Do you wish you had more time in the day? Find yourself looking up at the clock and wondering where the day went? We hear you. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of 22 time management techniques.
Some are well-known, but others are the secrets behind how people like Michelle Obama, Warren Buffett, and Victor Hugo were or are so productive.
As we walk through these time management strategies, we’ll explain a few things to help you understand why these famous people should play a part in your own strategies for time management.
We’ll cover 22 time management strategies including:
- Plan how you’ll spend your time: Victor Hugo
- Make a to-do list: Sir Richard Branson
- Be flexible: Michelle Obama
- Make a priority list: Warren Buffett
- Use online collaboration tools: Julien Rio
- Use Elon Musk’s time blocking method
- Work out how long tasks take: Zig Ziglar
- Introduce automation: Reid Hoffman vs Adam Stone
- Declutter your desk: Albert Einstein
- Learn how to say no: Pythargos
- Use Pareto’s law
- Take a break before you hit the wall: Selena Gomez
- Outsource the work you can’t do: Manhoman Singh
- Manage distractions: Deep Patel
- Integrate online calendars: Amber Hurdle
- Schedule time for tasks as well as meetings: Abby Lawson
- Check out the Pomodoro Technique: Francisco Cirillo
- Manage time wasters: Tim Ferris
- Remove the wait periods: Ava Max
- Set SMART goals: Bruce Lee
- Use an Agile framework: Steve Jobs
- Be flexible: Mozart
Why is having a time management strategy important?
Effective time management strategies separate the best performers from people who always send documents past the deadline or those you always have to chase up.
Good time management allows you to do more in a shorter period of time. The more you get done, the better your business performs. The better your business performs, the higher the chances of repeat business and growth.
Think about the times you have been waiting for your customer to send back an order form to kick-start their order. Or the time when you couldn’t fit everything into your day that you had planned.
Did you feel stressed? Was somebody chasing you up for work you thought you could get done?
Time is limited. There are only 24 hours in a day and only so much you can do. Without following appropriate strategies to manage time, you are set up to be behind right from the start.
So, what’s it going to be? Are you happy with your daily struggle and running out of time every day?
Or is it time for a time management intervention?
Keep reading to discover new strategies for time management that you can start as soon as you finish reading.
22 best time management strategies
To source the best time management techniques, we looked at successful people in the public eye—past and present. Nobody knows how important it is to implement strategies to manage time more so than someone who will be judged in world media.
1. Plan how you’ll spend your time: Victor Hugo
Are you familiar with the phrase “failing to prepare is preparing to fail?”
Of course you are. Everyone is. Being familiar with it and actually abiding by it are different things though. This is often because we don’t see the need to plan or realize the benefits planning ahead of time will bring us.
Victor Hugo, the French poet and novelist, famously said:
By creating a plan each morning, you make yourself accountable for your actions as the day progresses. The concept of working towards a plan gives you a target to aim for and an end goal.
As humans, we are programmed to work better when we know there is a reward or sense of accomplishment involved in what we are doing. By planning how you’ll spend your time, you’ll take pleasure in progressing throughout the day.
To make your first plan, break down the tasks you have to complete for a specific customer or project. Once broken down into smaller actionable tasks, instead of large projects, you’ll have a clearer view of where you time needs to be spent each day.
2. Make a to-do list: Sir Richard Branson
A to-do list is literally listing out all the things you need to do that day.
Sir Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin Group, is an advocate of using to-do lists. Rather than explaining the benefits of using a to-do list, Branson famously posted a blog reinforcing that to-do lists are only useful if you actually do them.
The major benefit of using a to-do list is that it gives you a visual representation of the work you need to complete for the day. It also gives you a pat on the back if you’ve worked through most of the tasks you suggested you would achieve.
You can make your first to-do list in one of two ways: physical or virtual.
A physical to-do list is using pen and paper. Take all your actionable tasks and list them out. As the day progresses and you work through tasks, simply cross them off.
A virtual to-do list is one created using an online app or software like RingCentral. Like paper to-do lists, all you have to do is list out your actionable tasks and check them off as you complete them.
With the RingCentral all-in-one communications app, you can easily create a task to add to your to-do list with just a click:
An added benefit of using online to-do lists is that you can set deadlines for specific tasks and receive reminders when you need to wrap up.
3. Be flexible: Michelle Obama
Flexibility is crucial for time management. When you grant your team flexibility in their work schedule, they’re likely to work more efficiently during the times that are more suitable for their personal preference or personal schedule.
For example, you might be more productive as soon as you wake up, but the rest of your team might get more work done during the evening.
Michelle Obama, lawyer and former first lady of the United States, regularly states her belief of flexible working. She has even said, “Flexible working is the only way forward,” in an interview with Sir Richard Branson.
To introduce flexible working, you need communication tools to enable both real-time and offline conversations:
Productivity software like RingCentral enables you to work more efficiently and asynchronously, and most importantly, in the way that’s best for you. Often, productivity is a team effort—everyone needs to agree to respect each other’s time and use the right tools as they’re working together.
4. Make a priority list: Warren Buffett
By prioritizing your to-do list, you ensure the most important tasks or the tasks with the nearest deadline are met first. It’s crucial to assign priority in order to work in the most time-effective manner possible.
Warren Buffett, the fourth-wealthiest person in the world, is famed for using a “Two List” strategy. This strategy dictated that the top most important tasks or goals would be the primary focus. This didn’t mean the other 20 weren’t important. But, it did mean they were not as high priority.
Take your to-do list and work out which tasks are most important. You could rank them in terms of customer due date, according to your publishing schedule, or by using the MoSCoW method—more on that one and other productivity systems here.
5. Use online collaboration tools: Julien Rio
Another key component to managing time and time wasters is the use of online collaboration tools. In businesses of all sizes, having an online collaboration hub is crucial for productivity and time management.
Again, having something like the RingCentral app—which includes online file storage, team messaging, and screen sharing all in one app—will really come in handy. Especially if you find yourself toggling between lots of different windows and tabs throughout the day:
By keeping all your productivity tools in one place, you spend less time switching between apps and windows and searching for information.
The RingCentral app comes included with any of RingCentral’s Office plans.
6. Use Elon Musk’s time blocking method
Even with his hectic schedule, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, intentionally plans his day out in five-minute increments or “time blocks.” Each time block is assigned with a specific task or activity.
This extreme version of a to-do list may sound crazy at first, but you only need to look at the success of Elon Musk and the Tesla brand. Musk is worth $36.9B and Tesla’s revenue in 2019 was reported at $24.57B.
This method has come under criticism by some users. If you find this too daunting, you could change the five-minute intervals to something more manageable like 15 minutes or hourly tasks.
You can get started with the time blocking method like this:
- Split your notebook into two columns.
- In the left-hand column, note down each time block.
- Estimate the amount of time each task is going to take to complete and write these tasks on the left column with their respective time blocks.
- Use the column on the right for notes and commentary.
- Add buffer times for adjustments or unexpected activities.
7. Work out how long tasks take: Zig Ziglar
When your daily routine involves simply getting work done, it’s unlikely you know how long each task takes to complete.
Think about it… how long does responding to your emails take? How about updating the figures from yesterday?
If you don’t know how long tasks take, you could be setting yourself too much work to complete each day.
As the famous motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, said, “We all have the same 24 hours. And learning to use them to their best potential is at the core of time management.”
When you optimize the hours in the day, you have more time to play with and more chance of success.
Start by tracking how you spend your time to understand where it’s going (and where it’s being wasted). When you know how long each task takes, you can factor this into your to-do list or time blocks.
8. Introduce automation: Reid Hoffman vs Adam Stone
When you spend time doing the same task over and over again or when a single task takes up most of your day, you should find a way to automate this. This will likely come in the form of software or a machine of some kind.
In his book, Blitzscaling, Reid Hoffman, co-founder and executive chairman at Linkedin, says you should do every task yourself until it’s literally impossible to do so. At this point, it’s time to introduce workflow or task automation.
By automating at any stage, you remove the manual tasks from your day and free up more time for more important tasks.
To introduce automation, identify what is taking up most of your time or the tasks that you do over and over again. If you manually enter data into a spreadsheet to upload to an online database, check if that program has an automated method.
Try to use software that has many integrations with other apps that you use to really make use of automation. For example, RingCentral integrates with Google Chrome to let you schedule calls and video meetings right in your Google Calendar (and same with Microsoft Outlook).
9. Declutter your desk: Albert Einstein
Look around your desk. What do you see? Is it something like this?
Or more like this?
By working in a space that feels in control and uncluttered, your work output is likely to be more in control and uncluttered.
While Albert Einstein, the physicist who developed the theory of relativity, is often quoted as saying “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”, the way we work has moved on since the early 1900s.
The Lean 5S methodology includes, unsurprisingly, 5 S’s:
- Set in Order
This applies to all forms of your working life, but there is no better (or easier) place to start than your desk.
First, sort what you really need. Then set everything else you need on a less frequent basis and file it away.
10. Learn how to say no: Pythargos
Just like learning to embrace your flaws, learning to say no can take time. But, you’ll get better at it with practice.
Saying no (or yes) shouldn’t always be a snap decision. Pythargos, the Greek philosopher, is famed for saying “The oldest, shortest words—‘yes’ and ‘no’—are those which require the most thought.”
The benefit of saying no is that you only say yes to the right things. If you prioritize and say yes to the tasks you can undertake, you will have more time for the tasks you should be saying no to.
If your current process is to say yes to every task asked of you, you’ll likely find that more important tasks (the ones you were right to say yes to) get deprioritized and you lose time trying to fight fires when they are not completed.
Starting to say no can be hard. Begin with asking questions when you are asked if you have time to do something:
- How long will this take?
- What is the deadline?
- Will it work if I finish my other work first?
- Doesn’t this fall into my colleagues workload?
- Wouldn’t my colleague be more skilled to do this?
11. Use Pareto’s law
Pareto’s law, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. This means 80 percent of the success you see stems from 20 percent of the work you put in.
Pareto was an Italian engineer and economist whose work related to the world of science and engineering. But, it’s important to factor in the 80/20 rule when developing a time management strategy.
If you can optimize your workload to the 20 percent of assets most effective to your bottom line, you’ll see lesser tasks drop out of your daily routine.
To use the 80/20 rule, take a look at your most profitable outputs and work out the tasks that get you there. Once you’ve identified them, spend a good amount of time on these and leave your “nice-to-have” tasks for when you have spare time.
It’s important to note that the 80/20 rule is designed to focus time on tasks that drive more value to your business. So you must sign up to the idea of missing out on some of your usual tasks. If you don’t, you will be trying to achieve everything instead of spending more time on your higher value tasks.
12. Take a break before you hit the wall: Selena Gomez
When you’re working in an office, it’s easy to look out of place if you take a break. Reality is that not taking a break is doing you more harm than good.
Selena Gomez, actor and singer, has been vocal about taking a 90-day break, not just from social media, but from her smartphone. She said the experience was “the most refreshing, calming, rejuvenating feeling.”
This should filter into everyday life. But it rarely does. The always-on mentality and the technology that enables us to be always-on contribute to issues like stress and burnout.
To combat this, introduce regular breaks into your working day. Then make sure you take them.
If you work at a desk all day, make sure you are eating your lunch away from it. If you work in a factory, take a walk around the building every few hours to get away.
By taking regular breaks, you avoid hitting the wall. A regular refresh allows you to return to your tasks with a new state of mind. You might even come up with new ideas during that break— note these down on your phone or a piece of paper so you don’t feel like you need to rush back!
If you find yourself without time to factor in a break, it could be because you simply have too much work to do. Instead of trying to cram every task into your day, think about outsourcing the work you can’t do…
13. Outsource the work you can’t do: Manmohan Singh
When you simply can’t fit in work, it’s time to outsource. At the most basic level, this means getting someone else to complete your work for you. Often, it means finding a company or pool of talent that can complete this work at a discounted price compared to what it costs you to conduct it.
Indian economist and politician, Manmohan Singh, is quoted saying “Companies become leaner, more efficient, and more competitive when they outsource.”
By outsourcing, your outputs rise without expending more effort. Your bottom line increases, and you get back time in your day.
When you decide what to outsource, look for companies who specialize in that particular task. If you no longer have time to field customer service queries, look at outsourcing to a contact centre. Perhaps you don’t have time to keep your books updated. Outsourced bookkeeping companies exist for this very reason.
14. Manage distractions: Deep Patel
You have two options when it comes to managing distractions. The choice you make is based on self-discipline.
1. Remove the distractions.
This might mean removing yourself from the office from time to time.
It’s easier to manage time and distractions if you don’t have to meet everybody in person.
As Deep Patel, a serial entrepreneur, wrote in Entrepreneur, “If you work in an open office, you may find it helpful to move to a quieter location. Studies have found that distractions happen 64 percent more often in an open office, and we’re interrupted by others more often in that environment as well.”
If this sounds like your day-to-day routine, read these four tips to learn how technology can help you be more productive.
2. Embrace the distractions.
If you are the type of person that will be more productive knowing the dishes are done, go do them! If your dogs are restless and you’re feeling guilty about it, go walk them!
When distractions cannot be removed, you have no choice but to embrace them. One handy way to manage distractions is to block out time to manage those distractions…
By not dwelling on mistakes and working in an agile manner, you can increase your speed to market by 80%.
15. Integrate online calendars: Amber Hurdle
Setting up your calendar for tasks, breaks, and unexpected activities can be a time-consuming activity itself.
Amber Hurdle, author of The Bombshell Business Woman, said, “I call dealing with your calendar the ‘calendar boogie’ because you seriously have to dance around to pull it all together.”
If you use multiple calendars, like paper and online, or several online calendars across different tools, it’s important they are in sync with each other. When you integrate calendars and tools, managing your calendar becomes one less time-consuming activity for the day.
For example, you can use the RingCentral G Suite Add-On to integrate your phone system with your Google Calendar so that you can easily add meeting links to calendar invites:
16. Schedule time for tasks as well as meetings: Abby Lawson
If Elon Musk’s five-minute time blocking method seems too extreme for you, here’s a toned down approach.
Your online calendar or meetings app can also include offline tasks like updating the figures or taking a break.
Abby Lawson, entrepreneur and creator of the blog Just A Girl And Her Blog, explains how you can create your own schedule for tasks as well as meetings in this extract from a Forbes interview:
17. Check out the Pomodoro Technique: Francisco Cirillo
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. By using a timer, break down work into intervals, usually 25 minutes, and separate with short breaks.
This technique builds on the time scheduling and to-do lists we’ve already mentioned. By using the Pomodoro Technique, you can work with your team to get defined and prioritized tasks completed one at a time. This removes the need and the temptation to multi-task.
Watch David Maldow, founder and CEO at Let’s Do Video, walk through how his team is more productive using the Pomodoro Technique in the video below.
18. Manage time wasters: Tim Ferris
In Tim Ferris’ book, The 4-Hour Work Week, he calls out time wasters and repetitive tasks caused by them. Specifically, he suggests two major “not-to-do” habits that put you in control of those time wasters:
- Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time.
- Do not let people ramble.
These may seem harsh or tricky to put in place, but being clear and polite is the key.
When you receive a meeting invite, respond to the email invite with an email asking for an agenda before you accept. If you do this regularly, it will become common practice for the meeting organizer to send the agenda with the initial meeting invite.
Similarly, with phone calls or in-person conversations, inform the other party you only have a set amount of time to talk about this task. If the conversation starts to get out of control, remind everyone of the set time you have to get back to the topic.
19. Remove the wait periods: Ava Max
How much time do you think you’ve lost waiting for meetings to finish? Or for meetings to start because not everybody has arrived at the customer’s office?
Ava Max, the singer behind “Sweet but Psycho” once said, “I used to always say teleportation for those times when you want to skip the commute, the traffic, the wait.”
In reality, teleportation is not required as remote working has been enabled by online collaborations tools.
The killer commute costs $5.3B in lost productivity per year. By removing the commute, you not only save money on fuel, but you save the time traveling between meetings and simply commuting to work.
Switching to remote working will remove the wait periods between meetings. It will even remove the wait periods between conversations. People are often more responsive to messages and calls when working remotely as they find they have fewer distractions and more time for communications.
If you’re new to remote working, check out these tips to be more productive.
20. Set SMART goals: Bruce Lee
SMART stands for:
Setting SMART goals mean you clarify your ideas, use your time and resources productively, and increase your chances of achieving the goal you are aiming for. By using the SMART formula, you spend less time chasing the target and more time working efficiently.
One person famed for setting a SMART goal is actor, Bruce Lee. In 1969, Lee documented his major goal to become the highest paid Asian star in the United States.
You should use SMART goals when setting sales, marketing, or customer service targets. Start by highlighting the goal, then clarify if it is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
21. Use an Agile framework: Steve Jobs
If you have a team working with tight deadlines, it might be useful to abide by the guidelines of a set framework. By completing a course or self-learning Agile methodologies, you and your team can achieve your SMART goals more efficiently.
Agile is an iterative feedback-loop approach that helps teams achieve goals faster.
The most widely-used Agile methodologies include:
- Agile Scrum methodology
- Lean software development
Many Fortune 500 companies, like Apple, are using Agile methodologies to iterate better and more efficiently. Steve Jobs, former CEO and co-founder of Apple, once said “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”
22. Give up multi-tasking: Mozart
Multi-tasking is historically viewed as a positive and a time management strategy to get more work done.
Today, multi-tasking is recognized as a negative and something that should be avoided whenever possible.
Mozart, the classical composer, said, “The shorter way to do many things is to only do one thing at a time.”
By dedicating your focus to one thing at a time, you have a higher chance of completing it. There are fewer distractions, deadlines, and moving targets if you only have one thing to complete.
If multi-tasking plays a part in your day, start by using your prioritized to-do list and working your way through each task one by one.
Use these time management strategies to reclaim your time
Whether you’re losing too much time on distractions or just in need of better tools to automate your low-value tasks and repetitive work, there’s a strategy in this list for you.
Work through them and see which ones can really help tune up your day-to-day workflow!