We’ve all heard that time is our great resource. Time is invaluable, like air, water, and 5G data. We’re always spending it, and we can’t get more of it.
Given the average lifespan exceeding 72 years, it’s easy to feel like we have more free time than we do. But once you deduct sleeping, eating, hygiene/makeup, all manner of waiting, and rage tweeting – it’s a lot less than we think.
And consider a 2016 study, which found that we spend 41% of our time staring at screens (for work, school, or cat videos).
It becomes clear that we have way less time to support our hobbies, passions, and desires. Time is scarce for that side project or lifestyle business, the book, or film – whatever it is you are creating.
The good news is that there are time management activities we can do to maximize our time. There are principles we can follow to boost our productivity and squeeze more from our days.
Here are fifteen Time Management Hacks that will help you get more done with less stress:
1. Batch Similar Tasks
In 1913, Henry Ford implemented the world’s first moving assembly line. The assembly line cut production times because it lets workers specialize in a task. It also reduced task switching, the second most significant loss of productivity after TikTok dances. Task switching costs are the main reason why we should avoid multi-tasking. We can also reduce it by batching groups of tasks. For example, we could set aside an hour for household chores or communications (email, text, etc.). We can batch any functions that need similar thinking or tooling,
2. Work in Intervals
A 2011 study by the University of Illinois found that groups that took breaks performed better than those that didn’t. While uninterrupted work is essential, our minds start to wander over time. Our bodies grow restless, and our eyes begin to strain. The Pomodoro time management technique relieves this by dividing tasks into 25-minute intervals. You take a 5-minute rest after each interval to stretch, have a drink, and let your mind recharge. Some research has found that around 50 minutes of work, 15 minutes break is a more optimal cadence. I would suggest trying both and seeing what works better for you.
3. Use a Scratchpad
Have you ever been deep in a project, when your brain reminds you to pay a bill, run an errand, or call someone back? Next thing you know, your mind is completely distracted by the intruding task. To-Do lists are helpful, but I also recommend keeping a notepad handy to write down any thoughts. You could come up with a creative idea, a solution to a problem, or something you want to tell someone.By freeing up your mental space, you can give your undivided attention to the work that matters.
4. Block the Physical Distractions
A Udemy survey found that 70% of employees felt distracted at the workplace. Think gossipy coworkers, politicking managers, and office events. Remote work poses its distractions; street noise, loud roommates, family interruptions. Noise-canceling headphones or soundproof ear-muffs are invaluable for staying focused. At the office, remove the clutter from your desk. Reserve a conference room or quiet area for focus sessions. Ask your supervisor if you can sit in a less-trafficked area. If you live with family or roommates, separate your workstation from communal areas.
4. Reduce the Digital Diversions
Research has shown that the average person gets interrupted once every 8 minutes. And it can take up to 25 minutes to regain focus. Start by moving your phone out of sight when you won’t need it. Turn it on silent or disable notifications during the workday. Pause notifications on your PC or Mac. Close browser windows for websites that aren’t relevant to your task at hand. If you can’t resist social media, try website blockers like Freedom or StayFocusd.
6. Make the Most of Idle Time
While multi-tasking is rarely a good idea, most of us can make better use of idle time. That time spent waiting in line at the store, commuting, or doing light cardio. Pop in headphones and listen to an audiobook, or use Quizlet to memorize information for work or school. Organize your to-do list while waiting on hold, or do a few minutes of language learning on Duolingo. When you audit your day, you’ll likely find ample opportunity to be productive instead of bored.
7. Get a Handle on Email
A McKinsey analysis found that the average professional spends 2.6 hours each day on email. That’s 28% of the average workday! Start by using templates to cut down the time spent writing frequent emails. At my work, we use a tool called TextExpander to store standard blocks of text under a hotkey. If spam is bloating your inbox, use an unsubscribe tool like Unenrollme. If you schedule meetings often, use tools like Calendly to coordinate availability. Carve out specific times during the day to check email, 3-5 times a day is a good rule of thumb for most professionals.
8. Avoid Decisions Fatigue
Studies suggest that the average person makes 35,000 choices per day. It’s no wonder that we get decision fatigue. Excess decisions slow us down and drain our ability to make wise decisions on the things that matter. This is why routines and standardization are so familiar among successful people. When Mark Zuckerberg wears only blue shirts, he doesn’t have to think about what to match. Not saying you need to be that extreme, but you could prep your outfits the night before. Or buy clothes with neutral colors and classic styles. Most of us spend a lot of time figuring out what to eat and then cooking it or picking it up. Meal prep is a great way to save time and money (fewer ingredients, less takeout). Create your weekly and daily schedules in advance. Reserve blocks of time for focus work and task batching.
9. Be Free to Forget
There are a lot of items you can buy that save you time. I often forget the hundreds of passwords I have, so a password manager was a huge time saver. These tools suggest strong passwords, then store them, so you only need to remember one. I also misplace my keys and wallet all the time. Tile is a small card that you can attach to your keychain or insert in your wallet. If you lose these items, you can play a noise from your phone via Bluetooth or look up their last location on GPS.
10. Rise and Shine
Going from late to early riser is guaranteed to make you more productive. You don’t need to wake up at 4:30 am like a Navy SEAL. Instead, set your alarm 5-10 minutes earlier each day. Then do it repeatedly until you find the right balance. The obvious benefit to an early start is you get quiet, uninterrupted time to work towards your goals. Lacking goals to keep your motivated? Check out my comprehensive guide to Personal Development Goals that actually work.
11. Take Care of Your Health
Being the most successful on the planet doesn’t matter if you’re sick and exhausted. Good health not only improves your productivity, but you’ll enjoy your success more. Greasy, dense foods make you feel lethargic. I’m sure you’ve noticed a difference in the afternoon slump when you’ve eaten a salad instead of a burger. Or the boost in energy you get from working out instead of riding the couch. Find time to consume nutritious, whole foods, and exercise a few times a week.
12. Categorize Your Tasks
Start by making a list of your top 25 tasks for the week. I prefer to do this during my downtime on Sunday evening. Use the Eisenhower Matrix to classify jobs based on importance and urgency. Do the Important/Urgent stuff right away. Schedule time to do the Important/Non-Important tasks. Delegate the Urgent/Non-Important Stuff. Automate them whenever possible (automatic deliveries, autopay bills, etc.). Finally, try to avoid doing the Non-Urgent/Non-Important things at all.
13. Learn How to Eat the Frog
Often, we encounter a task that is either very daunting or tedious. Our nature is to procrastinate or avoid responsibility. If you expect that a job will be difficult, schedule it either first thing in the day or whenever you’re at a peak state. If you are feeling a strong aversion to getting started, vow to do the first 10 minutes of work. I would use a similar technique to lift weights when I didn’t feel like it. I would drink a high caffeine “pre-workout” beverage, or start stretching and warming up. By taking those first few steps, I bought into the idea of finishing the workout. If I don’t want to write that day, I’ll at least open the writing app and commit to a few minutes of brainstorming. Pretty soon, I’ve written a 2000-word post.
14. Be a Project Planner
Effective goal-setters tend to be skilled project managers. If a task involves a lot of moving parts, they’ll start by breaking it into bite-sized chunks. These could be daily or weekly tasks. Then they’ll log their progress and achievement of milestones. Goals should be in the SMART format, with the ‘T’ for Timeline being key. By setting clear deadlines with specific dates, you create a sense of urgency.
15. Reflect and Revise
Effective time management is a long-term, daily pursuit. It’s easy to think you’re more productive than you are, or to underestimate it. Take time to reflect and write down what’s working and what isn’t it super helpful in this regard. It’s also essential to have a sense of continuity between the days. Reflect on what you accomplished the day before, and tie that back to your goals. Use that motivation and insight to craft the next beautiful day.
About the Author:
Chris is an accomplished sales and business development leader with experience at companies like Microsoft, Salesforce, and Dropbox. He went from being kicked out of high school (twice) to earning his MBA at UC Berkeley, and from being a pack-a-day smoker and aquaphobe to marathoner and triathlete. He writes about personal transformations and self improvement at knowyourbest.com.