Time is our most precious resource. And whether you’re a high-powered executive or just starting your career as an intern, it doesn’t discriminate: We all have 24 hours in a day. But when the temperatures get warmer and the AC is blasting in the office, those 24 hours all of a sudden seem even shorter. Even as a dedicated professional, you might find yourself longingly looking at the clock while trying to power through your tasks as fast as possible so you can head outside and take advantage of summer.
The good thing is that depending on how you manage your resources, you can manipulate time and get the most of your working hours — and enjoy life outside of work to the fullest as well. We’ve rounded up some of the most impactful time-management tactics below to help you do just that.
But before you dive in and enthusiastically adopt a new workflow, it’s important to embrace a couple of important mindset shifts. First, you need to switch your thinking from time spent to results achieved. The most effective time-management tactics are about improving efficiencies and maximizing the impact of every minute spent — not all tasks and activities are even and every working hour is precious. Keeping results in the forefront of your mind will help you get the most of any productivity method.
Second, you must be willing to be real with yourself when it comes to the way you currently spend your time. Are you stuck in a spiral of overcommitment because you’re afraid of saying no? Do you tend to procrastinate or are you a multitasking addict? Assessing the present with honesty and humility is the first step towards building a schedule that allows for more freedom.
So, as long as you regularly check in with yourself and your productivity levels and are willing to focus on working smart instead of hard, you’ll love the five time-management methods below (especially when the weather is gorgeous).
The Pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro Technique has been around since the late ‘80s and adopted by millions of people since then, so it’s a pretty credible and popular productivity tool.
Here’s how it works: Choose a task you’d like to tackle. Set a timer for 25 minutes and work on the task without interruptions — no peeking at other browser tabs, answering Slack messages or scrolling through Instagram until the timer rings. When you hear the sound of the timer, take a short break. Whether you go for a quick stroll or grab a coffee, stepping away from the task keeps you refreshed and focused. After four “pomodoros” (the method was named after the tomato-shaped timer its inventor used), you can take a 20- to 30-minute break. You’ll be pleasantly surprised about how much you can accomplish in interruption-free, 25-minute bursts.
The Pareto principle (or 80/20 rule)
The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that 80 percent of results tend to be caused by 20 percent of efforts. Think of your most important project and its most crucial deliverables and outcomes. Are you spending most of your time on activities that move the needle towards the successful completion of that project? Or do you regularly get caught up in things like attending meetings with nebulous agendas or answering emails?
This principle also applies to your career development. You want most of your efforts to go towards what matters the most in terms of getting you where you want to be professional. For example, if you dream of landing a leadership role but barely get to hone your project-management skills because you’re too busy catching up on small tasks you’ve picked up for other people, you might be investing in the wrong areas. If you want to get the most out of life, make a habit of thinking of the 80/20 rule when choosing where to direct your energy — whether short-term or long-term.
Time-blocking is about dividing your calendar into blocks allocated to specific sets of activities. If you’ve got a lot on your plate, you can fight off that feeling of overwhelm by planning in advance how you want to split up your various activities throughout the week.
For example, you might want to dedicate half a day to strategic, creative work during a moment of the week when you know there will be fewer distractions and you’ll be refreshed energy-wise. You could also choose to have regular times blocked off for admin-related tasks or meetings with your team. But in order for this method to work, you need to be strict about your commitment to yourself and avoid doing things like booking last-minute meetings during your time blocks.
Sometimes getting the most out of your time involves adding more to your schedule. Have you heard of keystone habits? The term was first coined by author Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit. Keystone habits are activities that have a positive ripple effect on all areas of your life: exercise, good sleep hygiene, a healthy diet, meditation, etc.
While it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re too busy to sleep more or squeeze regular workouts into your routine, it’s important to remember that creating space in your life for these keystone habits will help you feel more energized, focused and productive and get a lot more done in less time.
Regular task audits
You might love to-do lists. But not-dos are equally important. Are there things on your plate that you would best be delegated? Are there outdated tasks that might be completely ditched? Do your goals and priorities need to be revised based on changing circumstances? The most productive people in the world know that time-management efforts require continuous awareness as well as adaptability and flexibility. It’s a fast-paced world, and whatever was important and relevant a few weeks ago might actually not be anymore.
Regularly auditing your schedule and taking note of your top-of-mind concerns and whether they are still aligned with the current state of events will go a long way in keeping you effective and stress-free.