What’s the difference between an unproductive employee and a productive one? Often, it’s not their talent or work ethic but their time management skills. Time management is a soft skill that ensures you get your work done efficiently and effectively — and on deadline .
Good time management skills aren’t always intuitive, but they’re critical for workplace success. In this guide, you’ll learn:
- What Is Time Management?
- Why Is Time Management Important?
- How to Improve Your Time Management Skills
- Managing Your Time: The Bottom Line
What Is Time Management?
Time management describes the process of how you prioritize your tasks and delegate time to each one.
For example, everyone on your team might have to write a client email, schedule a meeting with the client, and start research for a report. How each person fits these tasks into their workday demonstrates their time management. For example, someone might begin with the client email; another person might opt to do that later in the day.
Yet time management is more than just figuring out when you’ll do tasks; it’s also about understanding how and when you work best. If you know you’re more creative in the morning, you might start your day by drafting copy or creating graphics, then spend the afternoon catching up on emails and filing reports. Good time management means dividing your tasks to optimize your workflow and deadlines.
Time management synonyms include:
Why Is Time Management Important?
Time management is a top skill employers look for because it ensures you meet deadlines and get your work done efficiently. Without good time management skills, it’s easy to fall behind on work and miss crucial team communications.
Time management also helps you with your workload by helping you to work smarter, not harder. Rather than spend more hours working on completing your tasks, time management enables you to work more efficiently to get your work done faster. As a result, you’ll waste less time at work and have more time for yourself — leading to a better work-life balance.
How to Improve Your Time Management Skills
1. Use Your Working Preferences to Your Advantage
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to time management. Instead, the best time management is one that’s unique to the way you work.
To find out what works for you, try keeping notes of your daily schedule — work day and not. When taking notes, quickly describe what you’re doing and how you’re feeling (tired, energized, creative, focused, etc.). You’ll start to notice patterns. For example, you may find you feel ready for the day only after you’ve scrolled through the morning news and your creative juices flow post lunch. Or, you might find that you feel energized in your morning meetings and feel focused during independent work later in the day.
Time management is about making work work for you, so learning how you work best is essential.
2. Break It Down
Breaking down your work duties into manageable, achievable tasks can help you see everything you have to do and organize it. For instance, instead of writing that you have a “company presentation” due, break it down by paying attention to the details of each big project. Do you need to set up any meetings to help you complete this? What preparation do you need to do?
“Decide on a way to record your tasks in a consistent place where you regularly add items and check the list,” Elizabeth Grace Saunders, time management coach and author, says. “Knowing what you’ve committed to and when it’s due provides you with an accurate data set for all of your other planning.”
It’s helpful to make reviewing your work a task, too. Reviewing will help make sure you’re not just getting your job done efficiently but well, too.
3. Set Aside Focus Time
Distractions are all around us, whether we’re dealing with a coworker who likes to stop by our desk or a pet who can’t stop walking across our keyboard. Setting aside dedicated focus time can help you intentionally minimize these distractions.
First, you can physically go on “do not disturb” mode by putting on headphones, closing your door, or relocating away from distractions. Then, you can technologically prevent disruptions by silencing notifications or setting your work status to “focus” to signal to others that you’ll be heads down for a bit.
4. Minimize “Work About Work” Distractions
Have you ever gotten in a groove while working, and suddenly, a colleague’s message comes up and derails you? Scheduling meetings, responding to emails, and checking up on Slack can eat away your day. Unfortunately, you can’t afford to avoid many of these things, but that doesn’t mean you should let them get you off track.
Instead, create dedicated time for checking up on these “work about work” tasks, rather than checking email randomly throughout the day in the middle of your other work.
Studies show that when we multitask, we lose both productivity and creativity. We take more time to get things done when we try to do multiple things simultaneously.
Instead, try monotasking, where you block out a certain period to focus on a singular task. This task could be rereading a draft of an article, reviewing a report, or working on a presentation. Whatever it is, set a timer and only work on this one task. Monotasking helps you keep your energy and focus contained to one project.
6. Know Your Tech
Technology can give us great tools to help us get our work done more efficiently, but only if we know the right way to use it.
“The goal isn’t just to save time — it’s to learn as much as possible about your digital factory,” Mike Song, CEO of Get Control!, a time management training company, says. “Click on every dropdown menu, gear, three-dot button, or any icon that might hide a time-saving or productivity-boosting feature.”
Other time management tools include:
- Do Not Disturb: Get rid of notifications during deep work or focus times.
- Notion: Use for to-do lists, taking meeting notes, or storing information.
- ProofHub: Track how much time you spend on specific tasks.
- OneTab: Consolidate tabs you aren’t using and speed up your computer.
- Zapier: Automate workflows by connecting two or more apps on your device.
- Pomodoro timer: Set up dedicated focus time with regular breaks.
7. Set Agendas With Your Coworkers
Improving your time management is only part of the puzzle to working efficiently, especially when you’re in a more collaborative role.
When working with others, try to set clear agendas before you meet. Ask the meeting organizer what you should expect from the meeting, and ensure you and your team have the resources you need (documents, presentations, particular context) before the meeting starts.
If a meeting feels unproductive, consider if the agenda needs tweaking, or maybe if a synchronous meeting isn’t the suitable format to collaborate. Don’t be afraid to question the purpose of a meeting, especially if it’s ineffective and eating into everyone’s time.
8. Take Regular Breaks
Time management should help with your workload, not drive you to overwork and burnout. One way you can use time management to help your productivity is by scheduling regular breaks. After a period of focus time, or even just a time when your brain isn’t as productive as usual, walk away from your work and take a restful break.
A restful break means anything that doesn’t work your brain even more. “Restful” might mean going for a walk outside your house or office, getting something to eat, or petting your dog.
You won’t be able to work efficiently if you’re not well rested. Therefore, dedicated breaks are just as crucial as your dedicated work time.
Managing Your Time: The Bottom Line
Good time management is a win-win for everyone at work: your employer benefits because you get your job done efficiently and by the deadline; you benefit because you work smarter, not harder. Yet having good time management takes practice and reflection. You need to know when and how you work best and set boundaries to ensure you get the right uninterrupted work time. Once you do so, you’ll make work work for both you and your employer.
Learn how to organize and prioritize your time with Cisco’s Career Readiness Virtual Experience Program.
Elizabeth Grace Saunders is a time management coach at and CEO of Real Life E®, a time coaching and speaking company that helps individuals feel empowered about their time management through one-on-one-coaching. She is also the author of various time management books, including “The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success with Less Stress” and “How to Invest Your Time Like Money.”
Mike Song is a time management speaker and trainer. He is the CEO of Get Control!, a time management training company that has helped over 20% of Fortune 500 companies optimize their time management.
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