’s been keeping you up at night with worry?
  • Are you unable to complete your work?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of those questions, you’re likely feeling stressed. When you don’t feel as though you have control of your time and are always frantically working to meet deadlines, it’s highly likely that your health is suffering. Time management skills can help to reduce or even eliminate stress. Good time management skills will make you more productive, helping you to meet your deadlines and lowering your stress levels.

Reason #5. It opens up new possibilities

One of the hidden dangers of poor time management is that it kills your chances of broadening your horizons and trying out new things. If you go through life rushing from one task to the next, you never have the chance to explore different opportunities. With more free time, you may be able to volunteer at a local charity or help someone in need. It’s hard to put a dollar value on these types of tasks but they are innately fulfilling and enriching.

Reason #6. It helps your personal relationships

Good time management skills are essential to having strong and productive relationships. The more free time you have to spend with your friends and family, the better your relationships will be. You’ll make better decisions, have better ideas, and people around you will notice. Stronger personal relationships will enhance all aspects of your life.

Reason #7. It improves your career

Rather than going with the flow, having good time management skills lets you control your life and take the lead at work. By getting enough quality rest and sleep, you’ll be better placed to make sound decisions at work. Others will notice and this will help increase your opportunities for promotion.

Reason #8. It enhances your decision-making ability

Time management skills help you avoid stress and get enough sleep. This has a powerful effect on the quality of your decisions and, in turn, affects almost every aspect of your life, from your career progression to your relationships, friendships and social life. Through effective time management, you can avoid making the poor decisions that you make when you’re feeling stressed, tired or pressured.

Reason #9. You can accomplish more

Being in control of your time is great for productivity. You’ll find that you can get far more done in less time when you aren’t constantly rushed off your feet. You’ll have enhanced focus and efficiency because you won’t lose momentum by having to deal with multiple time-sensitive tasks in a rushed manner. You’ll breeze through your work day and time will fly by.

Reason #10. It stops you from missing opportunities

Poor time management skills will destroy your productivity and this, in turn, will cause you to miss opportunities. For example, if a colleague consistently outperforms you at work, they’ll likely be promoted ahead of you, leaving you trailing in their wake. If you want to rise through the ranks, good time management skills will help you manage your time and capitalize on more opportunities.

How good time management creates a positive cycle

Reading through the ten reasons why time management is important, it’s easy to see that you create a positive cycle when you start to improve your time management skills. You’ll perform better at work, grab more opportunities, have more free time and feel generally happier. Good time management skills dramatically improve all aspects of your life. All you have to do is get started!

It’s easy to confuse being busy with being productive. You might be working like a dog, but how much are you actually getting done?

Find a way to get stuff done and you’ll have more free time to do the things you love. So what are the secrets to being productive?

More articles from this author:

Here’s a 12-item productivity toolkit to get you started.

1) Weekly planner

Best done on a Sunday night, so you start the week knowing exactly what’s coming up. Uni assignments, part-time work, exercise, socials, calls home – write it all down.

Use your phone’s calendar, use a fancy app, or use plain old pen and paper – whatever works best for you. Just get it all out of your head and onto a planner.

2) Daily to-do list

How to use your time productively

Get into the habit of doing this before bed each night. You’ll lay down with a clear mind and you should sleep all the better for it.

Be realistic. You might have 20 things to do but you can’t do them all tomorrow. The trick is to prioritise, which brings us nicely to…

3) The Eisenhower Matrix

Draw a big square and divide it into two columns. Above the left-hand column, write URGENT. Above the right-hand column, NOT URGENT.

Next, draw a horizontal line through the middle of the square to make a grid. To the left of the top row, write IMPORTANT. Write NOT IMPORTANT next to bottom row. Now you’ve got:

  1. Urgent AND important
  2. Not urgent BUT important
  3. Urgent BUT not important
  4. Not urgent AND not important

Plot the tasks from your to-do list on the grid and – hey presto – you’ve got a plan of action. Focus on the number 1s and 2s first. Then, as your time-management skills improve, you’ll find you have fewer tasks to do urgently.

4) Breakfast

Whether it’s the most important meal of the day or not is up for debate. But if you want to be productive, a good breakfast within an hour of waking up will really help.

Wholemeal toast, eggs, a green smoothie, porridge, natural yoghurt, fruit, a glass of water. Some combination of these things will set you on the right path.

5) Water

A big glass of water first thing in the morning will rehydrate you after sleep and get your metabolism going for the day.

But it’s important to drink water throughout the day too. Two litres of the stuff, to be precise. Dehydration makes you sluggish and sloppy, not the ideal feelings for study.

6) Airplane mode

When you sit down to work, try to remove the potential for distraction. Since most of those come from your phone, switch it off or put it on airplane mode.

Need some motivation? Get Forest, the app that helps you stay focused and be present by planting trees when you ignore your phone. Real trees.

7) Gum

There’s some evidence to suggest chewing can boost your attention, relieve stress, and make you feel more alert. So it’s worth trying some gum in your next study session.

Don’t overdo it though. Two or three pieces a day is plenty. And if you’re worried about artificial bad stuff, look for a sugar-free, aspartame-free brand.

8) Noisli

I take any opportunity I can to recommend this app. Noisli is the background noise generator that helps you block out those unpredictable, distracting noises.

Leaves rustling in the wind, a crackling fire, waves breaking on the shore. Use the free online version of Noisli when you study and see if it helps you focus.

How to use your time productively

Learn something new while waiting in line at security.

Learn something new while waiting in line at security.

I’m writing this article on a flight to Raleigh-Durham; I began it last week on a train from New York City, and added a few paragraphs a couple days later on a flight to San Francisco. I’m not alone: the Global Business Travel Association predicts that business travel spending will hit an all-time high of $1.25 trillion in 2015, a 6.5% increase over last year. Even in an era of video conferencing, face-to-face meetings are still an irreplaceable business tool, and many professionals (like me) spend a majority of our time on the road.

Of course, life doesn’t stop when you’re in the air: emails still pour in, and reports and proposals are still expected. Even if it’s a travel day, it’s still a work day. But staying productive on the road — while navigating unfamiliar destinations, schlepping heavy luggage, and dealing with not-infrequent delays and inconveniences — can be a herculean challenge. Here’s how to accomplish more while in transit.

You can engage in professional development by listening to podcasts. Many airport rituals are short and staccato — five minutes in line to check a bag, 10 minutes to get through security, five minutes walking to the gate, and 10 minutes standing in line to board. You certainly can’t whip out a laptop and start typing while you’re standing up and juggling your boarding pass and picture ID. Instead, podcasts are a perfect, hands-free way to mitigate your annoyance and learn something new. If a crackling loudspeaker interrupts your listening, you can easily rewind and replay what you missed. There are countless podcasts available on relevant professional topics, from legal issues to project management to entrepreneurship to marketing. HBR has its own weekly podcast as well.

You and Your Team

Business Travel

If you have access to an airport lounge (where it’s quieter), you can also use the time to make a series of short phone calls. Productivity expert David Allen, whom I profile in my new book Stand Out, recommends keeping a “to call” list so that you can cluster the phone calls you need to make and bang them out in a row. Keith Ferrazzi, who writes frequently about networking, is also an advocate of short phone calls as a way of keeping your relationship alive with casual contacts. For instance, Facebook tracks your connections’ birthdays; the thoughtful gesture of making a few quick birthday calls while you’re waiting to board could make someone’s day and cement your bond.

Though internet access is becoming more common on flights, it’s still not a given. Even when wifi is offered, it can be slow or patchy. That’s why I generally focus on writing projects that don’t require use of the internet. I’ll download all the necessary information and supporting materials beforehand, and then go offline to complete projects like writing articles (including this one), edits to book chapters, client reports, or interview questions I’ve committed to answer. The lack of internet access often enables me to focus better and avoid the distracting rabbit hole of online research that can delay my writing at the office.

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How to use your time productively

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And remember — as with everything — there’s a balance. Numerous studies have touted the benefits of “strategic renewal.” Instead of using all of your time on the plane to plow through reports or fine-tune a presentation deck, take some time for yourself. Do some pleasure reading – splurge on a magazine or a thriller at the airport newsstand (indeed, according to Airport Revenue News, the average passenger spends nearly $11 at the airport). Taking some downtime away from the grinding pace of work may enable you to be sharper once you get down to business.

February 4, 2021

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A mastery of time-management skills enables a professional to accomplish their daily responsibilities quickly and effectively. If you’re a professional who finds time management challenging, it can be helpful to know different techniques you can use to develop time-management skills. In this article, we discuss 10 ways to manage your time more effectively.

Why are time-management skills important?

Time-management skills are a broad set of skills that help you manage the time you spend during the workday and ensure that it’s being spent as effectively as possible. A few essential time-management skills include:

Prioritization

This is the act of assigning a level of importance to different tasks and ensuring that tasks of higher importance are accomplished before tasks of lower importance. Effectively prioritizing your tasks requires that you have a strong understanding of how long each job you have will take you to complete. Becoming skilled at prioritizing your responsibilities will also allow you to complete your essential tasks more efficiently.

Planning

Being able to analyze a task or a set of tasks and develop a schedule for their completion is essential. Effective time management requires you to have strong planning skills to ensure you can develop and apply an organized understanding of your responsibilities when constructing your task schedules.

Stress management

The ability to recognize your personal stress levels and make accommodations within your work can keep your level of stress low. Rewarding yourself, delegating your tasks and taking breaks when needed allows you to stay focused and motivated as you accomplish each of the daily tasks on your schedule. Understanding your stress levels will also help you effectively use breaks during your day and know when to turn down tasks that will overwhelm you.

Goal-setting

Setting defined goals for yourself throughout your work, such as accomplishing a specific task or a segment of a job, is an essential part of time management. Setting a series of realistic goals and a series of optimal goals allows you to feel each accomplishment throughout your day as a source of motivation and encouragement. Goal-setting can work in tandem with stress management to help you increase your efficiency on an hourly and daily basis.

Communication

This skill represents your ability to express your goals, plans and needs in verbal and written forms. Well-developed communication skills allow you to develop efficient schedules and plans. It also helps you in accomplishing your tasks more effectively through delegation and teamwork.

How to improve time-management skills

Try some of these 10 techniques to improve time management:

Start your tasks early.

Set limits for what you’ll say yes to.

Give yourself breaks.

Prioritize your tasks.

Schedule your tasks and deadlines.

Organize your workplace.

Learn your patterns of productivity.

Use technology to help keep you accountable.

Focus on one task at a time.

Reinforce your good habits.

1. Start your tasks early

If you have the opportunity, starting a task before you’re scheduled to begin working on it can help you overcome the initial preparatory stages of an assignment. This enables you to start developing your strategy preemptively, which can also help overcome procrastination.

2. Set limits for what you’ll say yes to

Many people will accept as many responsibilities as others ask of them to make a positive impression and demonstrate their dedication to their work. However, taking on too many responsibilities can make developing a schedule that accommodates all of your tasks very challenging. Setting limits for how many active jobs you’re willing to accept from others can help you avoid having an overwhelming number of responsibilities.

3. Give yourself breaks

Dedicating time in your day to brief disconnections from your work will allow you to decompress and come back to your active tasks with a new perspective. Learning when to take dedicated breaks throughout your day will also help you develop effective stress management habits.

4. Prioritize your tasks

Determine how important each of your tasks is to each other. Assigning a priority to specific tasks can help you focus your efforts on the things that need your time the most. Practicing prioritizing your tasks allows you to understand how to better construct your schedules and identify which tasks are worth delegating.

5. Schedule your tasks and their deadlines

Take time to compose a detailed schedule for each of your active tasks and set firm deadlines for them. Doing this can help you visualize which tasks need more effort and can help you better understand the pace at which you’re capable of completing your work. Make a habit of keeping your schedule up to date, as a comprehensive schedule can serve as the foundation for helping you grow your planning and prioritization skills.

6. Organize your workspace

An organized workspace can help you save time within your day by preventing you from having to search for the materials you need to complete each task. Additionally, developing organizational skills will help you strengthen your planning capabilities. Not having to worry about finding particular documents or task materials will help alleviate daily stress.

7. Learn your patterns of productivity

Everybody has different patterns of how productive they are throughout their day. Some people are much more efficient in the earlier hours of the day, whereas others may not hit their productivity peak until after lunch. Identifying what times of day are the most productive for you can help you use each part of the day more effectively. By scheduling faster or easier tasks during your less productive times, you ensure that your peak productivity is being devoted to longer, higher-priority tasks.

8. Use technology to help keep you accountable

Time tracking and daily management software are becoming more commonly integrated into the workplace every year. Time-tracking software lets you time how long it takes you to complete individual tasks, and daily management software integrates your time-tracking results into your schedule. Together, these tools will allow you to create more realistic and accurate schedules and can help you catch yourself before becoming distracted or procrastinating for too long.

9. Focus on one task at a time

Multitasking may seem like an effective strategy to accomplish multiple tasks more quickly. However, those who focus on completing two assignments one at a time typically complete each task faster and with greater quality than those who multitask. Spending your time focusing on completing one task at a time will also help you reduce the potential for distractions.

10. Reinforce your good habits

When you finish tasks or you notice that you’ve made a difference in your productivity by developing your time-management skills using some of these techniques, you may want to reinforce your success with a small reward. Finding an enjoyable reward for yourself that doesn’t detract from your daily productivity may reduce stress and motivate you to continue developing your time-management skills.

One of my greatest challenges when I switched to freelancing was managing my time. Taking too many breaks; not taking any breaks. Worse—taking a “break” to do other work-related tasks, like cleaning out my inbox or catch-up reading marketing newsletter subscriptions.

When I would take a proper break, too often I found myself doomscrolling through news or social media on my phone. Hardly the most energizing or invigorating experience.

We don’t need to hide our phones during a break. We just need mobile break options that improve our state of mind—not bring us down. With a lot of personal trial and error, I’ve found six different ways to use my phone on a break, each one that refreshes me, clears my head, and re-energizes me.

1. Listen to a short podcast

Get a couple podcasts in your subscription list with episodes under 15 minutes. That way, you make it through the whole thing and don’t get sucked into a longer-than-intended break. (Pro tip: go with something episodic so you don’t risk a cliffhanger.)

ListenNotes is a great podcast search engine, and you can filter for podcast length on its free version.

It may take some time to find the one or two short podcasts that work for you. I originally tried a couple “poem of the day” podcasts. Turns out that contemporary poets are a fairly gloomy lot, and that wasn’t the vibe I wanted on a break. My go-to short podcasts are Accessible Art History and Cabinet of Curiosities.

2. Get in some foreign language study

I don’t care what the books say: nobody is learning a foreign language in just 15 minutes a day. But that 15 minutes can be a useful time to get some supplemental learning done.

Most foreign language learning apps have short review lessons, vocabulary tests, or games you can do on your phone. Duolingo is a great, free option for learning vocab. You could also find a short easy language podcast. Since I want to restart learning Italian, I did a ListenNotes search to find one.

Try a few different phrases in your search: for example, the phrase “easy Italian,” rather than “beginning Italian” or “beginner Italian” returned the longest list for me. Then you can narrow it down by category so you’re learning through something you care about.

3. Try walking meditation

Mindfulness, guided meditation, and breathing exercises are great for a 15-minute break (or even a one-minute break). But if you want to get out of your chair, you might try walking meditation.

We know walking is good for the brain, so why not give it a shot? Calm and Headspace, two popular meditation apps, both have a bunch of walking meditation sessions.

It sounded odd and a bit dangerous to me at first, like I’d zombie walk into oncoming traffic or a pond as I focused inward. But as it turns out, walking mediation is about noticing your surroundings and being aware of your body’s movements. I find it refreshing and relaxing.

4. Create and listen to 15-minute playlists

You already have playlists for everything else. Create a few short ones to play during a break, depending on what you need that break to do—there’s a wide body of research on the positive impact music has on our brains, so if you can match the music to the mood, you’re good to go.

Do a search on “energize,” “relax,” or “destress” in whatever music app you use.

The snowstorm sounds initially made my list because I’d heard that nature sounds were the way to go. I’ve since learned I do not find snowstorm noises relaxing. Remove from playlist.

Now I stick to music. Songs with a heavy baseline relax me, like Peggy Lee’s “Fever” or Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day.” A slow tempo sarabande works for me too, especially something by Handel or Bach. If I want to get energized, glam rock and classic rock make me smile. Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” never fails, nor does pretty much anything by AC/DC.

5. Enjoy a long read of personal interest

We’re all pro scanners now, especially of headlines for think pieces we don’t have time to read. Instead of just skimming headlines and pull quotes, use a read-it-later app to clip those longer reads and saved them for your 15-minute breaks.

While the read-it-later app is also useful to clip and manage all the work- and industry-related articles you want to read, that’s not what you want during your break. Instead, find some sources or authors that regularly publish long reads with a strictly personal appeal. I’m a big fan of Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings, or you can stick to something more classic like The New Yorker. You might also try writer aggregation sites like Medium and Substack, where you’ll find content on every topic imaginable.

One more suggestion: Blinkist. It condenses nonfiction books and podcasts into 15 minutes, and the synopses are available as text to read or as an audiobook. Here’s a look at the categories; I’ve made some editorial suggestions on categories good for breaks and those that aren’t quite break material.

6. If you just can’t resist the social media . . .

This option requires discipline: you don’t want to fall into Twitter toxicity or weirdly inauthentic lifestyle Instagram feeds. Instead, pre-select specific hashtags or accounts that bring you joy or relax you. The Dodo (@dodo) and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (@SheldrickTrust) have happy animal videos. Highly recommend.

Again: this option is only for the highly disciplined. To be honest, I’m not there yet.

A break worthy of the name takes some planning

You’re most likely to take a positive break if you’ve already sourced a working list of good options that work for you. If you have to search for things to do every time, that’s the opposite of the point. So make sure to have a series of mobile break content clipped, created, or saved so you can mentally roll through your options quickly and get on to the break.

Bonus option #7: It’s a phone. Call someone close and have a chat.

This article was originally published on Fast Company Magazine.

How to use your time productively

A long commute might feel like a waste of time if you’re spending the entire time upset about it. And chances are that you’ve gotten used to a different kind of morning when working from home, so you’ll have to readjust to your journey to work. Data from Robert Half shows that 50 percent of all surveyed workers feel that traveling to and from the office is stressful. But what if you found a way to use that time productively to prime yourself for a great day? Read on for seven tips on making your long commute feel like an opportunity rather than a hassle.

1. Problem-solve

While you don’t have to use your long commute to work, sometimes the most productive way to use your time is to solve one problem. Think about one work topic, a project, or an issue with the team dynamic. What are the roots of the problem? Is there a way to communicate or delegate it away? How do we prevent it from happening again?

In addition to flexing your critical thinking skills, this exercise will also improve your working memory. Without the ability to write down your thoughts and reference them at a later time, you’ll be forced to remember the intricacies of your argument and explain them to your coworkers after a short period of time.

2. Get inspired

Another productive way to use your long commute is by having fun! Put on your favorite album, turn the volume up, and rock out. A study from the University of Rochester says that your brainwaves synchronize to the music you listen to, so faster, upbeat music can make you feel more focused and optimistic.

If you’re not in an especially musical mood, that’s okay – words are just as powerful as music. Put on a funny radio show or an inspiring audiobook to prime yourself for an inspiring day. Research shows that comedy and laughter boost productivity, as happy people work harder and accomplish more tasks in less time.

3. Utilize stop-and-go traffic

The most annoying part of a long commute is undoubtedly stop-and-go traffic, but there are plenty of ways to turn this annoyance into something relaxing. If you reframe your mindset around the irritating parts of your commute, you’ll come to work much more refreshed and less frazzled.

Studies show that stop-and-go traffic increases levels of anger and aggression, which ultimately impacts one’s memory and information processing. So if you see stop-and-go traffic start to emerge, try using the time to do something healing to steer yourself away from feelings of rage. These include a list of things you’re grateful for, a short meditation, or a couple of positive affirmations.

4. Learn something

Next, try using your long commute productively by learning something you might not have the time or energy to do otherwise. You can still learn languages from a language tape or use an app that’s commuter-friendly. You can also indulge your inner history nerd or get educated on political issues with a podcast.

Your quest for knowledge doesn’t have to end when you get out of the car or off the subway. Once you’re at work, you can head over to the watercooler or chat during your lunch hour, and tell your coworkers what you’ve learned – because we all know that the best way to learn is to teach.

5. Calling someone

You might not consider relationship-building as a feature of productivity. But remember that no matter what you’re doing, whether inside the office or out, you need a solid support system to help aid and uplift you through life. Without healthy relationships at home, you might experience what psychologists call “spillover effects,” when the stress of your home life causes your work to suffer.

In addition to helping your work life, you might end up bolstering the productivity of others you speak to as well. Your family or friends may not have the chance to talk about their days, hobbies, or life updates – and maybe you don’t either. But by devoting time to communicating with those closest to you, your special bonds can easily be nurtured.

6. Screen-free mindfulness

These days, driving might be the only time of day that your phone isn’t glued to your hand. You might even be tempted to check your email, send a text, or call a client in the car on the way to work. But this is your time and no one else’s, and you deserve to commune with your environment before a long day of screen-staring.

Look at the street signs, the restaurants, the shops, and the trees. See others in their cars or on the train – what are they doing during their commutes? Can you relate? Let your mind wander and really think about how your surroundings make you feel. It might give you a sense of peace and awareness that you can carry with you throughout the day.

7. Integrating your different selves

The last and most productive way to tackle your long commute is to use it mindfully. The journey from home to work (and back) gives you time to consciously shift between two important headspaces. And it can be helpful to consider the intricacies of each personality that you bring both into the workspace and your home.

By getting to know yourself a bit better – asking yourself how you’ll act in the office that day or how you’re looking forward to being once you get home – you can see the gaps in your behavior in certain aspects of your life. Then, when you can determine which parts of yourself you’re concealing either at home or the office, you can begin to break down those barriers. By thinking deeper about your identity, you can bring parts of yourself to work that you didn’t even know you were leaving at home.