8 Tips To Improve Your Time Management Skills
By Marie Miguel
Updated December 18, 2018
Reviewer Rashonda Douthit , LCSW
Time management is something we need in all areas of life. It plays a major role in the type of employee we will be at our jobs, our ability to reach our personal goals, and the balance we need between work, play, and rest. Many people wish to improve their time management skills. Luckily, working on these eight foundational skills can get you on track.
- Learn Goal-Setting
One of the most important parts of time management is knowing where to direct your attention to complete a task. But, before you do this, you must understand exactly what it is you are trying to accomplish. Without a clear objective, it will be harder to stay focused or find the resources you need.
When you first start setting goals, it is often tempting to work toward something great. However, you should remember the bigger your goal, the more work it will require, potentially making it harder to meet. Instead of keeping your eye on one large prize, try to break your goal into small, measurable steps that allow you to feel success often along the way.
For example, if someone wants to lose 20 pounds, breaking up their goal into smaller milestones will typically yield more success. Aiming for 1-2 pounds lost each week is more helpful and more strategic than feeling pressured to lose the entire 20 at once. Realistic steps like these, are key to making your end-goal possible.
This same idea applies to all goal-setting. Small milestones prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and give you a clear roadmap along your journey. The greater your goal-setting skills become, the more your time management skills will improve because you will be able to work straightforwardly with a clear mind. Here some more examples of general goals and smaller achievable milestones to help reach them:
Goal: Write a book by next summer
Milestone: Each day I will write three pages for my book
Goal: I want to organize my house
Milestone: I will organize one room each weekh week
2. Learn To Plan
Planning is a key part of time management skills because it is the very foundation of figuring out how to do something in a set amount of time. Planning is what helps us work through problems, sort ideas, accomplish goals, and much more. Keep in mind, some strategies for planning work better than others. The more you practice planning, the easier time management will come to you.
As part of effective planning, always write your plans someplace you can see them. This will make them official. It is too easy for plans that stay in your mind (and never make it to paper) to remain good ideas and nothing more. Be sure to come up with a deadline for when you want to finish what is on your agenda. Whether your plans cover the next hour, the next week, or the next five years is no matter, setting the timeframe and the tasks within it are what is most important.
Let's use our writer from the previous example to show what good planning looks like. They have already committed to writing three pages each day for their book (small milestone), that they want to complete by next summer (deadline). By organizing their day as follows, they have developed a plan to achieve their goal. With a schedule like this, they will be sure to have everything done on time.
Goal: Write a book next summer.
8:00 a.m.-8:30 a.m.- wake up and shower
8:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m.- eat breakfast
9:00 a.m.- 9:15 a.m.- walk the dog
9:15 a.m.-10:00 a.m. go to the grocery store
10:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m. work on book
11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.- have lunch and read
12:00 p.m.- 6:00 p.m. - go to work
6:00 p.m.-6: 30 p.m.- have dinner
6:30 p.m.-6:45 p.m.- walk the dog
6:45 p.m.- 8:00 p.m.- work on book
8:00p.m. -9:00 p.m.- watch TV
9:00 p.m. -10:00 p.m.-get ready for bed
10:00 p.m. - lights out
3. Learn To Organize
You cannot have time management skills without knowing how to organize. The two concepts go hand in hand. Start by organizing someplace you spend a lot of time. This can be your desk, your office, or your bedroom. Take an inventory of the objects around you and immediately get rid of anything you do not use often.
With the items that remain, arrange them in a way that makes them easy to reach. The more often you use an object, the closer and more readily available it should be. Take advantage of space-saving items like shelves and drawers if possible, but be careful to not move one area of clutter to another.
Once you organize your physical space, you can transfer these ideas into other areas of your life. For example, organize your thoughts by keeping them in a journal. Organize your appointments and important dates by keeping a calendar. Create and use schedules, shopping lists, and day planners too.
Before you know it, you will have complete organization all around you. This will help you increase your time management skills because everything will happen more efficiently. The organization also lowers your chance of making careless mistakes or losing objects, ensuring what you do gets done right the first time.
- Learn To Prioritize
Anyone can prioritize. We do it all day, every day. When someone prioritizes, it simply means they are doing certain things in a specific order. Unfortunately, people who lack time management skills, often do not know how to arrange these tasks in a way that works for them.
If you set out to do something, it is important to do it in the most logical way possible. For example, if you want to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you would never start with the peanut butter first. You would always begin with a plate and bread. This is the approach that makes the most sense and gets you your lunch in the fastest and easiest way.
There are a few different strategies people use to prioritize. Some choose to complete the simplest tasks first, others rank the tasks from most important to least important. There are many factors to consider when deciding what order to use. The difficulty, time needed to complete the task, and the amount of effort needed for something all play a role. The most important thing when assigning an order to your tasks is to do it in the way that makes the most sense for what you are trying to do.
Regardless of the method you use, it is helpful to write the information on a to-do list. This strategy will organize your thoughts and help you to not forget steps along the way. Organizing your time in the most efficient way possible is key for time management. Going back to the book example, one way to prioritize might look like this:
- Write the book
- Edit the content
- Have a friend read the book and give feedback
- Edit the content again
- Create proposals for publishers
- Publish the book
5. Learn to be Accountable
Goals and plans are important, but ultimately, they will not do anything (or build any time management skills) if they are not accomplished. A prime example of someone who has poor time management skills is the person who always stays in the preparation stages of a task, without actually getting anything done.
There are many ways you can make sure you do the tasks you set out to do. Many people find that an accountability buddy is just what they need. Accountability buddies are typically friends, co-workers, life coaches, or even therapists that want you to be successful. They make sure you are working toward your goals and motivate or redirect you when it seems like you are falling off track.
If an accountability buddy is not for you, try to find ways to motivate and reward yourself to continue working toward your goal. Remember though: rewards should not distract you from the things you need to do.
- Learn Your Strengths (And Weaknesses)
Knowing what you are good at, and what you are not so great at, is essential for mastering time management skills. If you are constantly trying to do things in a way that does not work for you, it will be much harder to find success with any task.
Spend a few moments going over your strengths and weaknesses. If it helps, write them on a list. This strategy helps you find tools you can use to make things easier. Try not to focus just on ability, but consider your likes and dislikes too. Pretend the following list is a strength and weakness list for our writer:
Type quickly Sloppy handwriting
Pay attention to detail Messy
Based on this list, our writer will likely finish their book if they make use of their computer and rely on creative strategies like story webs (with lots of detail) to develop their plot. If they attempt to write the book by hand or on loose-leaf paper, they will likely fail. Their sloppy handwriting, impatience, and disorganization is a disaster waiting to happen for a hardcopy manuscript. With this information, they can move forward to the next steps of the writing process with strategies that work in their favor.
7. Learn To Say "No"
One of the biggest parts of effective time management is being realistic about what you can and cannot do. Sometimes, this will require you to say "no" to yourself or somebody else. As uncomfortable or frustrating as it is to turn down something you want to do or someone you would like to help, taking on too much directly impacts your ability to carry out anything.
When we cannot say "no" to ourselves, we often end up procrastinating on important tasks. The longer we put them off, the less time we have to accomplish them. While it might be satisfying at the moment to watch that extra episode, go out with that friend, or take a nap, you are only putting off something until later, not making it go away.
When we cannot say "no" to friends or family, we leave even less time to get things done. If our writer chooses not to work on their book and instead repeatedly agrees to babysit or travel with friends, they are unlikely to achieve their goal. There is a balance between self-care, helping others, and effective time management. Finding that balance is essential to success.
- Ask For Help
Although a lot goes into building time management skills, it does not have to be done alone. In fact, a key part of mature time management skills is knowing when to ask for help from others. No matter how big or small the tasks you need to address, find ways to take some of the pressure off yourself by reaching out to the resources around you.
Last but not least, do not forget that licensed mental health professionals can help you improve your time management skills too. Experts, like those available through Betterhelp, will help you gain a better understanding of your goals, how to accomplish them, and the skills you need to make them happen. Licensed counselors can also help you stop unhelpful habits or thought patterns that negatively impact your ability to manage your time.
As you can see, time management skills rely on many other abilities for success. The better you can develop foundational skills like goal setting, organization, prioritizing etc., the easier time management will come to you. These skills are often difficult to build on your own, so reach out to a licensed therapist today. Before you know it, you will be conquering each day with more efficiency than you have ever had.