Time management is all about working smarter rather than working harder or longer. It’s about creating a better work-life balance. Some companies – and even entire countries – have really taken this to heart and are starting to introduce four-day working weeks. Iceland, for example, trialled a four-day working week between 2015 and 2019 and dubbed the trial an “overwhelming success.” Importantly, productivity levels at the companies involved in the trial either stayed the same or improved – showing that productivity isn’t about how much time you spend working but how you spend that time. Today, 86 per cent of Iceland’s workforce are already working fewer hours (without taking a pay cut) or will be entitled to do so.
If, like those lucky Icelanders, you manage your time well, you can enjoy several benefits, such as:
- Eliminating (or reducing) the tendency to procrastinate.
- Feeling in control and lowering your stress levels. (Icelandic workers involved in the trials reported feeling less stressed and at lower risk of burnout.)
- Nailing your deadlines.
- Strengthening your reputation as a person that gets work done on time and to a high standard.
- Having more time for non-work passions.
The bottom line is time management helps you get the best out of your working life and, well, life life. Here are my top ten time management and anti-procrastination tips to improve your working day, which I cover in more detail in my new book ‘Future Skills: The 20 Skills And Competencies Everyone Needs To Succeed In A Digital World’:
1. Do the important jobs first. People often like to get the most unpleasant task ticked off the list first, just to get it done. Others like to get quick and easy tasks done first, just to feel like they’re achieving stuff. But it’s far better to prioritize in order of importance, regardless of whether it’s hard or not.
2. Ruthlessly prioritize your time. I like to use the ABC Method to plan my day and prioritize tasks in order of importance. An “A” task is my most important, must-do item for the day (or, if there’s more than one A task, I label them A1, A2, and so on). “B” tasks are secondary tasks that are less important than A tasks – you never move onto a B task while there are still A tasks on the list. And C tasks are those that are nice to get done, but it’s not a big deal if they don’t happen that day. I start every morning with this method (or you could do it at the end of each day, ready for the next day).
3. Set a time limit for each task. Once I’ve made my to-do list for the day, I set time limits for each task on the list. This ensures I don’t let tasks expand to fill more time than they really need, and it keeps my day manageable because I know what I can realistically achieve.
4. Find your productive hours. Productive people don't fill every hour of their day – they know when they work best, and they make sure they get the important stuff done during those hours. Follow their lead and block out your most productive hours (be they in the morning, in the quiet of the evening, or whatever) for the most important tasks. Avoid filling that precious time up with meetings or less important jobs – which are better suited to other times of the day.
5. Don’t multitask. Multitasking is the enemy of productivity because you can end up not doing anything properly. Give one task at a time your full attention, and finish that before moving on to the next item.
6. Eliminate distractions. I love working from home, but I recognize that some people find it distracting. It certainly helps to turn off notifications on your phone or turn on your phone's "do not disturb mode" when you need to and set boundaries for anyone sharing your space. (For example, by saying, "For the next hour, I really need to get my head down and concentrate" or "When my office door is closed, it means do not disturb.") The same tips also apply when you're in an office environment.
7. Learn to say no. Saying no – politely but firmly – is an art form, and if you can master it, you’ll feel much more in control of your time. Very often, it’s not even a case of saying no but setting expectations for when you can do something – for example, by saying something like “I can’t do this until next week.”
8. Weigh up the consequences of doing something versus not doing it. If you’re really procrastinating, ask yourself, "What will happen if I don't get this done?" If the answer is "Er, not much," then it's probably not that important. But if you know, there might be serious consequences if you put it off, that might give you the extra motivational nudge you need.
9. Understand that sometimes – just sometimes – procrastination can be a good thing. The urge to procrastinate might be telling you something (for example, that you’re tired and need a break). And sometimes, the mind just needs a bit of time to wander, imagine and be creative – and that’s also a good thing.
10. Finally, if you find yourself not wanting to do many of the tasks associated with your to-do list, then maybe it's time to switch jobs! Seriously, ask yourself whether it's really the right job for you because it's not "normal" to dislike your job or feel constantly demotivated.