11 effective time management skills
Have you ever found yourself using the phrase, “There just aren’t enough hours in the day”? Everyone feels this way from time to time, whether you’re a working parent, busy entrepreneur, student or any other human in our fast-paced world. Now think about it this way: Everyone has the same amount of hours in the day. So what separates the Warren Buffetts and Sheryl Sandbergs from the rest of us? The answer is time management skills.
There are many things in life that are outside of your control, but how you spend your time is not one of them. Using your hours to work toward the outcomes you value the most will help to not only bring you success, but will also sustain that feeling of fulfillment that comes from accomplishing your goals. The first step toward learning how to improve time management is realizing that it’s a mental game that anyone can master.
How to improve time management
To make the most of your time and achieve the life that you dream of, you must create a mental shift in how you think about time management. Stop thinking of time as a resource that’s out of your control. It’s true that there are only a limited number of hours in a day, but you can develop time management skills to focus your attention on what really matters. Use these 11 ways to improve time management to allow your brain to zero-in on your highest-value outcomes without getting swept up in distractions.
1. Align your focus
“Where focus goes, energy flows,” says Tony. The first step is getting clear on what it is you really want, and then aligning your ultimate goals with the actions you need to take today. If the tasks that you need to complete aren’t aligned with what truly matters to you – your core values – then you’ll never find the time to do them. This is the methodology behind Tony’s Rapid Planning Method – by focusing on an outcome, you develop the motivation and organization needed to meet your goals.
What do you consider your ultimate goals? If you’ve listed many things, take pause. An endless list of goals is the same as having no goals. Ask yourself: What actions produce the most value? What outcomes address your true wants in life? Once you have a direction to move in, you’ll get a better sense of what actions deserve your attention and which ones don’t.
2. Use chunking
Better time management skills start with zeroing in on what you really want – whether that’s strengthening your relationship, accelerating your career, starting your own business or living a healthier lifestyle. From there, create smaller goals that all “ladder up” to your desired end result.
Tony says, “Most of your stress is because you’re thinking about too many things at once.” If you’re facing an overwhelming number of tasks around an outcome, remember that you can create better to-do lists by chunking all related tasks into smaller groups so that they are easier to manage and tackle. That way, you can better visualize and identify the steps you need to take to reach your goal.
Tony explains the power of chunking and how it helps direct your focus toward what matters.
3. Determine your priorities
How do you know where to direct your energy in order to see the results you want? How do you know if you’re truly working toward your core values? Conduct a core values audit: track your activities for two weeks, taking note of which core values your actions connect with, and audit yourself with a keen eye as you evaluate how to move closer to your goals.
Once you have several weeks of progress written down, take an objective look at how you’ve been spending your time. Eliminate any activity that’s not connected to your core values and goals. Replace these activities, like checking social media too frequently, with something that serves your ultimate plan, like cooking healthy meals or regularly exercising. After several weeks of practice, you’ll find you don’t miss the time-consuming tasks you eliminated.
4. Set SMART goals
SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and anchored within a Time Frame. Be clear with the outcome you plan to achieve and designate the time needed to reach your goal. Rather than just telling yourself you want to lose weight this year, set a clear goal: one pound per week, or five pounds per month. Don’t forget to be realistic. If you tell yourself you’re going to go from middle manager to CEO at your company, that’s an incredible goal to set, but realize it might take longer than six months.
By being specific with your outcomes, and having clarity on what they are and why you want them, you can have the laser-guided focus you need to achieve them. Not only that, but you’ll feel a greater sense of fulfillment when you do hit your objectives.
5. Learn to say no
One crucial element of learning how to improve time management is getting comfortable with saying “No” to things that don’t help you reach your goals. When you say “no” to something that isn’t really adding value to your life or supporting your core values or goals, you are saying yes to something else that is: time to be with family, exercise or even much-needed sleep.
If saying no to something seems hard, think about a time when you reluctantly said “yes” to something and later regretted it. In the end, you either did the task begrudgingly even though you didn’t have the time or resources to do it, or you flaked out because you were overcommitted. Saying no in the first place is a lot easier – and saves you time to focus on what really matters to you.
6. Minimize distractions
Think of minimizing distractions as another way of saying “no.” So what’s distracting you? Email? Texts? Social media? Whatever it is, say “no.” Eliminate the distraction and the stress that comes with it. Block websites if you have to. Put up an “Away” or “Do Not Disturb” notice on your accounts. Your time is yours, so take control of your workspace and time so you can be productive.
Often we allow ourselves to lose focus and be interrupted as a crutch when we’re experiencing uncomfortable emotions like boredom, frustration or lack of interest. These are learned, addictive responses – and we can learn to overcome them and change our behavior by employing effective time management skills instead of backing down when a task becomes challenging.
7. Cut back on instant answers
If you have trouble saying “no,” one of the best ways to improve time management is to stop answering immediately. Think about it: Too often people ask us to do something and we instantly say yes. Then we have a commitment we’re stuck with. Instead of answering right away and providing a response you’ll later regret, step away from the email or tell the person you’ll need to think about it.
Try not instantly committing for one month. Instead, take time and ensure that you commit only to tasks or activities that support your core values and goals. If something someone asks you to do doesn’t align with those values and goals, be bold and politely decline. At the end of the month, assess: How much time did you save? How much more fulfilled do you feel with what you did accomplish?
8. Hold yourself accountable
All the time management skills in the world are worth nothing if you don’t hold yourself accountable. Suppose that you want to strengthen your relationship with your partner, and you decide to use an hour of your day to give that person the attention they deserve. But as you’re sitting there, your phone vibrates in your pocket. What do you do?
Instead of checking your phone, stay committed to your targeted outcome – a healthier, more passionate relationship with the person you love – and give your partner the attention they deserve. By staying focused on your end goal, and letting the phone conversation wait for an hour or more, you’ll attain the outcome that speaks the most to your core values – and gives you more fulfillment than checking your phone ever could.
9. Use the 20-minute rule
You know the feeling when you’re “in the zone”? You’re unstoppable. What if you could “get in the zone” whenever you wanted? With the 20-minute increment block, you can.
Get your mind ready; let yourself know you’re about to focus on something important. Prepare to tackle the task and set an alarm for 20 minutes. Until your alarm rings, give that task everything you’ve got, without any distractions. When the alarm goes off, decide whether you’re going to put the task down or finish it. Take a small break, then get back to that task. Repeat the process until the task is complete.
Working on your tasks in these 20-minute chunks helps you pull yourself into the zone as needed, instead of hoping to fall into it by chance. Over time, you’ll be able to slip into this mindset on your own, without the aid of a timer.
Want to be the best, most efficient version of yourself possible? Outsourcing tasks is a critical skill that every successful entrepreneur and Fortune 500 CEO has to master, and so do you. When you can delegate tasks, do it.
Think of it this way: If you’re too focused on completing a giant list of menial tasks every day, you’ll be unable to focus on your larger goals and core values. It’s also worthwhile to remember that by delegating whenever possible, you help yourself grow because you give yourself space to take on the newest, most challenging tasks yourself, and can delegate someone else to handle the smaller, everyday items on your to-do list.
11. Take a break
If this seems counterintuitive – it isn’t. The world’s most successful people know the importance of occasionally checking out. Warren Buffett plays bridge and practices ukulele in his spare time. Oprah Winfrey meditates. Simon Cowell climbs trees and watches cartoons! The point is, sometimes the best thing you can do is give your brain a break from the task at hand.
Whether you take a vacation to Hawaii or a lunchtime walk around your office building, taking a break gives your brain a chance to “reboot.” It actually increases creativity and focus and leads to better problem-solving. If you’re wondering how to improve time management and you feel you’ve tried everything, step away for a minute or two. You’ll return with renewed concentration and vigor.
Effective time management skills are at the heart of a happier, more fulfilled life because you’ll be able to focus and achieve the outcomes that drive your passion. Imagine that intense feeling of peace that comes with being fulfilled with what you’ve achieved; this feeling is in your grasp, as long as you commit to reclaiming your time and working toward your ultimate purpose. With the right time management framework, and excellent time management skills in place, you no longer have to imagine that state – you can attain and live it.
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