124 practical time-management tips

Up the tempo!

  1. Set stretch targets for skill activities e.g. Goal: Win 3 points from my drop-shot in this set of tennis.
  2. Set lots of mini-deadlines.
  3. Play  the game of trying to see how much you can accomplish in a given time.

Use good time-management tools

  1. If you do a lot of writing or computer work, use two monitors. One is not enough!
  2. Use a headset for phone or hands-free phone.
  3. Get yourself a large storage unit and fill it with household objects organized in alphabetical order. B = batteries; U = umbrella, etc. it’s a good system for storing and finding stuff.
  4. Get a kitchen timer. Set it to go off in 25 minutes (or whatever). Then work flat out on a task without stopping until the timer goes off.
  5. Get yourself a standing desk so you can alternate between sitting and standing while working. You may work better standing!
  6. Buy and learn to use voice-recognition software.
  7. Wear a golfer’s counting watch and click the counter every time you catch yourself working well or finishing something.
  8. Use Google Calendar; this way, if you have a smart phone, you’ll always have your calendar with you. And you can set Google calendar to alert you when events are coming up.
  9. Find a random signal generator and get it to beep you every 15 minutes or so to remind you to check how you’re working e.g. “Am I using my time well right now?” I created a simple random signal generator by inserting signals into a multi-hour audio file.
  10. Drink coffee/other caffeinated substances (within reason!) to enhance your alertness and concentration powers .
  11. Eat regularly throughout the day to keep up your blood glucose level, especially while doing cognitively or emotionally demanding activities.

Conquer procrastination

  1. Do your ugliest task of the day first. That way, the rest of the day will feel great. (This is is called “Eat the toad first”!)
  2. If you’ve been putting off doing a dreaded task for a long time and you catch yourself wanting to do it, stop everything and do it! Strike while the iron’s hot!
  3. Develop a “getting started” ritual. For example, take three deep breaths, visualize yourself doing all the steps to complete the task ahead of you, and then say “Let’s go!”
  4. If you become immobilized with fear, work out a routine that works for you to get yourself moving  on it again (!)
  5. If there’s something that needs to be done and you catch yourself having procrastinating thoughts about doing it, think about what procrastinating thoughts you’re telling yourself and write them down. Sometimes, awareness of how silly you’re being and the chore and shame of having to write those excuses down might be enough to get you to do what you’re wanting to put off.
  6. Write down the things you procrastinate about as they happen. This way you can learn what things you procrastinate about and why.
  7. Divide and conquer. Apply the salami technique. Break down overwhelming or unpleasant tasks into bite-sized pieces.
  8. Settle for “good enough” instead of “perfect” more often.

Cunning strategies to manage time-wasting phone calls

  1. Call at inconvenient times e.g. meal times or just before lunch and end of day when phoning people who trap you into long conversations.
  2. Stand up when calling someone who might entice you into prolonged conversation.
  3. Rote-learn conversation escape lines: “I’d love to keep chatting, but I’ve got some people waiting outside to see me.” “I’m working to a deadline right now. Can I call you later?”

Control distractions and interruptions

  1. Turn off your email alert–the frequent dinging noise is much too tempting to ignore.
  2. When you get interrupted, jot down your next action step to do when you return.
  3. Turn off your internet connection when you’re doing really important tasks to avoid the temptation of checking your email and social media when your task gets hard or you get tired.
  4. Block interruptions at the source e.g. switch your phone to silent; turn off your email alert, work at home, etc.
  5. Use one of those software programs to ban yourself from time-wasting websites during specified times.

Write stuff down

  1. Write down any good ideas you have onto a single piece of paper and put it in your in tray for processing later.
  2. Keep an out-and-about errand list
  3. When you get interrupted, write down your next action step to do when you return.
  4. Add reminders of important events coming up into your calendar e.g. “ABC report now due in one week’s time.” ” Europe holiday now one month away.”
  5. Set up the Evernote application on your smart phone so you can jot down any spontaneous good ideas that pop into your head and store them safely.
  6. Get everything out of your head and down on paper. It’s safer that way–and heaps less stressful.
  7. After recurring but irregular events such as annual report time  or annual conferences, do an after-action report where you note down all the things that went well and badly for next time.
  8. Keep a “things pending” list where you keep tabs on who you’re waiting to hear from.
  9. For each mini-projects you’ve got going, specify your next action–the specific thing you need to do next to progress your project.
  10. Do your serious thinking on paper or on computer–writing your thoughts down helps you stay focused, think better and produce a hard copy of your thoughts to refer to later.

Automate things/create automatic habits

  1. Automate direct debit for regular bills such as electricity, health fund, etc.
  2. Work hard to create automatic habits and routines e.g. have a “first thing in morning” routine, a ‘getting ready to give a presentation” routine, etc
  3. Set implementation intentions to create automatic habits. For example, “If I am going up the stairs, I will run up.” “If I’m about to phone someone for a catch-up chat, I will spend a few moments beforehand  thinking about what they’ve been up to and what to ask them about.”
  4. Work hard to create productive habits that will repay you handsomely for your trouble the rest of your life. (High return on investment!)
  5. Practice making routine decisions easily. Work out effective strategies beforehand e.g. pick the restaurant with easy parking or is likely to be quiet, toss a coin if I can’t decide, etc.

Be aware

  1. Be aware of how you’re spending your time. Regulary pull yourself out of unconscious mode into conscious mode.
  2. Set up a random signal generator to beep you every 15 minutes or so as a cue to check whether you’re spending your time wisely right now.
  3. Try not to interrupt others if busy working. Find a time that suits you both.
  4. Be fully focused: focus your energy and attention on just one thing at a time.
  5. Always ask yourself: “Is there a better way to do this?”
  6. Break your day into 10-minute segments and see how few 10-minute segments you can waste (Ingvar Kamprad’s idea).

Focus on results and finishing stuff

  1. Develop the “compulsion for closure” habit (Edwin Bliss)–develop an irresistible urge to finish off nearly completed tasks.
  2. Pat yourself on back for any small wins.
  3. Celebrate every time you finish something–even if it’s just a simple “well done, me” and a quick pat on the back.
  4. Wear a golfer’s “watch” and generously click the counter every time you finish some task or do something well.
  5. Set task targets, rather than time targets. That is, rather than scheduling to work on a project for an hour or so, instead set yourself the task of completing three emails, or whatever.
  6. Adopt a ROWE –a results-only work environment. Think in terms of outcomes and results rather than activity and busy-ness and procedure-following (within reason!).

Get organized. Use a good filing system

  1. Use a simple alphabetical filing system. You might  break this down into work and non-work categories.
  2. Use an in tray and clear it daily.
  3. Set up separate in-trays for your partner and other family members and throw in telephone messages and mail and ideas you want to tell them.
  4. When in doubt, throw it out!
  5. Follow Edwin Bliss’s filing rule: “A few fat files are better than lots of thin files.”
  6. Find a home for everything, and know where that home is. Alphabetical filing is good!
  7. Work in an uncluttered office:
    (a)allocate 10 minutes a day to putting stuff away;
    (b)learn to put things away after you’ve finished with them.
  8. Put unprocessed stuff into your in tray and empty your in tray every day.

Be smart

  1. Stop making rash promises. Under-promise and over-deliver.
  2. Apply the Pareto Principle: spend more time on the vital few tasks that yield big results.
  3. Stop doing things that don’t work.
  4. Do acts of prevention. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
  5. Don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over.
  6. Always ask yourself: “Is there a better way to do this?”
  7. Don’t brood about past mistakes. Instead of saying “If only“, say “Next time.”
  8. Define successful outcomes for all your mini-projects. Know exactly what you’re working for.
  9. Experiment! Keep thinking up new, hopefully better ways of doing things. It makes life more fun and more productive.
  10. Learn to say no to unimportant things.
  11. Learn to say yes to important things.
  12. Identify bottlenecks and work out how to get rid of them.
  13. Stop yourself thinking this all the time:, “It’s OK if I can’t finish this now.  I’ll take it home and finish it tonight.
  14. Don’t drink alcohol at lunch.
  15. Don’t drink too much alcohol at work functions, or you might end up destroying your hard-won reputation with just one disinhibited remark or action.
  16. Work out effective time-management strategies beforehand e.g. prefer quiet restaurants, arrive before rush hour, arrive at cinema early enough to choose good seats, etc.
  17. Don’t make important decisions when you’re not thinking well.
  18. Focus your energy and time on things you can control and learn to ignore things you can’t control.
  19. Work out effective strategies beforehand e.g. prefer quiet restaurants, arrive before rush hour, arrive at cinema early enough to choose good seats, etc.
  20. Spend a few moments at the end of each day savoring the good moments. Not only will you have the pleasure of re-living these good moments,  but the act of recalling them will help lock them into your long -term memory.

Schedule time wisely

  1. Identify your most creative time, protect it, use it well, and defend it ruthlessly.
  2. Check email at set times each day.
  3. Batch-process as much as possible e.g. out-and-about errands, phone calls, morning routine, end-of-week round-up, etc
  4. Do things that take just a couple of minutes straight away.
  5. Schedule large chunks of uninterrupted time for important projects.
  6. Identify your MITs –Most Important Tasks for the day– and do them before other less important tasks.
  7. Plan your weekends and non-work time. Don’t fritter away your precious “your time”.
  8. Spend time at the start of the week thinking about what you’d like to achieve in the coming week.
  9. Spend time at the end of the week reviewing how the week went.
  10. Allocate time each day caring for your body. If you look after it, it will look after you.
  11. Take regular 5-minute exercise breaks to get your blood flowing to your brain.
  12. Spend time consolidating what you’ve just learned–take catnaps,  take short meditation breaks, get a good night’s sleep, practice recalling what you can remember, etc.
  13. Force yourself to make time to plan before leaping in, even if just for a few seconds.
  14. Build in a comfortable cushion of extra time to protect yourself against Murphy’s Law when working to a deadline.
  15. Arrive at events early if this works to your advantage:
    (a) arrive at restaurant before rush hour;
    (b) arrive at the cinema early to choose good seats;
  16. avoid peak hour when commuting to and from work.

Kill time-wasters

  1. Use waiting time wisely–carry with you reading material your list of phone calls to make, information to memorize, etc.
  2. Reduce your commute time as much as possible — when buying or renting a property, be prepared to pay extra to live closer to your work.
  3. Conduct regular audits for time-wasting activities.
  4. Set yourself  the challenge of finding 10 time-wasting activities to kill in your everyday activities.
  5. Block junk at the source:
    (a)unsubscribe to unwanted emails, put yourself on the do-not-call register, put up signs requesting no junk mail and no hawkers/collectors/religious callers, etc;
    (b) block access from your favorite  time-wasting websites when working;
  6. Watch TV very selectively especially programs with ads.
  7. Get up 15 minutes earlier than usual and see if you miss the sleep. Give yourself two weeks to adjust before deciding.
  8. Identify your cognitively dead times at work, and schedule easy tasks during this time e.g. exercise, phone calls, meetings, etc

Read intelligently

  1. Read selectively. You can waste a lot of time mindlessly reading stuff.
  2. Apply what you read. Otherwise, what’s the point of reading it?
  3. After you’ve been reading for a while, stop and recall what you’ve read. Then check what you’ve forgotten. This is painful to do, but it helps to lock in the key points into your memory.
  4. Before reading a lengthy document, write down what you’re hoping to find out.  Setting the intention will help your brain spot relevant information when it appears and ignore the other stuff.

Master time-saving skills

  1. Learn how to type.
  2. Learn how to concentrate.
  3. Learn how to communicate well.
  4. Learn how to make routine decisions quickly.
  5. Learn how to coach others well. Don’t re-do your subordinates’ poor work for them; teach them how to do their work the way you want them to do it.
  6. Learn how to create good habits that will repay you a thousand-fold and stop bad habits that cost you big time when added up over time.
  7. Learn how to get your children to be helpful, contributing members of the house.
  8. Learn how to estimate accurately how long a task will take. Before starting any task, estimate how long you think it will take; then see how accurate you were. You’ll soon get much better at estimating how long things take in real life.

Manage other people well

  1. Give really clear instructions to others about what you want.
  2. Ask people when they write to you to “open with their news” ( i.e. begin with their key point); this way you won’t have to read most of the document in a vacuum. If the report is longer than 4 pages, insist on an opening executive summary.
  3. Get people in meetings to focus on the question: “What is the next action we need to take?”