8 Time Management Strategies That Could Change the Way You Work

8 Time Management Strategies That Could Change the Way You Work

By Justin Biel, trends editor at Grow Wire
⏰ 9-minute read

A computers with statistics on the screen beside hourglass.

In short:

  • Was your New Year’s resolution to use time more efficiently? If so, how’s that working out for you?
  • Improved focus can reduce the anxiety that comes when facing a big, important project or life change.
  • These techniques provide a range of strategies to help all personality types get more done, better, in less time.


Just 40% of the workweek is spent on what really matters. That’s a top-line finding in the latest U.S. State of Work survey of 2,010 professionals, which found that the balance of our time is chewed up by emails (16%), administrative tasks (12%) and the ubiquitous meetings, both useful (10%) and unproductive (8%), with interruptions and random stuff rounding out the typical week.

If you’re thinking, “If only I could reclaim, say, 20% of that time,” rest assured, there’s a self-help method or 20 for that, put forward by a cottage industry of consultants, psychologists, gurus, teachers and business coaches. The practice of time management, which Psychology Today defines as "the ability to plan and control how someone spends the hours in a day to effectively accomplish their goals," is booming in this era of constant distractions, where the ability to concentrate for hours at a stretch might seem like a superpower.

Time-management experts agree that it’s critical to create an environment that fosters productivity and efficiency. But these strategies also address issues like procrastination, the human inclination to work in sprints and the need to identify priorities and create a work/life balance.

The eight systems below come from highly respected minds in the time-management space, and each offers a blueprint to make your personal and professional lives more productive. 

Unfortunately, we can’t do anything about the meetings.


Deep Work 

Author and Georgetown computer science professor Cal Newport argues that we can increase productivity by eliminating distractions before diving into complex, demanding tasks that require deep thought. Newport first coined the term in a 2012 blog post and subsequently wrote a book on the subject, also called “Deep Work.”

According to Newport, most knowledge workers spend their lives in a state of distraction, allocating too much time to low-skill, mundane tasks like answering emails. He posits that this not only is an inefficient way to work but also leads to feelings of emptiness and a less-than-stellar career.

By mastering the ability to do deep work, which Newport describes as "cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results," we can produce larger quantities of more valuable output and find greater passion in our jobs.


“Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.”


🙋‍♂️ This strategy is for people who: lack uninterrupted time on cognitively demanding tasks (i.e. developing a business plan, writing a thesis, designing a new brand identity, solving complex mathematical equations, etc.). 

👉 For a more in-depth overview: Check out this podcast in which Newport explains how to use different methods to develop your deep work skill. 


The Pomodoro Technique 

Business consultant Francesco Cirillo created a time-management strategy called The Pomodoro Technique. This system recognizes that people focus well in sprints punctuated by breaks. Cerillo outlines the steps to The Pomodoro Technique in detail in his book of the same title.

The technique revolves around timing how long it takes you to complete daily activities, estimating how many 25-minute blocks of time it takes to complete activities and using this information to develop a structured schedule. Cirillo named the method after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer that he used as a student.

The Pomodoro Technique has six objectives:

  1. Figure out how much effort a task requires, to determine how many pomodoros (that is, 25-minute work sprints) you need to finish a job.
  2. Protect your pomodoro (that is, work sprint) from external stimulation and interference.
  3. Ensure you’ve accurately estimated how many pomodoros you need for each activity.
  4. Practice using pomodoro time to work but also to recap and review a task.
  5. Set a schedule according to the tasks on your to-do list and how many pomodoros it’ll take to accomplish them.
  6. After mastering the first five objectives, create a personal objective to improve your efficiency within pomodoros.

“The Pomodoro Technique teaches you to work with time, instead of struggling against it.”


🙋‍♀️ This strategy is for people who: like to break large tasks into smaller chunks of time or take refresh breaks often. It also works for those who like to stick to a strict schedule. 

👉 For a more in-depth overview: Check out this video explaining the basics.

The Pomodoro Technique is named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer its founder used to time work sprints.

GTD

Productivity expert David Allen created Getting Things Done (GTD), a system that helps you keep track of ideas, tasks and projects.

GTD is a way to harness the creative thoughts and ideas that come into your mind and keep mundane business and life responsibilities from overwhelming them.

The GTD system’s five steps to apply order to chaos:

  1. Capture: Write down anything you need to do in life, including work tasks, personal goals and creative ideas.
  2. Clarity/Process: Determine what you need to do to accomplish this task. Is it something you can do quickly? Or, is it a longer task that requires multiple steps? If the job takes two minutes or less to complete, do it now. If not, put it on an action list for later.
  3. Organize: Based on the nature of the task, decide if it's something that's actionable right now or something that needs to be put on hold for a later date. Then, organize tasks by "project” (i.e. the specific work initiative it relates to), "time" (how long it’ll take) and "context" (a person whose help you need to solicit).
  4. Reflect/Review: Regularly, perhaps once a week, go through your ongoing tasks or objectives. Determine what progress you've made and what you can do to make the process better.
  5. Simply Do: Rely on the tenets of the system to move toward goals, knowing that you're taking the right steps to get things accomplished.

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”


🙋‍♂️ This strategy is for people who: have trouble keeping track of their many ideas or feel they need help sticking to personal and professional commitments.

👉 For a more in-depth overview: Check out this video.


The Now Habit

The Now Habit” is a procrastination book by psychologist and productivity expert Neil Fiore. Fiore looks at the underlying issues that encourage procrastination, such as perfectionism or being overwhelmed by goals.

Fiore's idea, based on his years working with patients as a psychologist, is that anxiety around starting or finishing a task is what stops most people from taking the first step. He sees procrastination as a coping mechanism to alleviate that anxiety.

The Now Habit's 10 principles:

  1. Understand the root cause of procrastination for humans overall.
  2. Understand where procrastination comes from in your particular life.
  3. Look at how you spend your time.
  4. Understand how fear and safety are linked to procrastination.
  5. Use worrying to your advantage.
  6. Change the way you talk, because your words have power.
  7. Remember that more time to have fun and play leads to quality work.
  8. Embrace the practice of "unscheduling," in which you learn to schedule self-care activities first.
  9. Use three-dimensional thinking to prepare for a task.
  10. Be prepared for setbacks.


“Perform optimally, maintain focus, and ignite motivation in yourself and others.”


🙋‍♀️ This strategy is for people who: want to stop procrastinating once and for all or who find they have trouble prioritizing self-care because they’re constantly overwhelmed with tasks.

👉 For a more in-depth overview: Watch this video.

The Now Habit includes pinpointing why you procrastinate and adjusting your workflow accordingly.


Eat the Frog First 

“Eating the frog first” refers to a time-management strategy -- and yes, a book -- from author and personal success expert Brian Tracy, who suggests that to be genuinely productive, you must tackle your most important tasks first and move on only when that task is complete.

The title of Tracy's concept refers to a quote attributed to Mark Twain: “If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.”

Tracy says success requires discipline; to help with that, he recommends organizing tasks using what he calls the ABCDE Method.

The ABCDE Method:

First, list your tasks for the entire day. Then, rank them by priority:

A.   Tasks you must do.

B.   Tasks you should do.

C.   Tasks that would be nice to do but bear no consequences if you don't.

D.   Tasks you can delegate to someone else. The goal is to delegate anything you can, so you can stay focused on more critical tasks.

E.   Tasks you can eliminate.


“'Failure to execute’ is one of the biggest problems in organizations today.”    


🙋‍♂️ This strategy is for people who: constantly put off working on their most important projects and have trouble delineating between work that is urgent vs. truly important, it should prove helpful.

👉 For a more in-depth overview: Check out this video.


Essentialism 

Speaker, author and educator Greg McKeown developed Essentialism, which looks to refocus people away from “getting more done in less time” and toward “doing less, but better.” McKeown covers the topic in detail in his book, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.”

The idea, which McKeown created after 15 years of studying what held capable people back from achieving success, is that the constant pursuit of more becomes a catalyst for failure.

Essentialism’s tenants:

  1. People need time and space to determine what is essential.
  2. The idea of saying no is ideal for Essentialists. Get rid of people and commitments that rob you of your real focus.
  3. By being more selective, you can become more focused on what matters.


"The Way of the Essentialist isn't about getting more done in less time. It's not about getting less done. It's about getting only the right things done."


🙋‍♀️ This strategy is for people who: feel as if they “never get anything done” because they work on too many projects at once or are committed to too many people at once.

👉 For a more in-depth overview: Watch this video.

Essentialism promotes the idea of streamlining your priorities, working more on what matters most to you.


Inside-Out Time Management

In her book “Time Management From the Inside Out,” author and consultant Julie Morgenstern aims to help people define a life plan based on their unique personalities and goals.

Morgenstern's system includes finding out what's holding you back, identifying your strengths and then creating a personalized time management system to fit your life.

The three-step system:

  1. Analyze where you are.
  2. Strategize where you want and need to be.
  3. Attack and get it done.


“[It's] the foolproof system for taking control of your schedule — and your life.”


🙋‍♂️ This strategy is for people who: want a productivity system tailored to their individual needs. If you crave to link daily tasks to your overall values, this system could leave you feeling more fulfilled.

👉 For a more in-depth overview: Watch this video.


The 80/20 Principle 

The 80/20 Principle,” a book by former management consultant and entrepreneur Richard Koch, shows readers how to be more productive with less effort through analysis of the Pareto Principle, more popularly known as “the 80/20 Rule.” Named after economist Vilfredo Pareto, the Pareto Principle applies to many disciplines. The core concept is that 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes.

Koch's analysis of the principle in the context of time management suggests that people can accomplish more with less time, resources and energy simply by identifying and focusing on the 20% that moves the needle. That applies to your business, social and personal life.

Examples of the 80/20 Principle in action:

  • In business: Analyze your business to discover which efforts produce the majority of desired results. For example, maybe the 20% of your time which you spend on sales outreach produces 80% of revenue. Once you've identified that key input, focus more attention to that category.
  • In your social life: Analyze your social life to see which people drive happiness for you. For example, a few close friends that you spend 20% of your time with may provide 80% of the value in your social life. Consider cutting down time with those who add little value and refocusing your attention on the 20% of people who matter to you.
  • In your personal life: Analyze your personal life to discover which activities add significant value to it. For example, studying new subjects 20% of the time might produce 80% of your forward progress and personal growth. Identify and focus on actions that bring value.


“Eighty percent of all our results in business and in life stem from a mere 20% of our efforts.”


🙋‍♀️ This strategy is for people who: want to create more impact by leveraging the unequal correlation between inputs and outputs. It’s a winner with mathematical minds.

👉 For a more in-depth overview: Watch this video.


🌱 The bottom line

Time-management strategies present an opportunity to become more effective in your daily routine and bring more productivity and freedom to your life.

Choose the strategy that speaks to your personality and aligns with your goals, then study the system and implement its growth-oriented techniques.

What are you waiting for? You’ve got all the time in the world to become a better you.