How to improve your time management skills and master your time

Illustration of head made out of clocks with gears in background

In today’s fast-paced digital environment, time is one of our most precious, if not the most precious, commodities. One would then figure that we would value it and manage it well, right? 

Well - not really. While most of us understand the importance of time and its limited amount, we somehow fail to put this understanding into practice and waste our time on distractions and procrastination rather than taking the reins and living the life we’ve always dreamt of living. 

Even if we dedicate our time to the things that matter, we quickly realize that there are just not enough hours in a day to cover all the important fields, i.e. work, family, hobbies and personal care. This is why good time management is even more important to a happy and fulfilled life.

In this post, I’ll further discuss the importance of time management and give you some tips on how to effectively manage your time and get more out of your life. By the end of the post, you’ll be one step closer to having full control over how and where you spend your time.


Why is time management so important?

If we don’t take control over how we spend our time, all areas of our lives suffer. Either we procrastinate by binge watching Netflix and endlessly scrolling through social media feeds, or we stretch ourselves too thin by trying to juggle everything - both cases can lead to health problems, i.e. depression/anxiety and burnout, respectively. 

That’s why it is crucial to, on the one hand, have clearly set goals and schedules, and, on the other, maintain a healthy work-life balance by not allowing your work to start seeping into your you-time. 

If we don’t make these plans and take care of keeping our work and personal life separate, we’re starting to damage our relationships and thus overall diminishing our quality of life. 

In the end, we and we alone own our time - and we must learn how to effectively manage it. Achieving this, we’ll be more efficient and productive, and have more opportunities in life while greatly reducing stress and avoiding a poor professional reputation. 


It’s not something new

The science behind time management isn’t some groundbreaking new trend; it was a popular topic of Ancient Roman philosophers which then resurged at the end of the 19th century with the industrial era after being sidelined during the Middle Ages. I doubt anyone today could’ve put it as nicely as Seneca did over two millennia ago:

Quote by Roman philosopher Seneca on the shortness of life

Then the start of the 20th century and the concurrent rise of capitalism brought new advances to time management. Frederick W. Taylor, the first “time management guru”, was able to increase production from 12.5 to 50 tonnes of steel per day - but, seeing how he used this much higher figure as the new daily standard, this wasn’t exactly beneficial to the workers.

Just a few decades later, in 1930, British economist John Maynard Keynes made the prediction that the work week would have been reduced to only 15 hours in the following hundred years. Now, a mere 10 years until the end of that hypothetical timeframe, it is clear that this is not the case - all the more reason, then, to become the master of your time.


How to effectively manage your time

There’s an abundance of time management tips out there; trying to follow all of them right from the get-go, however, would likely just have the adverse effect and cause you even more time-related issues. 

So, as a general rule of thumb, remember that “less is more”, but also keep in mind that not everyone is the same and that different approaches work for different people. Some prefer following a set of just a few guidelines, while others would be left immobilized without at least 20. 

Here are some tips that have helped me personally and can serve as a great starting point:

  • Set goals the right way,
  • find a good time management system and/or tool,
  • audit your time for seven days straight,
  • spend your morning on MITs (most important tasks),
  • follow the 80-20 rule (the Pareto principle),
  • instill keystone habits into your life,
  • schedule email response times,
  • eliminate bad habits, or at least reduce the amount of time spent on them.

Once you get the hang of it, you can start working even more intently on mastering your time:

  • Take frequent breaks while working,
  • meditate or exercise every morning,
  • at the end of each day, make a to-do list for the next day,
  • find inspiration when you’re feeling lackluster,
  • get a mentor who can guide and support you,
  • turn off social media notifications,
  • and, finally - declutter and organize.

In the end, the most important thing is to incorporate these rules into your routine. The results likely won’t be visible immediately, so it’s important to persevere and not throw in the towel immediately. Once you internalize them and make them an integral part of your life, they’ll become intuitive and you’ll really start seeing the benefits of following them.


Real-life example of the importance of valuing time

Some time ago I was present for a call between a client and one of our developers. The client is from overseas, which means quite a big time difference. It was supposed to be a short, 15 minute-ish meeting intended to keep all sides updated on the progress of the project that week.

Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the client’s project manager wasn’t adequately prepared for the meeting - they were trying to get answers to our developer’s questions on the fly by contacting their CTO, which stretched the meeting into 45 rather than the intended 15 minutes

Worst of all, the developer did not get any of her questions answered, while both of us had to prolong our workday to accommodate the call while the project manager was scrambling to find answers in-house. 

This could easily have been avoided with proper preparation: you should always have a predefined meeting agenda, which enables you to go through the issues quickly. Then send a follow-up email to everyone involved with a recap of the meeting and steps to go forward. Even saving just 30 minutes is something most people will greatly appreciate.


In conclusion

I think we can all agree on how important time management is to all aspects of our lives. If you were not convinced before, or just never really knew how to get started, I hope this post has helped you realize this importance and put this mindset into practice. 

In case you want to learn more about and really dive deep into managing your time, I highly recommend Nir Eyal’s excellent book Indistractable which will help you tackle one of the major obstacles to effective time management - distraction.

If, however, you’re looking for something shorter, this Harvard Business Review article by Erich C. Dierdorff is another great resource with useful insights. 

Time is your most valuable asset, and those who understand and live by this are primed for a successful and happy life. I wish you the best of luck on your journey of mastering your time!


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