11 Time Management Practices That Works

I’m often asked – “how can I better manage my time?”. In this article, I will share the 11 best time management ideas I’ve collected and applied that has helped me make better use of my time.

While you may already be aware of some or even most of the ideas, sometimes what we need is just a reminder. You may even come across a new practice or two that can be immediately applied to improve your time management such as with practices #3 and #4 below.

1) Improve Time Management – Define Big Goals

I’m still working on one of the big goals that I wrote down more than 2 years ago that I initially thought could be completed within a year. That’s how big our big goals can be.

The big goals that I’ve set give me the means to strategically allocate my daily tasks so that my daily tasks can become the building bricks of my intended goals rather than bricks that become randomly piled that amount to nothing.

Because the big goals that I set could become what a lot of my time and effort is based on for the next few months or even years, I am very careful before I commit to them.

Before the start of every year, I will review all areas of my life and see the progress on my big goals and make changes where necessary.

When I define my big goals, I like to take a holistic look at the main areas of my life by rating each area on a scale of 1-10 to see which area(s) may require improvement:

  • Health – mental and physical
  • Financials
  • Relationships – spouse, family, friends, co-workers
  • Spiritual
  • Lifestyle – activities that let me enjoy life (hobbies, vacations etc.)

Here are some rules that I adhere to when setting my big goals:

  • Always make sure that I write down my goals and keep them somewhere visible
  • Don’t set more than 3 big goals for the year so that I don’t spread myself too thin
  • Ensure that every goal is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely)

Setting big goals helps us better manage our time by giving us the means to strategically allocate our daily tasks so that our daily tasks can become the building bricks of our intended goals rather than bricks that become randomly piled that amount to nothing.

2) Improve Time Management – Define Big Tasks

For me, determining my big tasks means defining my top 1-3 tasks for the day that I have to complete no matter what.

Determining my big tasks for the day is like setting up signposts for me to move towards throughout the day. It guides me on how I can direct my time and energy to accomplish what I want to accomplish.

This doesn’t mean that I always succeed in completing them, but it does mean that there is a higher chance that I am able to produce more.

The important thing to note about setting up our big tasks for the day is to make sure that:

  1. You word the task in a way that you know how to take action to complete your big task of the day.
  2. You believe that the task can be completed within the day.
  3. The ability and time you have for the day is realistic to complete the task for the day.

It takes some experimentation to find out the balance between the belief of what I can accomplish in a day and the reality of my ability/time I have to complete the task as I find myself setting too big of a task sometimes, but that’s fine as it pushes me to try to accomplish more in a day.

The main idea here is to set up 1-3 goalposts for the day to move our big goals forward.

3) Beat Procrastination – Dismantle Tasks

When I have to do a task that I am unfamiliar with and require more than 1 simple action to complete, I often find myself in mental paralysis.

To break out of this mental paralysis, I do a little exercise to dismantle the task into its smallest parts, either mentally or on paper:

  • Complex tasks can be murky therefore, I define what exactly I want to accomplish (May be writing a book, writing that long email or cleaning my room)
  • I keep breaking down the task until I cannot think of how I can break it down any further.

Here’s an example of what reducing a complex task may look like:

Main Task
Clean my Room
Clear my table
Mop the floor
Clean my fan
Reorganise my books (Bring out all my books, organise them)
Tidy up my wardrobe (Fold clothes nicely)

The main idea here is to reduce a complex task into tasks that are simple enough for me to take action on.

4) Beat Procrastination – Set Tight Deadlines

Defining and task and then completing them in the shortest possible time helps with time management by creating a sense of urgency to complete a well-defined task in a short amount of time.

Whenever I feel like I am procrastinating, I use a timer to give myself some urgency to complete a task.

To do this:

  1. Define a small and actionable task that can be completed in 15 minutes
  2. Set a timer for 15 minutes and start the timer

In fact, I’m writing this section now with this method and I still have 7 minutes to go.

A timer that I’d recommend is the Forest app that is available on both Android and iOS – it makes the discipline needed to produce just a bit more tolerable with its game-like features where I can plant virtual trees with each timer session. It even has a stopwatch mode.

I’ve also written a guide about how to use the Forest app, in case you want to know more about it.

5) Free Up Time – Outsource Your Tasks

The outsourcing of tasks helps improve time management by delegating the task to a person/machine to free up time that can be spent on higher priorities items.

When I constantly find that I am short of time, I do a stocktake of all the tasks that I engage in throughout a typical day and see if it’s possible to outsource some of them.

Some tasks that I’ve outsourced to an app or another person:

  • Food (I usually eat out, meaning I pay and someone else cooks for me)
  • Finances (I use an app to keep track of my finances)
  • Task management (I use Trello to keep track of my tasks)

You may want to check out services like Fiverr or Upwork to see if there’s any service that freelancers provide that you can possibly make use of.

While outsourcing your tasks usually require paying someone, sometimes outsourcing tasks can be as simple as asking for help.

6) Improve Time Management – Kill Timekillers

After I’ve defined my big goals, time management becomes largely a matter of consciously saying no to the things that do not contribute to the big tasks that I want to accomplish that day.

It is quite straightforward, I will have to keep saying no to myself and others for things that directly or indirectly take me away from what I’ve set out to do and then I ensure that I keep to my word.

An activity that directly takes me away from what I want to do could be an event that requires me to travel – time which I can spend doing my big task. In this case, I may have to politely decline the invitation.

An activity that indirectly takes me away from what I want to do could be mental distractions like the browsing of social media as I’m working on my big tasks. In this case, I will have to say no to the temptations of such mental distractions to myself.

In times where I’ve had the need to say no to myself, I’ve found improved my probability of staying away from distractions by capturing any ideas for distractions that come to mind and to later delete them.

The main idea here – to effectively steward our time and to move the needle on our big goals, we need to say no to every other thing that distracts us from our main goals.

7) Improve Time Management – Adapt Plans

From the moment I start my day to the moment I end my day, there must be at least 100 changes to the plans of my day.

Some days I wake up late, forget to take something when I head out. Other times, I managed to complete my big tasks with less time than I’ve expected – all these have an impact on my day that I have to adapt accordingly to.

Whatever changes happen, I’ve found that there are 4 main ways I adapt my plan:

  • Remove the task for the day and put it into the waiting list
  • Reduce the task for the day and put the remaining task into the waiting list
  • Add a new task for the day
  • Change the way (either in timing or location) that I complete the task that day

Each way of adapting my plan is based on 4 corresponding considerations:

  • I no longer have enough time to complete the task for the day
  • I still have some time to make progress on the task, but not enough to finish it
  • I took less than expected time to complete my task(s) that day
  • Do I still have enough time or will be at the same place to complete my task?

The main idea here is to recognise that our circumstances (time available, priorities and location) will change despite our planning throughout the day. We must therefore keep changing our plans accordingly to our most current circumstances.

8) Improve Time Management – Remain Open

Beyond all the time management practices I’ve listed here, I try to stay open to changing the way I do things so that I can get more out of my day.

There are 2 main actions I take to try to remain open:

  1. Read books related to this topic
  2. Listen to podcasts related to this topic

When a new idea comes up that can potentially help me with my time management, I note them down and experiment with them to see how well it can work in my life.

Remaining open in this way helps me constantly upgrade my time management consistently because I get to listen and implement the best practices of good people, who are often ahead of me in their lives.

9) Improve Time Management – Sleep Enough

There are some days where I just cannot keep to a standard bedtime. When times like this happen, I try to make sure that I get enough sleep so that I do not operate as if I’m on a low battery for the rest of the day.

For me, enough sleep means about 8 to 8.5 hours of sleep every night. You may want to try sleeping until you naturally wake up for a few days to determine how many hours does enough sleep mean for you.

Getting sufficient sleep helps with time management simply because it helps a person be able to focus on the task in front of him than thinking about sleeping.

10) Sleep & Wake At The Same Time Daily

Keeping to a standard bedtime and waketime helps with time management by ensuring that one would have enough rest for the day and would have enough time to start the next day well.

The bedtime and waketime that I’ve set for myself is 10 pm and 6 am. Whenever I disregard them, I’ve found that the start of my next day is always chaotic – rushing to get myself prepared for the day with no time to start my day off properly.

Whenever I go to bed on time, I’ve found that there is a much higher chance that I will be able to wake up on time, start my day well, and get my top priorities done for the day.

By completing my top priority even before I start my day, I’m already ahead of the race when compared with most people.

Try setting up and keeping to a standard bedtime and waketime and you might just be amazed by how much more effective your day becomes.

11) Improve Time Management – Use A Calendar

Using a calendar helps me to manage time better by giving me a forecast of important events like anniversaries or exams in the future. This gives me time to plan and prepare for them.

While most of my day is managed by task and not by time, I do use my calendar sparingly to mark out events that are non-routine and to set up alerts (like birthdays) that are recurring.

I used to use a physical calendar to keep track of my days, but have since found that an app can do a better job especially with functions like the setting of recurring events and alerts.

For most people, I think that Google calendar will work just fine. Personally, I use Calendars by Readdle which is available only on iOS.

Here are other articles I’ve written which may interest you as well:

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