Time Management for Beginners: Tips, Tools and Techniques

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Woman at the beach

“I wish one day had more than 24 hours!” 

Some people seem to manage everything they set out to do effortlessly. Like that colleague of yours who hits the gym five times a week and still performs well at work, or the single parent student with a toddler who never misses a lecture and is preparing for a master’s degree.

Yet we all have the same amount of hours each day.

Why can’t you achieve what they do? The possible answer: poor time management.

In this article, we will explain what time management is and its importance to your everyday life. Then, we’ll show you five practical time management tools, techniques, and exercises that you can use to improve your time management today. Finally, you’ll find a list of best practices that will increase your chances of succeeding in time management.

Jump ahead to any of the sections below:

What Is Time Management?

Do you ever feel like working eight hours a day without being really productive? 

There are many different issues and problems in your time management that influence your productivity and have an impact on your personal life as well as your workplace performance. These are:

  1. Existing skills
  2. Mental, emotional and physical state
  3. Workplace
  4. Work-life balance
  5. Time wasters
  6. External help 

1. Existing Skills

While others crunch numbers in Excel or Google Sheets using gigantic formulas, you struggle with the easiest formulas and have to look everything up on the internet for hours.

Each of us has different skills and abilities. Therefore, always take into account whether or not you need to learn or research something before you start. 

2. Your Mental, Emotional and Physical State

Your new boss doesn’t like you, your relationship is on the verge of breaking up or an unexpected stroke of fate throws you off course.

Your biorhythm has ups and downs, you get sick and your mind is not always 100% operational. Something you should also consider in order to improve your time management.

3. Workplace

Clean work desk with coffee and apple

Noise, small children or pets that demand your attention or outdated equipment, bad air, an open office with 60 people all talking on the phone at the same time: that’s not a good set up to focus.

Your workplace itself plays a big role when it comes to good time management. If you work at a chaotic desk, you spend up to 1.5 hours a day looking for something (source).

If people around you are unmotivated and unambitious, you might feel the same. In parallel, if you have active and motivated people around you, you’ll be more active too.

Remember the saying: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”.

4. Work-Life Balance

A full-time job, children, family members with special needs: Time management in care can quickly become a challenge. 

As important as your environment is to you – you need time for yourself. For sports, healthy nutrition, hobbies, friends and relaxation in order to function. 

5. Time Wasters

Your daily commute to work is a huge daily time waster. Not everyone has the possibility to be at work within 15 minutes or to live and work in a place with good infrastructure. 

However, there are things that you can influence. How often do you have your smartphone in your hand? How many hours a day do you spend on Netflix or carelessly scrolling through Instagram to keep up with the latest celebrity gossip?

6. External Help

Beyoncé had six nannies for her twins, a personal trainer, a whole team to take care of her management, voice and dance coaches and a beauty team. 

This doesn’t mean that you don’t have a chance unless you’re Beyoncé. 

It’s more important to have good organization and time management to get your work done. That’s why time management is so important. It allows you to allocate your precious time with a plan, schedule, and mindfulness, which leads to you reaching your goals, being more productive and yet having more time for yourself.

Time Management Meaning

“Time management means mastering one’s own time and work instead of being mastered by them.”

– Lothar Seiwert 

Effective time management not only makes you more organized, but it’s also proven to reduce stress, give you more time, minimize procrastination and help you achieve your goals.

With good time management, you’ll…

  • be doing the things you set out to do
  • work more productively and efficiently
  • use your time better and will have more time at your disposal
  • create more space for family, friends and a healthy work-life balance
  • feel physically and mentally better, fitter and more awake and sleep better (source)

Good time management is not difficult at all. It’s simply a matter of understanding and implementing the following three things:

  1. Making decisions and prioritizing tasks
  2. Planning when to do what
  3. Doing the things you want to do

Although Beyoncé has staff for many of her everyday tasks, it was her decision to become a singer. She gave priority to this goal and has actively pursued it from the beginning.

She certainly spends as much time in meetings as any typical US citizen – six hours a week (source). 

Although there is no formula that allows you to have more than 24 hours a day, there are methods to make more of your time and still feel more balanced. 

How to Improve Time Management: 5 Practical Tools, Techniques and Exercises for Better Time Management

Man waiting with phone in his hand

Eisenhower principle, ABC method, Pareto, ALPEN are only a few of the many proven time management techniques.

We’ll introduce you to the most common and effective ones here:

4 Quadrants Of Time Management (Eisenhower Matrix)

The four quadrants of time management, also called the Eisenhower matrix, might be one of the best time management techniques available. At its core, it says that you don’t have to do everything yourself. If you live by the belief “I’d rather do it myself before I have to explain it to someone else” – it’s in no way reprehensible, weak or even lazy to delegate tasks to others. 

First, you have to determine what you can delegate and what you have to do yourself.

To help you decide who or what to dedicate your time to, you can ask yourself two questions:

  • Does it matter?
  • Is it urgent? 

Determining that and deciding whether something is important and urgent – or not – is the key to effective time management. 

A useful tool for this is the four quadrants of time management / Eisenhower matrix; named after former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Allegedly he used this method himself and passed it on to his employees. 

Eisenhower has taken the topics of importance and urgency and developed four categories into which he divides tasks and projects: 

Important and urgent: You have to do this immediately and yourself. 

Important, but not urgent: The task must be done by yourself, but not right now. 

Not important, but urgent: Delegate such tasks. 

Neither important nor urgent: Does it matter if and when this task is completed? Doesn’t it really get you anywhere? Then get rid of it. 

Eisenhower Matrix in English

Stay realistic and honest when you divide your tasks within the time management matrix. The definition of what is “important” and what is “urgent” is not the same for every person.

Use the Eisenhower Matrix to categorize your tasks the evening before or at the beginning of a working day. It’s also suitable for unplanned situations in between.

Does your boss put a stack of documents on your desk that need to be done immediately? Use the Eisenhower Matrix to think about how important and urgent this task is and what you can postpone instead.

Other situations have real priority: If your child has hurt its knee while playing outside, leave everything behind and take care of it. If you are late with your activities afterward, use the matrix or one of the following methods to reassess the situation.

Pareto Principle: The 80/20 Rule

Woman checking phone at work

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Italian Vilfredo Pareto investigated the distribution of land ownership in his country.

He found out that 20% of the Italian population owned 80% of the land. Pareto researched further and noticed that this distribution could be transferred into many other areas of life. His principle says: 

80% of the results can be achieved with 20% of the total effort. The remaining 20% of the results require the most work with 80%. 

When you exercise, you burn more calories with a 15-minute HIIT training than with a one-hour walk. 

A large part (80%) of your essay is written in a relatively short period of time. Much more time is needed afterwards on text formatting, proofreading and finishing it.

The best time to use this technique is when you already have a good idea of your own abilities. If you have a sense of where your strengths and weaknesses lie, you can use the Pareto Principle to improve time management and curb perfectionism. 

Use your energy to reach your goal and don’t get bogged down in (unnecessary) improvements.

Remember: Better done than perfect. 

Time Management With the ABC Analysis 

With the ABC analysis you divide your tasks in their priorities: A, B, and C. In this way you gain an overview of what is important and brings the most added value and what is less important and at the same time takes up (too) much time. 

A-tasks add the most value (65%) and take relatively little time (15%). They are important and can usually only be done by you.

B-tasks are relatively important (added value 20%, time required 20%) and can be partly delegated.

C-tasks (value: 15%, time: 65%) are typical routine tasks, such as watering flowers, filing, going to the post office or making a phone call. They are rather unimportant in order to achieve your goals but must be done (at some point) anyway.

Actively applied, you should spend most of your time per day on A-tasks (one or two of these a day is recommended). Then you can tackle two or three B-tasks and finally do the minor C-tasks. For the latter, you should spend a maximum of 45 minutes in total. For class A at least three hours. 

The Alpen Method

The “Alpen” Method optimizes your time management with the help of a daily schedule. It was developed by the German economist and time management expert Lothar Seiwert. 

What makes it so special? You don’t just plan your daily routine, but also build in sufficient time buffer for unforeseen situations. Plans change often enough, someone falls ill or trains get canceled. To ensure that this doesn’t have a harmful impact on your day, the Alpen Method is used to plan as realistically as possible.

Alpen stands for:

  • Writing down tasks (Dt: Aufgaben aufschreiben)
  • Estimate duration (Dt: Länge einschätzen)
  • Schedule buffer time (Dt: Pufferzeit einplanen)
  • Make decisions (Dt: Entscheidungen treffen)
  • Follow-up checks (Dt: Nachkontrollieren)

1. Note Tasks

First of all, get an overview of your tasks by writing down everything that has to be done. Every activity, no matter how small, every appointment, add everything that you have to think about to the list.

In this first step, it’s not yet a matter of sorting or evaluating each task, but simply collecting them.

Ideally, you should do this the evening before. In the morning, you may be distracted by emails, social media, colleagues, family members.

2. Estimate Duration

Go through your list point by point and think about how much time you need for each task. Try to estimate as realistically as possible and rather allow yourself more time for a task if you are unsure how long it’s actually going to take.

The aim of this exercise is to see if you can complete all your tasks in one day and what you need to spend most of your time on.

3. Schedule Buffer Time

Woman drinking coffee and checking phone

Go over the list one more time and add a buffer to your estimated times. Lothar Seiwert recommends that you plan 60% of your time as working time and 40% as buffer time. 

Calculate travel times (and possible traffic jams), keep deadlines in mind and always reserve some time for unforeseen things. 

4. Make Decisions

At this point, most people fail because they find it difficult to set priorities or assess their tasks correctly. 

Use the time management grid (Eisenhower Matrix) we explained above. It will make things a lot easier. 

Go through each point and make a decision. Cross out what is unimportant or not urgent enough and schedule the less urgent items for another day. What remains are your priorities for today. 

Start with the most important first, smaller, similar tasks can be grouped into blocks.

5. Follow-Up Checks

All these time management methods can be as good as they are – if you don’t use them, they won’t help you.

That’s why you should set aside some time in the evenings to check back on your performance. How much have you achieved? What is still open? Where did you overestimate your time or did you have problems with the implementation? 

Monotasking: Concentrate on One Thing

If you like multitasking, you will have noticed that it seldom works.

Your attention span is at its highest when you concentrate on just one thing. Do you like taking notes during a phone call? It’s actually more productive to just listen and take notes afterward.

That’s because your brain has to switch between listening, processing, and writing at lightning speed and can’t focus on one thing.

At the University of Zurich, the effects of multitasking were tested on men and women of different age groups. They were told to walk on a treadmill and, in the meantime, were asked to name the colors that were shown to them. The challenge? The font color was different from the color shown (e.g. “yellow” was shown in red).

Normally we unconsciously swing our arms when walking. The test persons immediately had problems moving their arms while trying to name the colors at the same time. Their movements became more and more restricted the more demanding the mental tasks were.

Multitasking decreases performance causes concentration problems and causes additional stress for your mind and body. 

For these reasons, it’s better to do monotasking and work through your tasks step by step. 

Best Practices for Good Organization and Time Management

If you are looking for additional best practices on how to improve your self and time management, here are some quick tips:

Set Deadlines

Time management at university or school often means “I have to hand in an essay tomorrow for which I had two months. Since I haven’t started yet, I’m putting in a night shift.

In the end, you finish writing your essay in three hours.

You surely know what we’re talking about. Most people work faster under pressure.

Use this insight for your own time management by setting yourself deadlines.

Decide when you want your essay to be finished and how long it will take you. Block the time in your calendar, set a timer – and get started.

Get in the Zone

According to motivation trainer Esther Hicks, it takes 17 seconds of work to get into a flow. That doesn’t sound too hard, does it? Yet, everyday life teaches us differently. With all its usual distractions, like colleagues coming over for a chat, a broken coffee machine or noises from outside distracting you. As it turns out, there are many things that distract you from working focused on one thing at a time.

On average, we get distracted every eight minutes and waste at least five minutes every day doing things that don’t make sense (source).

This is why it is so important to get in the zone and use your flow. It’s like riding a bike: You have to push the pedals first to ride up the mountain, but then you can swing your legs and let yourself roll out as soon as you ride down again.

Not only will you be able to concentrate better on your job, but you will also increase your productivity in the long run. It will become easier and easier for you to put yourself in this flow state and to do more in less time (see Pareto principle).

Use Time Batching

If you have to do the same tasks over and over again, Time Batching can help you in becoming more structured. By using time batching, you can combine the same tasks and complete them in one go. 

Time batching helps you manage your time better and become more productive. You stay focused on one task because your brain doesn’t have to constantly switch back and forth between different tasks – similar to monotasking.

If routines are important to you, you should try time batching too. Block certain days for similar tasks to avoid the risk of multitasking. On Mondays you write, Tuesdays you’re completely occupied with Project X, and every Friday you take the afternoon off for your personal development.

Set SMART Goals

Do you have goals you want to achieve but you feel like you have no time to tackle them? Writing a book, learning to meditate, the long-awaited journey abroad – effective time management is key. Setting SMART goals can be a great help here. Break down your goals clearly – and feasibly – and give them a realistic time frame.

In combination with one of the time management methods we mentioned above, you simplify your goal setting and develop a clear plan.

In this blog article, you will learn how SMART goal-setting works.

Define Workflows and Routines With Checklists

Stressed woman on couch

Noting tasks out on paper reduces stress. If you have to do many different things, a checklist can give you the necessary safety. 

Write down everything that needs to be done. Basically empty out your mind on a piece of paper. It doesn’t have to look nice or have structure. Keep an eye on your list and check off what is done. Putting a checkmark behind a completed task immediately gives you a pleasant feeling of satisfaction.

Checklists are particularly suitable for recurring tasks. Document your work processes and note each step as a checklist item. By doing so, you’ll create a useful reminder to help you keep track of things in stressful situations. This is ideal when traveling, for research, but also if you have to take medication or give it to someone else.

If you tend to procrastinate, you should use this method only to a limited extent. Continuously reworking and improving your checklist will cost you time and misses the purpose of it. Go through your checklist with the time management method of your choice and set categories or priorities to avoid getting bogged down.

Use Intrinsic Motivation

You make decisions based on your feelings and your inner will. If something feels good or makes you feel good (hobbies, meaningful work, talking to people you care about), you will feel much more motivated to go for it.

If you are looking forward to something, you will happily make time for it. This is called “intrinsic motivation“.

Let’s say that you want to follow a morning routine. You don’t expect anything in return except a positive feeling. This way you go to bed with a completely different mindset, and it will be easy for you to get up because you’re intrinsically motivated.

You can also use intrinsic motivation for your time management. Why do you want better time management? What motivates you to have more time? Do you want to spend more time with your family or friends? Then use this as fuel to drive you towards effective time management.

Remind yourself of your “why” before you start planning your day. Once you understand why you do something and how it feels, you will feel more motivated to manage your time better.

Conclusion

There’s something that is often forgotten with all the time management methods and techniques: Everyone is in a different life situation, has a different personality and values.

What works for you doesn’t necessarily work for someone else.

Find out for yourself which time management method appeals to you the most and suits you and your lifestyle best.

Most of these techniques won’t change your life right away and need several attempts. Allow yourself enough time to try out different methods. 

Learn from mistakes and reward yourself when you successfully implemented or improved your time management skills.

Try to manage your time as carefully as possible. Observe how you react in stressful situations or when you are disturbed. By dealing with time management, you’ll analyze your situation in a non-judgmental way. You will find out what drives you and what is important to you. You will also expose time wasters and find ways to let these things go.

This will not only give your life more structure but will make you feel happier and more balanced. Time management is a perfect example of how mindfulness helps you to become the best version of yourself.

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