Time management is one of those skills no one teaches you in school but you have to learn. It doesn’t matter how smart you are if you can’t organize information well enough to take it in. And it doesn’t matter how skilled you are if procrastination keeps you from getting your work done.

How we use our limited focus and energy has always been a huge workplace issue. But we get better and better at knowing how to optimize as we get better technology to help monitor time allocation.

Younger workers understand this, and time management is becoming a topic of hipsters. One of the most popular blogs in the world is Lifehacker, edited by productivity guru Gina Trapani, and her forthcoming book by the same name is a bestseller on Amazon based so far on pre-orders.

In today’s workplace, you can differentiate yourself by your ability to handle information and manage your time. “Careers are made or broken by the soft skills that make you able to hand a very large workload,” says Merlin Mann, editor of the productivity blog 43 Folders.

So here are 10 tips to make you better at managing your work:

1. Don’t leave email sitting in your in box.
“The ability to quickly process and synthesize information and turn it into actions is one of the most emergent skills of the professional world today,” says Mann. Organize email in file folders. If the message needs more thought, move it to your to-do list. If it’s for reference, print it out. If it’s a meeting, move it to your calendar.

“One thing young people are really good at is only touching things once. You don’t see young people scrolling up and down their email pretending to work,” says Mann. Take action on an email as soon as you read it.

2. Admit multitasking is bad.
For people who didn’t grow up watching TV, typing out instant messages and doing homework all at the same time, multitasking is deadly. But it decreases everyone’s productivity, no matter who they are. “A 20-year-old is less likely to feel overwhelmed by demands to multitask, but young people still have a loss of productivity from multitasking,” says Trapani.

So try to limit it. Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users suggests practicing mindfulness as a way to break the multitasking habit.

3. Do the most important thing first.
Trapani calls this “running a morning dash”. When she sits down to work in the morning, before she checks any email, she spends an hour on the most important thing on her to-do list. This is a great idea because even if you can’t get the whole thing done in an hour, you’ll be much more likely to go back to it once you’ve gotten it started. She points out that this dash works best if you organize the night before so when you sit down to work you already know what your most important task of the day is.

4. Check your email on a schedule.
“It’s not effective to read and answer every email as it arrives. Just because someone can contact you immediately does not mean that you have to respond to them immediately,” says Dan Markovitz, president of the productivity consulting firm TimeBack Management, “People want a predictable response, not an immediate response.” So as long as people know how long to expect an answer to take, and they know how to reach you in an emergency, you can answer most types of email just a few times a day.

5. Keep web site addresses organized.
Use book marking services like del.icio.us to keep track of web sites. Instead of having random notes about places you want to check out, places you want to keep as a reference, etc., you can save them all in one place, and you can search and share your list easily.

6. Know when you work best.
Industrial designer Jeff Beene does consulting work, so he can do it any time of day. But, he says, “I try to schedule things so that I work in the morning, when I am the most productive.” Each person has a best time. You can discover yours by monitoring your productivity over a period of time. Then you need to manage your schedule to keep your best time free for your most important work.

7. Think about keystrokes.
If you’re on a computer all day, keystrokes matter because efficiency matters. “On any given day, an information worker will do a dozen Google searchers,” says Trapani. “How many keystrokes does it take? Can you reduce it to three? You might save 10 seconds, but over time, that builds up.”

8. Make it easy to get started.
We don’t have problems finishing projects, we have problems starting them,” says Mann. He recommends you “make a shallow on-ramp.” Beene knows the key creating this on ramp: “I try to break own my projects into chunks, so I am not overwhelmed by them.”

9. Organize your to-do list every day.
If you don’t know what you should be doing, how can you manage your time to do it? Some people like writing this list out by hand because it shows commitment to each item if you are willing to rewrite it each day until it gets done. Other people like software that can slice and dice their to-do list into manageable, relevant chunks. For example, Beene uses tasktoy because when he goes to a client site tasktoy shows him only his to do items for that client, and not all his other projects. (Get tasktoy here.)

10. Dare to be slow.
Remember that a good time manager actually responds to some things more slowly than a bad time manager would. For example, someone who is doing the highest priority task is probably not answering incoming email while they’re doing it. As Markovitz writes: “Obviously there are more important tasks than processing email. Intuitively, we all know this. What we need to do now is recognize that processing one’s work (evaluating what’s come in and how to handle it) and planning one’s work are also mission-critical tasks.”

The most significant factor in time management is one people seldom focus on: The type of work you’re actually doing. If you are doing work that’s not right for you, the work is exhausting and you procrastinate. If you do work that’s in your sweet spot, you are naturally efficient. Across the Fortune 500 senior executives take the Myers Briggs personality test to ensure they are doing work that fits into their skill set. You can get the benefits of this test by taking a four-hour course that shows you what your personality is and what the best type of work for you will be. All the productivity tips in the world can’t overcome the fact that we have to understand our personality type to do our best work: Fast-Track Your Career with Myers Briggs.

350 replies
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  1. sbram
    sbram says:

    Time management is to do your work as per proper schedule but if sometime you are saving your time please donot sit idle keep yourself busy in some other work as rightly said empty mind devils workshop; if you are doing your work in time you will get sccess.

  2. Dali Burgado
    Dali Burgado says:

    Penelope,
    Fantastic information. Email is just a time management killer. Prioritization is key, and I love the sound of “dare to be slow”. It’s all about learning what’s most important, tackling that head on and then moving along.

    I appreciate you.
    Dali Burgado

  3. Asphodel
    Asphodel says:

    Your post is so good that I cant even read all of it! I’m tempted to go do something but I know this spurt is long lived. Do you know a permanent cure for chronic inattentiveness? Ugh.

  4. Nicolas
    Nicolas says:

    Hi,

    This is a great post with very useful tips. I found this topic so amazing that I started to collect more than 100 similar tips from all kind of people in my blog. Some are general tips or they are specific to being at work, at home or on the road.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas too.
    Nicolas

  5. Benji
    Benji says:

    Thanks for the post, really hepful. Even though it’s obvious we need to be told to get the most important things done first.

    Your readers may also like the website http://www.numbercrunched.com/time.html has a usual tool to analyze your day using a pie chart, then tells you how many hours you spend on each thing in a year.

    It is good fun to play around with.

  6. Paul Rasmussen
    Paul Rasmussen says:

    I find that outlook + a blackberry works the best, outlook is a single tool that can manage all of your workload in the one single place, all of your scheduling, tasks, and information in one place. When it is sync’ed with a blackberry you can have all of your information available to you when you are mobile as well, with the advantage of effective mobile email. I think too many of us try and use too many tools to manage our days and this gives us so many different places to look for information.

  7. Brad
    Brad says:

    Multitasking is all about being organized and making sure everything is done by the end. I find that the best way to multi task is to break down what needs to be done in sections and then tackle each challenge. I am better at multitasking within wider time frames and taking on more tasks.

  8. V
    V says:

    Excellent information. I check email twice a day, and if we follow this one rule, it will save hours in a day.

    Recently I posted an article on same lines… Five Steps to Squeeze 26 Hour Day in 24 Hours

  9. Rodger Constandse
    Rodger Constandse says:

    Multitasking is definitely an enemy of productivity, especially for knowledge workers.

    One thing that I have found very helpful for productivity is to schedule time in your calendar for working on various projects. This is like a “dash” that you talked about, but one that you schedule in advance.

  10. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    A time saver I learned from my father – label, label, label. Label (or tag) documents (paper and computer files and folders), circuit numbers on outlets, toolbox contents, workbench cabinet drawers, etc. with a system that is meaningful to you. Include brief notes or instructions if necessary or appropriate. It will save you time if you need to find or go back and review something. You think you won’t forget if you don’t label but there’s a good chance you will and the label is so much quicker and easier.

  11. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Oh, I forgot to include the labeling of photos. It’s very frustrating to look at photos that either you’ve taken or someone else has taken and not know the date, people, location, or whatever. I know this first hand as I’m guilty here and trying to rectify that in the future.

  12. NIlesh Amonker
    NIlesh Amonker says:

    Fantastic inputs those…
    I’ve been reading a lot of stuff on time management and improving productivity over the last couple of years and I’ve actually started writing a book on the subject :-)
    I personally find the site http://www.idoitontime.com pretty useful in scheduling reminders; even more so because of SMS alerts which you receive even when you are not at your desk. Its fantastic!
    Keep the good stuff coming… :-)

  13. I CAN I WILL
    I CAN I WILL says:

    Great post! I think time management id don by to list all the activities that occupy your day/week/month.Classify these into three categories : HV(High Value activity),LV(Low Value activity),NV(Negative Value activity).HV or High Value activity is one that has a value higher than the value of your time.LV or Low Value activity has lower value than that of your time,and NV or No Value or may be Negative Value activity is one that has either no value or sometimes a negative value.

  14. Bill
    Bill says:

    Knowing when one works best is very important. Working during our most productive times is how to make things happen in the best way. I personally take care of all my communication in the morning but work at night mostly. That is when I get all my writing done.

  15. levkodurko77
    levkodurko77 says:

    Блин, достал этот кризис. Остается только сидеть и ждать когда он пройдет.
    А чтобы не было так скучно можна и по прикольным сайтам пошляться.
    Например вот сюда
    Оно же сюда

  16. Ares Vista
    Ares Vista says:

    When I started my business 7 years ago, time management was my biggest obstacle. Knowing how to have a productive day is a fundamental skill, and should be taught to kids at a young age. Why do we fill our kids’ heads with conjured up accounts of history and half-true ideas and principles, instead of teaching them how to survive and prosper in society?

  17. Michael
    Michael says:

    time management is such an important fact of our every day lifes. If you dont practice it you just might not make. This site offers great tips

  18. Anne Jensby
    Anne Jensby says:

    Sorry for the double post, but I messed up the link. Here the normal post:

    Great Post, one thing I learned is to first identify the time consuming tasks either with a simple Excel sheet or software like TimeWhale. Only then you really know where you loose your time (in my case it was meetings).

    Thanks for your blog!

  19. Andrew Bailey
    Andrew Bailey says:

    I have to admit that when it comes to checking emails, I’m hopeless at it. Either I sit there for hours and read everything in the inbox or I read nothing for days. I have to learn to prioritize better. thanks for the article, really helpful.
    Cheers

  20. John
    John says:

    Really?? Print reference emails? You’re kidding, right? In this day and age I don’t see a benefit to printing anything.

  21. Investments
    Investments says:

    Doing the most important thing first is what helps me stay on track with all my work. It is hard to start by doing the easiest thing first just to get it of the to do list but it is counter productive. It is always the best to do the most important or the most difficult thing first. And never move to the next task before you finish your first one.

  22. jeff
    jeff says:

    This all true… almost all 10 exist on busy people like businessman etc. Multitasking just wont solve all your workloads. In my case i hire a virtual assistant(www.secretstaff.com) to do some the task. It’s one way to avoid stress but without loosing productivity.

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  24. valerie mckanic
    valerie mckanic says:

    These were great tips for someone like me, I think im the worst person to waste precious time. Thanks!:)

  25. Kelsey
    Kelsey says:

    I think that the list you provided is a great too for those that are dealing with issues of better time management and organization. We all have so much going on in our lives, we have jobs, families, homework if your a college student, possibly the gym, and even trying to keep up with our social life that any help we can get on time management is a great thing.
    I think that many times people forget how easy some of these steps can be. So they are often overlooked.

    I think that my favorite tip you listed is the make a to-do list. I use lists everyday. If it isn’t written down, I won’t remember to do it. I have an agenda that gives me writing space for each day of the month, and all of them are often filled up because I have to make sure everything is written down. For visual people like me, to-do lists are great!
    Thanks again for the great tips, i will have to try some and put them to use!

  26. Clay Ward
    Clay Ward says:

    A focused working environment is really important. Human beings respond well to routine, and routine is different for everyone. So thinking about the space that you work in is critical.

    Cubicles are a nod in this direction. But now that the internet can keep us entertained constantly (and is designed to distract us) those three walls aren’t really enough. We have to take care of our unique mental environment that we create for ourselves both on-screen and off. Remember, mental environment and physical environment are related (the brain is physical after all – no matter what your religion.)

    I’m a laptop guy. That means that I’m always bouncing around working in new places. This keeps me entertained and gives me breaks. So for me posture is my working environment. When I sit up straight (or sort-of straight) I know I’m working. And the fingers fly.

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