Procrastination is a perennial problem for many, especially when our work life faces disruption. Here are 7 time management tools to help you meet those all-important deadlines.
When you’re in an environment that requires self-discipline and accountability to achieve your goals, learning to manage your time is essential. Whether you’re an employee, a freelancer or an entrepreneur, there are a few tried and tested methods that help to optimise your workflow so that you reap the most potential out of every minute you spend on tasks. Below are 7 of our team’s favourite time management tricks to help you meet (and beat!) those deadlines.
Track your time spent to analyse your productivity
It’s hard to know where you’re wasting time if you don’t have the right data to analyse your own productivity. That’s why taking the time to track your workflow can be helpful – not only to gauge how long you spend on your usual work tasks, but also to ascertain how effectively you prioritise them as well. Once you’re aware of just how much time you spend on certain tasks, you’ll quickly be able to spot any pockets of wasted time. From there, you can start making better time management decisions through a combination of prioritisation and batching (more on that later).
Insider’s Tip: Try Clockify, a free, simple time-tracking platform that helps you record the tasks you’ve done and how long it took on a timesheet.
Stop procrastinating with the Pomodoro Technique
A popular time management tool, the Pomodoro Technique is a life hack that encourages working in 25 minutes bursts with short 3-5 minute breaks in between to keep your mind fresh and focused. Experts claim that the famous time management method fights distractions by training your brain to improve its attention span, whilst the constant timing of your activities makes you more accountable, minimising the time spent on procrastinating. So, next time you have a large task that seems rather daunting, try breaking it up into short periods of intense focus by setting a timer for 25 minutes and working without distractions. Then, take a 3-5-minute break (called a ‘pomodoro’) and repeat. After four “pomodoros” have passed, i.e. 100 minutes of work time with 15 minutes of break time, you can then take a 15-20 minute break.
Insider’s Tip: Focus Booster is a popular platform that comes with a timer and so much more to help sharpen your focus so that you’re less susceptible to distractions!
Try the Pareto Principle to help you prioritise better
The Pareto Principle, otherwise known as the ‘law of the vital few,’ suggests focusing on 20% of your tasks, prioritising the most vital things on your to-do list for the most significant impact. It stresses that strict prioritisation doesn’t just mean doing the important things first. The first step is to recognise which tasks don’t need to be done at all – identifiable as such if they don’t contribute to your end goal. This 80/20 rule theorises that the most significant results stem from the completion of just a few tasks – the tasks that are of the highest importance. Re-engineering your to-do list in this way can make sure that you aren’t wasting time on things that, in the end, won’t make a difference.
Insider’s Tip: The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch is available on Audible, breaking down exactly how you can adopt the Pareto Principle to optimise your time.
Do, Delete, Defer and Delegate: Apply the 4 Ds of Effective Time Management
The first D stands for ‘do’ – simply put, this first rule says to get out of your head and just start doing. Many of us have mentally laboured over the idea of hacking away at a mountain of work. So, living by the 4 Ds of management starts with breaking through that mental block.
Secondly, ‘delete.’ Delete anything that isn’t absolutely essential to complete. This touches on the same idea as the 80/20 rule – if it doesn’t contribute to your end goal, remove it from your to-do list.
Next on the list is ‘defer.’ It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to do everything at once – and it’s even easier to get bogged down by your growing list of things to tackle. So before you dive in, take a moment to go through it and prioritise what’s most vital, while choosing to defer less important things. This will take some practice, but prioritisation means optimising your workload so that you’re working smarter, not harder.
The last D stands for ‘delegate.’ People have a tendency to succumb to the idea that, if they want something done right, they have to do it themselves. This may be true for some things, but if you’re part of a team, work optimisation means reaping the most potential from those around you.
Insider’s Tip: Master 4D Time Management by Wan How is available on Amazon and it explains how to use this technique to filter through and categorise your tasks effectively.
Try ‘batching’ by grouping similar tasks together
One simple trick to hack your productivity is ‘batching.’ Think of it as a way to declutter your to-do list. If you’re assessing your schedule for the day and you’re able to pinpoint certain tasks that can be grouped together to ensure your focus is streamlined, rather than jumping from one thing to another, organise them in batches. For example, taking care of all your communications platforms, whether it’s email, Slack, phone calls or instant messages, can be done in one period of time. This will ensure you’re not sidetracked by other things, optimising your time effectively.
Insider’s Tip: Use a platform like Trello to keep track of your tasks without scheduling them into specific time slots. You can categorise and organise them how you see fit!
Beware of ‘Decision Fatigue’
A theory developed by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, ‘decision fatigue’ is the effect of having an excess of choices to make that often results in unnecessary stress. The four tell-tale signs of this are procrastination, impulsivity, avoidance and indecision. To make sure it doesn’t get the best of you, try limiting your options. It’s easy to start doubting yourself when you’ve laid out too many choices. So, first, make sure your options are the best ones. If they aren’t, eliminate them. Next, set deadlines. When you delay a decision because it doesn’t need to be finalised right away, you’re leaving room to second-guess yourself. Lastly, getting into a routine can majorly cut down on day-to-day decisions. It might take some time to try out what works best for you and little decisions like what to eat or wear can be the final straw when your plate’s full. Automate these decisions by establishing a routine, cutting stress in little ways to avoid burnout.
Insider’s Tip: Read this The New York Times article on decision fatigue here for more.
Use the 2-Minute Rule to shorten your to-do list quickly
Taken from David Allen’s “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” the 2-minute rule was created to stick it to procrastination by tackling any small task that can be done in two minutes. While this might seem to conflict with the 80/20 Rule used in the Pareto Principle, it simply means that you should tick off the essential tasks like getting back to your boss or updating a colleague, which will take just a couple of minutes. It stipulates that if something on your to-do list can be done within two minutes, just get it done. You don’t need to defer or delegate. Tick it off immediately to shorten your list and practice positive reinforcement, motivating you for the bigger items further down your to-do list.
Insider’s Tip: Monday.com is another great productivity platform to help with positive reinforcement. Feel your confidence in your workflow grow as you mark things as ‘completed.’