There are more than 50 time management techniques out there, for all the different personality characters, productivity issues and business needs. The only problem is that it would probably take you years to test all the techniques and find the ones that fit you best. That’s why we did a little bit of research on all of them and prepared a list of the 10 best time management techniques. Naturally, these are also the most popular ones.
Some of the best time management techniques are really simple and straightforward, others a little bit complex, but all of them can actually be easily implemented into daily practice. We decided to provide you with a detailed description of the 10 most useful time management techniques, but if you don’t find any of them the right fit for you, we added a comprehensive list of all other time management techniques we found out there with a short description and a link to more information, if available.
The wall of fame for the best time management techniques
First, let’s start with simpler techniques that you can neatly combine together and get the ultimate time management framework:
1. SMART Goals
Proper time management always start with setting goals and knowing in which direction you want to go in life. One of the most popular goal-setting techniques is called SMART goals. The technique has been here since 1981 when the paper entitled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives” was published by George T. Doran.
The idea is pretty simple. Every SMART written goal should be written down following the next criteria:
- Specific – clearly defined desired outcome, what you want to achieve
- Measurable – there must be away to measure progress
- Achievable – the goal can be met with available resources
- Relevant – it must fit a bigger picture and you must know why you want to achieve something
- Time-bound – a clear deadline for when the goal will be achieved
Most people don’t set goals. Only around 10% of people have written goals. That means it takes effort, with some real reflection and thinking to write down meaningful goals in the right way. So, if you decide to write down your goals, you don’t want to write vague resolutions that won’t give you a sense of direction and proper motivation. It would be an exercise in vain. You want to write down your goals in a smart way.
You can find many detailed descriptions on how to set SMART goals, practical examples and templates on the internet.
2. The Eisenhower Matrix / The Eisenhower box
Once you have your goals written in a SMART way, you should break them down in concrete and actionable tasks. Then the tasks need to be prioritized. The Eisenhower Matrix is one of the most popular frameworks for prioritizing tasks. As an interesting fact, Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, serving between the years 1953 and 1961. His matrix recommends arranging tasks in one of the four quadrants:
- Urgent + Important (Do first)
- Not Urgent + Important (Schedule)
- Urgent + Not Important(Delegate)
- Not Important + Not Urgent (Eliminate)
Urgent tasks are the ones that you feel you must react to (like emails, phone calls, meetings etc.) and tasks that are time‑sensitive to finish, meaning you have strict deadlines. Important tasks, on the other hand, are the ones that contribute to your long-term goals and things you really want to do in life. Important tasks are the ones that are part of your business or life vision and mission.
Of course, you should always tackle urgent and important tasks. It’s important that you spend most of your working time in this quadrant (urgent + important). The important but not urgent tasks, like sports, learning, creating, bonding with people, you should schedule in your calendar(and make sure you do them regularly). All other tasks you should delegate or simply delete. This method proved especially handy when used by recruiters.
3. Kanban Board
Kanban is a Japanese word meaning a billboard or signboard. The main idea of the Kanban board is to have a visual board that helps you to track progress on your goals. People who are fans of Kanban usually use a big dry‑wipe whiteboard to visualize their goals or software that supports Kanban visualization. In our experience, a physical Kanban board works much better.
You should draw several columns on the whiteboard,visualizing the stage of each specific task. The columns on the blackboard are usually:
- To Do
- In Progress
Then you need sticky notes. Every sticky note represents a task that needs to be completed.You simply write the name of the task that needs to be completed. You can use different colors of sticky notes for different types of tasks. After you have the big board and sticky notes with tasks, you simply stick the notes in one of the columns, depending on the phase the task is in.
If you followed all the steps, you should have a nice visual representation of your tasks and in which stage they are. Based on your progress, you move sticky notes through these columns.
Software that supports the Kanban method:
4. Do Deep Work / Avoid Half-Work or Shallow Work
If you employ all the previously mentioned techniques, you should have your goals clearly written down, broken down in concrete and actionable tasks, and properly prioritized and visualized on a Kanban board. Now you should be able to easily select the most important task to work on. To successfully complete the task in the most productive way possible, “deep work” comes into play.
Deep work is a term developed by Cal Newport, stating that all intellectual activities should be performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. Only when you do deep work can you can create new value, improve your skills, and do things that are hard to replicate. Many people call this psychological state that enables you to do deep work “flow”.
The opposite of deep work is “half-work” or “shallow work”. That kind of low‑value work usually goes along with multitasking, working on many projects and having many distractions in the environment (email, telephone, chat and other interruptions). The best way to overcome “half-work” is by focusing for a significant amount of time on one thing and eliminate everything else, every single distraction.
Software that can help you do deep work:
5. The Pomodoro Technique
When you do deep work, you should never forget to take breaks. Tomatoes can remind you to take your breaks. The Pomodoro (Tomato) Technique is a very popular time management method invented by the software developer and author Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980's. Today, Pomodoro is one of the most popular time management techniques out there.
The idea of Pomodoro is very simple. You should break down your daily work and complete it in intervals separated by short breaks. You work for 25 minutes straight, which is called one Pomodoro, and then take a 3 – 5 minutes break. After 4 Pomodori, you take a longer break of 15 – 30 minutes to recharge. You should use a simple timer to follow the Pomodoro Technique. Following the technique should give you enough focus and recovery time to maximize your productivity.
Here is a summary of the six Pomodoro steps:
Decide on a task to be done
- Decide on a task to be done
- Set the pomodoro timer
- Work on the task
- End work when the timer rings after 25 minutes (one Pomodoro)
- If you have fewer than four Pomodori, take a short break (3–5 minutes)
- After four Pomodori, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), then go back to step 1
And here are a few useful Pomodoro timers:
The Flowtime Technique - A more flexible Pomodoro Technique – There’s one interesting variation of the traditional Pomodoro Technique called The Flowtime Technique. The name comes from the term “flow”, which is when you do deep work and become completely focused and immersed in a task.
The main idea of the flowtime technique is that you set a specific time period (usually between 10-90 minutes) and use it as an experimental time frame to see how long you can work in focus and when you need a break. Simply, when you cannot focus any more and work in the flow, you take a break. At the same time, you keep a record with an input of your start time, end time, break time, work time, and whether or not you were interrupted.
6. Track how you spend your time
We might be biased here at My Hours when it comes to time tracking, since we have developed the most simple and useful time tracker, but we have often seen what time tracking does to productivity of individuals and teams. A good time tracker gently pushes you to be more productive, enables you to analyze how you spend your time, and on top of that, you can automate things like reporting and invoicing.
As the saying goes, you can only manage what you measure. By employing time tracking, you have a clear picture of how you spend your time, how much you work on different projects, and how much you really earned. With accurate statistics you can optimize your time better. If you use a time tracker, you will also be more prone to consistently using other time management techniques.
And now let’s add more complex, but very popular, time management techniques to the list. They are kind of time management systems on their own.
7. GTD – Getting things done
Getting things done is one of the most popular comprehensive time management frameworks out there. It’s a five-step method that helps you to break bigger tasks into smaller manageable steps and then to finish do those small steps immediately. The tagline for the framework is “the art of stress-free productivity”. Using the system should help you to be more relaxed at work, accomplish more, be more creative and keep track of all the relevant things.
Here are the five steps the framework is based on:
- Capture – First you capture everything that comes to your mind, every idea, task or anything else that is worth remembering (things to read, watch, notes, bills etc.). You capture everything in the inbox, to unload your mind. But the important thing is to empty the inbox regularly.
- Process – After you capture all the things, the second thing is to analyze them and decide what to do with every specific item. If the item is not actionable, you have to decide to either delete it, archive it or delay it. If the item is actionable, you have to decide to either do it, delegate it or defer it. If it takes less than 2 minutes, you should do it immediately.
- Organize – After processing, the next step is to organize items and actions. When organizing, you should do at least four things. Put items on four main action lists (projects, next action, waiting for, calendar), file tasks under different labels and also provide them with context. Non-actionable items should be stored in a digital or paper-based archive.
- Reviewing – The goal of reflecting is to make sure everything is up to date. When reviewing, you should update your lists, remove irrelevant items etc. You should do at least a weekly review.
- Engage – The final step after capturing and identifying actionable items, properly filing them and reviewing your tasks, you should start working on the selected tasks. Before engaging, you should make sure you have the right context for the tasks (context is what you need to be able to carry out an action, it can be a place, a tool or a person),enough time and energy, and that the tasks have the highest priority.
Software that supports the GTS time management system:
8. OKR – Objectives and key results
OKR is a very popular framework, especially in business, since it’s used by companies such as Google, LinkedIn, Uber and Intel (the father of OKR is Andy Groove, the famous CEO of Intel). The framework is quite simple. Objectives are goals, key results indicate how you will get there. To set OKRs, you can help yourself with the formula: I will (Objective) as measured by (this set of Key Results).
- Objectives are descriptions of what you want to achieve. They should be short, inspirational and engaging. An organization should have 3 to 5 high level objectives.
- Key Results are metrics of how you measure your progress towards your objectives. There should be a set of 3 to 5 key results per objective. When you look at the key results at the end, you should have a clear idea of whether you accomplished the objective.
OKRs should be a part of the quarterly planning process and, once defined, they should be communicated to all the team members.It’s important that OKRs are frequently set, tracked and reviewed. You can find many different examples and templates for OKRs. Software that support OKR:
9. SCRUM – the most popular agile management framework
SCRUM is the most popular agile productivity framework, especially in software development. It’s not exactly a time management technique per se, but it can definitely help with properly addressing productivity issues. The cornerstone of the framework is that you have to stay flexible and regular adapt to changing circumstances. Next to that, you learn the most not when you plan, but rather when you execute, so you must consistently update your plans based on new feedback in the execution phase.
SCRUM gives a lot of emphasis on relationships in teams, creating a valuable outcome,collaboration with all stakeholders, responding to change, and constantly improving the way you do work. It also provides a clear set of tools for implementing the framework. It’s more of a team‑based than person‑based technique, but it can definitely be adapted and used on a personal level.
The roles in the SCRUM team are:
- Product owner – Manages priorities,talks to all stakeholders, takes care of products
- SCRUM master – Facilitates the SCRUM framework, removes obstacles
- The team – Cross-factual, fully committed team
The workflow is based on:
- Sprint Planning – Defining the scope of work for the next 2 – 4 weeks
- Daily Scrum – Short 15‑minute daily meetings to keep commitment among peers
- Sprint Review – Review of the work completed after the sprint
- Sprint Retrospective – A discussion of what went well and what could be improved
And the artifacts of SCRUM are:
- Product Backlog – A list of everything that will be delivered
- Sprint Backlog – A list of tasks that will be delivered in the next sprint
- User Stories – Small, independent,valuable, estimable, testable delivery features
- Burn-down Chart (Total effort, Velocity) – Progress plan based on the actual capability of the team
Project management software that supports SCRUM or similar agile principles:
10. BoJo - The bullet journal
The Pomodoro technique and The Bullet Journal Method are the most frequently searched for time management techniques in web browsers. That’s why a bullet journal must definitely be among the top 10 time management techniques. The tagline for BoJo is “to help you track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future”. And all you need are a notebook and a pen.
The core principles of the method are that you can’t make time, you can only take time, happiness is the byproduct of meaning, you should cultivate curiosity through goals, do small changes that lead to big changes over time, and look inward to reveal a way forward.
The key components of BoJo are:
- Index page, for which you need to number the pages
- Three different main collections of logs: (Daily log of tasks, events, and notes; Monthly log consisting of a calendar and a to-do list; Future log to list all the long-term goals and commitments)
- Other different collections,namely groups of related ideas (lists, logs, nots, trackers, mind maps, plans,sketches)
In your logs,you should do rapid logging. You should write things down in short notations. For logging, you should use a different type of bullet points and signifiers to add context. Every month, you also do a review and migration of tasks from one log to another (you do things like crossing out irrelevant tasks, you schedule new tasks, migrate tasks from daily logs to a new monthly log etc.).
A list of all other time management techniques
If you don’t like any of the 10 time management techniques described above, don’t worry. There are many other options. Explore the list below and we’re sure you’ll find the right time management technique for you.
Every working day, you can accomplish only 1 big task, 3 medium tasks, and 5 small tasks. Plan accordingly.
There are 168 hours in a week, which means there is more than enough time to do all the important things.
Sit down, commit 10 minutes of effort to a selected task and after 10 minutes, you can stop if you want. Usually you won’t.
10 Minute Task
Every single task on your to-do list should take no longer than 10 minutes to complete. If it does, you need to break it down.
Start your day by spending 5 minutes on going over your daily schedule. Take a 1-minute break every hour to see your progress and what’s left to be done. End your day with a 5-minute review.
90 Minute Focus Session
Work 90 minutes in complete focus without any distractions and then rest for 20 – 30 minutes.
Before performing any task, make a conscious decision: Delete, Delegate, Do now or Defer.
52 / 17
Work in complete focus for 52 minutes straight and then take a 17-minute break.
7 Minute Life
Spend 7 minutes in the morning to plan your day and 7 minutes before you go to sleep to review your day and prepare the plan for tomorrow.
You divide the tasks into the following categories:
- A: The most important task
- B: Less important tasks
- C: Tasks with no consequences
- D: Delegate
- E: Eliminate
Focus on the three key results that you want to achieve over a certain period of time: day, week, month or year.
Use four different lists: New tasks, recurring tasks, unfinished and old tasks. Start with new tasks, move on to recurring tasks, then spend some time on the unfinished tasks. At the end, clear some old tasks.
Batch similar tasks and meetings together. You will complete your work faster and minimize idle time.
Biological Prime Time
The idea is that you track your biological rhythms to find when your most productive hours are. Then you adjust your working time accordingly.
A system used by Dave Lee that consists of a weekly chart, daily focus area and Pomodoro timer. Choose five important areas for the week, and work on one of the areas each day.
Do it now
If it takes less than 3 minutes, do it now, without any thinking or planning.
Eat that frog
Do the most important task first thing in the morning. If you “eat a frog” in the morning, everything will be easy to accomplish afterwards.
Fresh or Fried
Your brainpower depends on the freshness of your brain. When you are fresh, do the complex tasks, when you are fried, do the easy tasks.
Save all the emails, notes, articles and other information you stumble upon in a digital system. Categorize information in folders and with tags. Every month, review everything you stored and brainstorm how it can be applied to your current work.
Every day, get your email inbox to zero, while spending the least amount of time possible on e-mails.
At the end of the day, write down the 6 most important tasks for tomorrow. Prioritize them. Next day, start working on the most important task.
Write down 1 – 3 tasks that have the highest importance for the next day. You keep your mornings for MITs – the most important tasks on your to-do list.
Must, should, want (and won’t) Analyze all your tasks and categorize them under must do (non‑negotiable), should do (doesn’t need an immediate response), want to do (likable, but not necessary) and won’t do (things not to do).
Pareto Analysis, 20/80
20% of the tasks that you do are responsible for 80% of the outcomes, so focus on that 20% of the highest value tasks.
POSEC is an acronym for "Prioritize by Organizing, Streamlining, Economizing and Contributing". To achieve this, take a closer look at what needs to be done on a daily basis and figure out the best way to do it.
A system to help you determine who is responsible, who is accountable, who needs to be consulted, and who must be kept informed at every step of the project to increase the odds of success in meeting your goals.
Tony Robbin’s planning method that considers big vision, emotional motivation and taking massive action for each of your goals. Answer the following questions:
- What do I really want? What’s the outcome I’m after? What’s the specific measurable result?
- What’s my purpose? What are my reasons? Why is this not just a “should,” but a “must” for me?
- What do I need to do? What’s my massive action plan?
A system developed by the productivity app Todoist. The methodology suggests the following steps:
- Take it everywhere – be able to log things everywhere
- Capture everything
- Break everything into small and actionable tasks
- Get your to-do list to zero every day
- Review on regular basis
Try to automate as many tasks as possible with tools like Zapier and IFTTT. Also try to minimize and automate as many decisions as possible.
Developed by Behance. Break ideas down into three categories:
- Action items are the steps to get projects done
- Backburner items are all the interesting ideas that don’t lead to progress on the project
- Reference items are resources and information needed to complete a project
A list of all the activities you won’t do and are a big distraction that prevent you from doing the important things.
The Autofocus Method
Don’t bother too much with deadlines and priorities. Instead focus on what you are naturally drawn to at any time. Keep lists with four different types of tasks: New, recurring, unfinished and old.
The Checklist Manifesto
Turn every one of your projects or tasks into a series of easy‑to‑follow, step-by-step checklists.
The Final Version
Make a simple to-do list, select the first item on the list, ask yourself “what do I want to do before I do the first item on the list?” and write it down, then take action on the items in reverse order.
Combine the best of digital work and paper work. Get yourself:
- A main notebook to capture ideas, tasks, quotes, notes, meetings etc.
- A travel notebook – same as above, but for traveling
- A Post-It note for every day to list all the appointments and 3 most important tasks for that day
- A pen or pencil
- A task management app
- An online calendar app
- A note‑taking app
The Now Habit / Unscheduling
In your calendar, first schedule fixed commitments (e.g., meals, commute, sleep), self-care activities (e.g., meditation, exercise), and guilt-free play (e.g., socializing, hobbies), only then schedule work.
The Productivity Journal
In a productivity journal, you record all the tasks you've finished within a day and list all the tasks you're supposed to tackle the next day. In the journal, you also record your ideas and work thoughts.
The Jar Glass
Categorize your tasks in these categories: Rocks, Pebbles, Sand and Water. Tackle the “rocks”, the big important things first. If you keep tackling the small things and not the important strategic items, then your jar will quickly fill up with no room for more rocks.
The Swiss Cheese Method / The Salami Method
For complex tasks, start chipping away what needs to be done with small chunks of time. These are “holes” in the cheese (small completed tasks) that will soon lead to the completion of the whole complex task. The same representation can be a salami cut down to small pieces.
The Seinfeld Method / Don’t break the chain
Pick a goal, print a monthly calendar and place a red X on every day you work towards your goal. Make sure you place the red X on the calendar every single day.
The Spotlight Method
You sort tasks on a green, yellow and red list. Red tasks require your immediate attention, yellow need to be completed in two days, and green are more long-term tasks.
Timeboxing simply means that you open your calendar and enter a block of time that you’ll spend on a certain task in the future.
Time blocking means carefully planning your day in advance and dedicating specific hours (which you reserve in your calendar) to accomplish selected tasks. It’s timeboxing at large.
Keeping a list of all the tasks you have already completed will motivate you to achieve even more.
You prepare a list of goals, identify the most important goal and then allocate time to work on that goal every single day.
Sort tasks into three different categories: Things that need immediate action, things that are important but not urgent, and things that are a waste of time.
Who’s Got the Monkey
Tasks can be boss‑imposed, system‑imposed or self‑imposed. These could be “monkeys” you need to find a way to delegate to other people.
Zen to Done
Create new habits as you work through the following steps:
- Collect: Get ideas and tasks out of your head on a list
- Process: Review your list daily
- Plan: Pick a few high‑priority tasks for the week and the day
- Do: Schedule time to accomplish your tasks
Time Management Techniques are just one end of the productive work specter, read about Time Management Skills to see the whole picture and learn from it.
Have we forgotten any important time management technique? Write to us and we will add it to the list.
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