5 Tips for Managing Your Time More Efficiently

Blurred image of businessman running on bridge while checking watchOne of the most common concerns I hear from people is they don’t believe they manage their time well. They find themselves running late, being unprepared, not meeting deadlines, or feeling as if they are constantly playing catch-up. Once they start implementing a time management technique or two, they begin to feel more in control and settled.

Here are some of the strategies we talk about:

1. Assign blocks of time to specific tasks.

This is about taking your to-do list to a new level, blocking off segments of time with specific start and end times and assigning them to particular tasks. This is especially helpful when you have multiple projects looming.

For example, I recall speaking with a college student who had several exams and papers due in close proximity at the end of her semester. We mapped out on paper (yes, I still use paper) the two weeks to follow with specific blocks of time allotted to studying for each exam and every paper she had to write. Once we did this, she was able to breathe, and her sense of overwhelm decreased. She was better able to focus on the more immediate tasks, knowing ample time had been set aside for the things that came next. She didn’t have to worry she’d never get to certain things, as she had a visual reminder that everything was assigned its own “block.” She knew if she adhered to the plan and honored her time accordingly, the end of her semester was likely to go smoothly.

This technique can be helpful in mapping out a few weeks (helping you get a sense of the “big” picture) or just a day at a time.

2. Assign deadlines that are a couple of days prior to the actual ones.

If you find yourself scrambling to meet deadlines, this strategy is for you. If something goes awry, you have a buffer, and your stress doesn’t have to skyrocket. Treat the deadline you have recorded early in your calendar as the real one, and abide by it. This way you won’t fall prey to technical glitches, last-minute gaps in information you didn’t know you needed to have, or rushing because an emergency came up and left you with less time than anticipated.

3. Don’t dismiss short periods of time. Use them!

Do you sometimes have small pockets of time—10 minutes here, 20 minutes there—and say to yourself, “Why start something since I won’t be able to finish?” These are golden opportunities to accomplish much more than you may have imagined.

In less than 20 minutes, you can do one of the following: sort your mail, throw a load of laundry in the washing machine, return two or three phone calls, empty the dishwasher, make a shopping list, schedule two meetings, eliminate junk from your email, read a news article, or clean your desk (or a corner of it). Recognize the usefulness of the time you do have.

4. Batch.

Multitasking all day long might not be the best way for you to maximize your time. Batching is grouping activities so you are not constantly driven by distraction. Examples are checking email only two or three times a day, paying bills twice a month, or returning phone calls right after lunch and at the end of the day. Let others know what they can expect from you. It is helpful if others know you won’t be responding to an email right away and that you rarely return phone calls first thing in the morning. Batching allows you to give greater attention and focus to what you are doing in any given moment.

5. Plan ahead.

If you need to leave for work at 7 a.m. and realize at 6:55 you haven’t packed a lunch or your gym bag for afterward, you’re probably now late. Do what you can to set the stage for success. Have what you need packed or set aside, ready to go, ahead of schedule. Assemble lunches, take out your clothes, put together your work bag, and charge your phone the night before.

Have a call to make at 2 p.m.? Don’t start searching for the phone number at 1:59. Giving a presentation at 4 p.m.? Checking the audiovisual equipment and the layout of the room at 3:50 could cause you (and others) a headache.

Proper preparation lays the groundwork for greater productivity, less stress, and better performance overall. Your time will be used for what it was originally intended for.

Bonus strategies include waking up early to make use of quiet, uninterrupted time, and overestimating (by 20%!) the time it takes to travel places or the time required to complete projects.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Regan

    August 24th, 2016 at 10:20 AM

    I have always been a terrible procrastinator, being optimistic about the fact that I think that I have more time than what I do.

    Obviously that is never the true case.

    So I have done as you suggested and started scheduling deadlines for myself a few days before things are actually due. That way if revisions are needed the bulk of the work has already been done, now I just have to tweak it a little here and there.

    Actually I thought that I would hate this but it has taken a great deal of pressure off of me overall.

  • Laurie Leinwand

    August 24th, 2016 at 1:23 PM

    Bravo Regan! Hope this strategy serves you well!

  • Kendra

    August 24th, 2016 at 2:19 PM

    I make myself a list every day to know exactly what needs to be accomplished.
    For some reason having it laid out in black and white every single day helps me keep track of what I need to get done by the end of the day or any other given time frame.
    Plus I just love that feeling of being able to cross through something and know that it is done.
    That one thing is one of the biggest feelings of accomplishment for me.

  • Laurie Leinwand

    August 24th, 2016 at 3:13 PM

    Kendra, I love the feeling of crossing things off a list as well! Glad you have a winning technique. :)

  • Rex

    August 25th, 2016 at 10:28 AM

    I guess I am like a drill sergeant at home, everything has to be all tidy and done on time, preferable early.
    You can probably tell that I drive my kids crazy because why would I ever think that I would have kids who were like me?
    I think that I had them so regimented when they were young that now that they are older they have completely rebelled against this way of living and are the slackest ever.
    But I try not to say anything, try to hold my tongue because they just have to figure out which system works best for them I guess.

  • Laurie Leinwand

    August 25th, 2016 at 6:27 PM

    @Rex, I’m sure you’re correct. You showed them the way that worked for you, and either they will find their own way or find their way back to what you taught them.

  • Sydney

    August 25th, 2016 at 1:47 PM

    I never think that I have enough time to get things done but your encouragement to take a look at my short chunks of time that I have available really inspired me.
    I see that I have more time than I thought that I had, it just may not be in large slots.
    However if I made more use of those shorter periods of time, I think that I would find that I actually had more time to get things done than I originally thought.

  • Laurie Leinwand

    August 25th, 2016 at 6:29 PM

    Good luck Sydney! I bet you’ll surprise yourself with what you can get done.

  • Martin

    August 26th, 2016 at 10:39 AM

    I always feel like I get the most done when I have schedules for myself. I mean, I try to remain a little fluid with it and not be so structured all the time, but if I have a general idea in my mind how I want my day to go and how much time I want to devote to each thing that needs to be done, as well as an idea of what time I want to give to it, I think that my day just logically feels like it goes a little more smoothly for me.
    It’s either that or I have just bought into it and so that’s why it works.

  • Laurie Leinwand

    August 26th, 2016 at 1:32 PM

    Martin, it’s great that you have a system that works for you. That “general idea” about how you want your day to go is you setting your intention and seeing it through to the best of your ability. :)

  • Martin

    August 27th, 2016 at 8:48 AM

    You got it!
    As long as I am willing to stay a little flex with it I do ok

  • Taylor

    August 29th, 2016 at 10:25 AM

    so I am assuming that checking my work email 52 times a day is not a good example of batching right? lol

  • Laurie Leinwand

    August 29th, 2016 at 3:15 PM

    Not so much. :)

  • Kelvin

    August 31st, 2016 at 11:35 AM

    Don’t overschedule yourself- totally not worth the headaches

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