Out of all the resources available to you, there is only one that is a really special type of resource – time. You cannot store time for later. Everyone has the exact number of it each day. Time wasted cannot be restored or retrieved back. Most people feel that they have too many tasks and too little time for them. The simple answer to all those problems is time management.
Time management is the discipline that teaches you how to stay in charge of time. It teaches how to plan time more wisely, so that you have more time to do more things. With time management you will learn how to set your priorities right and make conscious choices, so that you can spend more time doing the important tasks.
Time to read
Time to read: 12 minutes (based on 150 wpm)
Why is time management important?
Unlike almost any other resource, time is limited and everybody has the same amount of it. Here are some of the reasons why time management is very important.
First of all time is important because it is limited. It does not matter if you regard it as 24 hours or 1,440 minutes, or any other type of measurement. Your colleague next door, who seems to accomplish twice as mush as you in the same time frame, also has the same amount of time. The same applies for your other colleague, who is always behind on his tasks.
More with less
By learning to control your time, you could accomplish more with less. This is possible by improving your focus, which enhances your efficiency.
Another benefit of time management is the ability to make better decisions. When you have enough time to consider all the options, you will eliminate the possibility of making a bed decision.
If you always feel overwhelmed and stressed, it would be hard for you to figure out how much time would you need for a certain task. When you learned to manage your time, you will not be exposed to such levels of stress. You will have a better understanding of the demands on your time.
And last but not least, you will have time that is “free”, which you can spend with your family, or doing the activities that you enjoy the most in life. When you are busy you will accomplish more and the extra time that you gathered throughout the day can be used to relax, meditate or sleep and get that extra energy for the next day.
How to improve your time management skills?
There are several general tips for improving your time management skills:
Prioritize, prioritize and once again prioritize
As the famous saying goes: “it is not true that you do not have time for reading, it just does not have high enough priority“. You need to be able to pick the most important activities and execute them first. Such activities are the ones that deliver the best returns (one more time ROI or return on investment).
Set time boundaries
If you want to achieve high efficiency, you have to set yourself away from other people that might take your time. Tell your family and your colleagues that you need time to concentrate. Switch off your phone, email and any types of notifications.
Make a schedule and follow it
Start organizing your time in advance. Start with smaller intervals and expand them. Keep track of everything that went according to the plan and anything that did not. Notice and write down any patterns that you find.
Add good distractions in your schedule
Distractions are inevitable, so you might try to manage them. Include coffee breaks, walks (an informative article about doing those 10,000 steps a day), chats with colleagues in your daily life.
Avoid bad distractions
Look for those distractions that take too much of your time. Try to avoid them at any cost. Examples of bad distractions are social media, constantly checking and responding to emails, app notifications.
Improving time management with Pomodoro
Below you may find one of the most useful time management strategies: Pomodoro.
What is Pomodoro
Pomodoro is a time management method invented by Francesco Cirillo. He invented it in the late 80-s. The technique uses a time to break down work into intervals. Each interval is traditionally 25 minutes. The intervals are named pomodoros. After each pomodoro you take a 5 minute break and after each 4 pomodoros you take a bigger break of about 30 minutes.
Who should use the technique
Even though this techniques was invented by a student in order to improve his studying and learning abilities, it is also applicable in every other field. The tasks and the intervals may vary from industry to industry and from person to person, but the underlying principles are the same.
The following conditions would apply to your choice whether to use the technique or not:
- The goals that you set for yourself should be breakable into smaller atomic tasks.
- You should be able to somehow track your time.
- Ideally, you should be able to switch off all communication while doing a pomodoro.
The Pomodoro Technique
My interpretation of the pomodoro technique helps me work on several different projects in any single day and was behind my success as a start-up company. I was not afraid to test several different approaches in order to find the best one for my working style. I encourage you to experiment and only take the ideal that would be beneficial for you.
1. The ToDo list
You should organize all your tasks by project (and if applicable by module or section). Ideally you could use a task management system but a simple text file or notebook would also do the trick. What is important here to keep track of everything that you have to do.
If you could prioritize the tasks and regularly review and update them, you would have the the perfect ToDo list. Do not be afraid to use the whole specter of priorities (from 1 to 9 or even more if you wish). If you have more than a couple of Prio-1 tasks, then you are doing something wrong.
2. The 3-daily MIT
From the whole ToDo list, pick the three most important tasks (or MIT) on which you want to concentrate today. You do not have to only choose Piro-1 tasks but that would make the most sense. If you have set your priorities correctly, doing those could give the best benefits.
Do not be afraid to switch the MIT-s if needed but always keep track and analyze why you had to do that. A simple note would be enough.
3. The Pomodoro Settings
There are several parameters on which you have to decide:
- The length of one pomodoro interval: I would recommend 50 minutes, this is where I am the most productive.
- The length of the small breaks: For me it is 10 minutes.
- What you are going to do on those breaks. It does not make sense to be “on a break” but to continue working on the task at head. You could either plan a good distraction for those periods, or just do something that occupies your mind. For example, when I was starting with pomodoro, I learned juggling with 3 balls.
- The length of the big breaks: For me it is 30 minutes – enough to have a lunch or watch some YouTube videos or whatever else makes sense that would relax you.
- Your velocity or the number of pomodoros that you could do in a working day. I would recommend 6 or 7 even though the working day is usually 8 hours. On a particularly busy day I could do 8 but after that my performance goes dramatically down.
- How you are going to track the time: I am using a desktop application but any watch or timer could do.
- How you are going to track your progress: I am using a notes in a text editor.
4. Tracking the tasks
Track your tasks using the following scheme:
- Pomodoro: A short name for the pomodoro. (e.g. Install WP on the testing server.)
- Reason: An explanation of the reason why you are doing that pomodoro. How does it help achieve the bigger goal. I use this to keep the big picture of what tasks I have been doing each day. (e.g. Create a test WP application for the sales pitch with Company X.)
- Project: Some data about the project that contains the task. I use that as a shortcut for when I am filling my time-sheet at the end of the day. (e.g. 101564 Sales Opportunity with Company X.)
- Result: What was the result of the pomodoro? Is the task done? Or do you have to continue working on it? (e.g. Successfully installed WP, I still have to do some configuration changes and plugin installs.)
- Notes: Any interesting observations that you had while working on the tasks. This could be anything that would help you analyze. (e.g. Using the auto-install script really saved time and I was able to reduce the task from 2 pomodoros to 1.)
5. Dividing the time of the pomodoro
In order to make sure you are doing the right pomorodo, spend the first 5 minutes thinking about it and filling the reason field. Make sure that doing this pomodoro would let you get further in achieving the goal.
Spend the last 5 minutes analyzing your results and filling the result and notes fields. This would make you think about patterns (distractions, flow states) that could help you plan better in the future.
The Pomodoro technique applies to almost every fields, where work can be divided in intervals. I use it when I am working (as an entrepreneur and also as an employee); for studying (I graduated MBA and then got a project management certification from PMI); when I am reading a book (it is challenging but doable to fit an exact number of chapters in 50 minutes); when I am doing the house chores.
Once again I encourage you to try it, to experiment different applications of the technique and share your results.
Time management is an essential skill in the modern professional life in any industry. You cannot create more time (you only have 24 hours) but you can create more with the given time. You can eliminate some of the stress factors in your life, accomplish more with less and earn some free time for your family or the other activities that make you happy.
The pomodoro technique helps achieve all those benefits and on top of that gives you transparency of your activities and task. At the end of a busy working day, filling your time-sheet can be as simple as copy/pasting from your pomodoro tracking tool.