February 7, 2020

5 Effective Time-Management Tips to Increase Productivity

Understanding how to manage time and boost productivity can be extremely challenging. Use these 5 tips to hone your time-management skills!

5 Effective Time-Management Tips to Increase Productivity

Managing time is something that a lot of people think about when trying to become more effective and accomplish goals.  As a Chemical Engineering student, athlete, and content creator I have to efficiently manage my time in order to accomplish my goals.  In this post, we investigate some of the things I do in order to effectively manage my time.

1. Set your priorities

When attempting to optimize time management is to set reasonable priorities for what you find to be important.  This process takes the form of an internal dialogue, asking questions which evaluate the importance of sleep, work, social life, health, and other facets of daily life.  Without a clear understanding of one's priorities, setting reasonable goals is close to impossible.  Without these goals you are setting yourself up for failure in the form of not following a set schedule or experiencing burnout in the future.

All this may sound gloomy, but it doesn't have to be!  Setting priorities is as simple as asking yourself a few honest questions and providing honest answers.  It is vital that while asking these questions the end goal does not influence the answers.  For example, if I believe I want to work more on a project I should not let that influence the answer of "How much do you like to work" or similar questions.  This is important because it allows you to pinpoint how you should structure a schedule, or understand where you may want to change your mentality.

In order to begin a mental dialogue about one's priorities we need categories for the questions.  These categories will change depending on the person, but for me I separate my life into 5 categories: Exercise & Health, Sleep, Work, Leisure, Misc.  These are some example questions I use to assess these priorities:

Health & Exercise: "How often must you exercise in order to feel confident and healthy?" "What foods are off-limits, and what does an ideal day's diet look like?"

Managing time is something that a lot of people think about when trying to become more effective and accomplish goals.  As a Chemical Engineering student, athlete, and content creator I have to efficiently manage my time in order to accomplish my goals.  In this post, we investigate some of the things I do in order to effectively manage my time.

1. Set your priorities

When attempting to optimize time management is to set reasonable priorities for what you find to be important.  This process takes the form of an internal dialogue, asking questions which evaluate the importance of sleep, work, social life, health, and other facets of daily life.  Without a clear understanding of one's priorities, setting reasonable goals is close to impossible.  Without these goals you are setting yourself up for failure in the form of not following a set schedule or experiencing burnout in the future.

All this may sound gloomy, but it doesn't have to be!  Setting priorities is as simple as asking yourself a few honest questions and providing honest answers.  It is vital that while asking these questions the end goal does not influence the answers.  For example, if I believe I want to work more on a project I should not let that influence the answer of "How much do you like to work" or similar questions.  This is important because it allows you to pinpoint how you should structure a schedule, or understand where you may want to change your mentality.

In order to begin a mental dialogue about one's priorities we need categories for the questions.  These categories will change depending on the person, but for me I separate my life into 5 categories: Exercise & Health, Sleep, Work, Leisure, Misc.  These are some example questions I use to assess these priorities:

Health & Exercise: "How often must you exercise in order to feel confident and healthy?" "What foods are off-limits, and what does an ideal day's diet look like?"

Sleep: "What range of sleep do you need to accomplish your goals, how do you react to sleep outside this range?"

Work: "How long a time span can you work efficiently?" "Do breaks help your productivity?" "Does location affect your productivity?"

Leisure: "How much free-time do you need to not be insane?" "What activities do you enjoy doing (group/individual)?" "Can you do the activities on your schedule?"

Misc: "How much can you deviate from a schedule without being hindered/upset?"

Answering these questions, along with many more, will define your priorities and allow for the creation of an effective schedule.  Espousing false expectations can severely hinder progress as feelings of failure may arise when the expectations are not met.  Also, this process exposes which activities are required to occur in a schedule and separates those that are desired to occur.

2. Keep a "Time Journal"

Once priorities have been set we are one step closer to understanding how to manipulate time to accomplish any set of goals.  However, the priorities process was purely theoretical.  All answers to quantitative questions such as "How long does X take," were based on feeling and past experience.  What happens when X takes longer than the estimated time?  Now there is a peculiar issue: does one leave the activity unfinished and move on to the next or push the other activities back?  As many of my mentors have told me when I ask questions relating to getting out of a bind, the answer is preventing it from happening in the first place!

Now it is known that we must prevent schedule conflicts from occurring, what next?  Do we simply add a static sized buffer at the beginning and end of each activity?  That wouldn't be very efficient when the activities flow easily between each other.  The answer is to keep a "Time Journal."

In this notebook you create a TODO list for the day and record how long each action takes to complete.  Doing this for one day will expose many inefficiencies in one's schedule.  You planned to browse social media for 5 minutes between study subjects, but you actually spent 20.  This will also prevent those pesky false expectations we discussed earlier.  If you know that "exercise an hour" actually takes 1 hour and 30 minutes (due to transit/showering & eating after) you can properly account for that in your schedule.  Understanding how long things actually take is crucial in setting a good schedule.

3. Account for "Dead Time"

Dead time is a phrase I use for time when one cannot complete a task, or is severely limited in the tasks they can complete.  Understanding how to manipulate dead time to your advantage is a large factor in tracking how many hours in a day are useable.  Examples of dead time include: commutes, standing in line, or completing daily activities that do not further one's written goals (brushing teeth, showering, etc).  Dead time can be accounted for in a Time Journal by conscientiously noticing down time and writing it down.

4. Write a Schedule

Once you have set priorities, used a time journal for a couple days, and accounted for dead time, writing a schedule is the next step to optimizing time management.  Forming a schedule is as easy as opening up a calendar calendar app and entering different tasks at specified times.  Of course, the nuances of forming an effective schedule are a little more involved.

The first thing to do when creating a schedule is to add tasks which have no leeway in timing.  Examples are work, school, picking up your kids, etc.  Doing this paints a visual of what time ranges are actually available for you to do other tasks.  Next, I like to list all things that have to be done in a day with ranges of times that may be needed.  For example, if I wanted to study I would write "Study: 0-1 hr."  I personally like to block out every moment of my day with a "suggested" task with a time range.  This can be general tasks like "eat," but it can also be more specific like "write blog post about X."  Once you have all desired activities written, I like to add every activity at different desired times throughout the day.  Finally, I revise the schedule by deleting/moving tasks if any overlaps occur.

After you have written a schedule, follow it!  Personally, I follow my schedule religiously for the first 1-2 weeks until it feels like a natural routine.  Not allowing leeway for the initial time frame allows someone to understand where in the schedule there is extra time.  This extra time can then be used to be less strict or relax during the day.  If no extra time exists or the schedule is painful to follow, consider revising the schedule to compensate.  Remember, we are trying to build something that is reasonable for one's values and personality.

5. Optimize Your Schedule

Evaluating a schedule is important to maintaining motivation and continued effectiveness.  This assessment can come in many forms, focusing on time efficiency, happiness with the schedule, changing values/circumstances, and many other reasons.  Humans are dynamic creatures and sometimes what worked yesterday may not work today.  Limiting yourself to one iteration of a schedule for a long period of time can easily lead to burnout and demotivation.

Optimization is fluid, and can occur at any point in the process.  Depending on the type of change you are looking to make, you may need to invest varying levels of effort.  For the most part, I optimize my schedule through noticing small inefficiencies and finding ways around them.  I like to call this a "time hack."

The idea of a time hack is simple: a part of your schedule is hindered due to time and you need to change something to fix it.  My favorite example of this is a story involving me setting a schedule to read every night for an hour.  At the end of the day, I was so exhausted that I would fight myself to stay awake while reading.  I accomplished the goal of "reading" for one hour... at the cost of reading 5 pages.  This was a norm when my schedule included "read" from 9:00-10:00 PM.  I realized, however, that I had considerable dead time during bus rides to university every day.  By moving "read" from before bed to my bus ride I not only cut back on my day's dead time, but I freed up an hour at night to do other things!  This is an example of an optimization that can be made in almost every schedule.

Want to Learn More?

Personal growth and development is one of my favorite topics!  As someone who lived a very inefficient and ineffective life previously to the past couple years, I understand the difficulty in making positive life changes.  If you have any topics you would like to talk about, feel free to join my Discord community and send me a message at discord.gg/6K42qcF.  If you want to talk live, find friends in an active community, or just have fun, you can chat with me on stream at http://twitch.tv/casualchemical.  Thank you for reading and have a good day!

: "What range of sleep do you need to accomplish your goals, how do you react to sleep outside this range?"

Work: "How long a time span can you work efficiently?" "Do breaks help your productivity?" "Does location affect your productivity?"

Leisure: "How much free-time do you need to not be insane?" "What activities do you enjoy doing (group/individual)?" "Can you do the activities on your schedule?"

Misc: "How much can you deviate from a schedule without being hindered/upset?"

Answering these questions, along with many more, will define your priorities and allow for the creation of an effective schedule.  Espousing false expectations can severely hinder progress as feelings of failure may arise when the expectations are not met.  Also, this process exposes which activities are required to occur in a schedule and separates those that are desired to occur.

2. Keep a "Time Journal"

Once priorities have been set we are one step closer to understanding how to manipulate time to accomplish any set of goals.  However, the priorities process was purely theoretical.  All answers to quantitative questions such as "How long does X take," were based on feeling and past experience.  What happens when X takes longer than the estimated time?  Now there is a peculiar issue: does one leave the activity unfinished and move on to the next or push the other activities back?  As many of my mentors have told me when I ask questions relating to getting out of a bind, the answer is preventing it from happening in the first place!

Now it is known that we must prevent schedule conflicts from occurring, what next?  Do we simply add a static sized buffer at the beginning and end of each activity?  That wouldn't be very efficient when the activities flow easily between each other.  The answer is to keep a "Time Journal."

In this notebook you create a TODO list for the day and record how long each action takes to complete.  Doing this for one day will expose many inefficiencies in one's schedule.  You planned to browse social media for 5 minutes between study subjects, but you actually spent 20.  This will also prevent those pesky false expectations we discussed earlier.  If you know that "exercise an hour" actually takes 1 hour and 30 minutes (due to transit/showering & eating after) you can properly account for that in your schedule.  Understanding how long things actually take is crucial in setting a good schedule.

3. Account for "Dead Time"

Dead time is a phrase I use for time when one cannot complete a task, or is severely limited in the tasks they can complete.  Understanding how to manipulate dead time to your advantage is a large factor in tracking how many hours in a day are useable.  Examples of dead time include: commutes, standing in line, or completing daily activities that do not further one's written goals (brushing teeth, showering, etc).  Dead time can be accounted for in a Time Journal by conscientiously noticing down time and writing it down.

4. Write a Schedule

Once you have set priorities, used a time journal for a couple days, and accounted for dead time, writing a schedule is the next step to optimizing time management.  Forming a schedule is as easy as opening up a calendar calendar app and entering different tasks at specified times.  Of course, the nuances of forming an effective schedule are a little more involved.

The first thing to do when creating a schedule is to add tasks which have no leeway in timing.  Examples are work, school, picking up your kids, etc.  Doing this paints a visual of what time ranges are actually available for you to do other tasks.  Next, I like to list all things that have to be done in a day with ranges of times that may be needed.  For example, if I wanted to study I would write "Study: 0-1 hr."  I personally like to block out every moment of my day with a "suggested" task with a time range.  This can be general tasks like "eat," but it can also be more specific like "write blog post about X."  Once you have all desired activities written, I like to add every activity at different desired times throughout the day.  Finally, I revise the schedule by deleting/moving tasks if any overlaps occur.

After you have written a schedule, follow it!  Personally, I follow my schedule religiously for the first 1-2 weeks until it feels like a natural routine.  Not allowing leeway for the initial time frame allows someone to understand where in the schedule there is extra time.  This extra time can then be used to be less strict or relax during the day.  If no extra time exists or the schedule is painful to follow, consider revising the schedule to compensate.  Remember, we are trying to build something that is reasonable for one's values and personality.

5. Optimize Your Schedule

Evaluating a schedule is important to maintaining motivation and continued effectiveness.  This assessment can come in many forms, focusing on time efficiency, happiness with the schedule, changing values/circumstances, and many other reasons.  Humans are dynamic creatures and sometimes what worked yesterday may not work today.  Limiting yourself to one iteration of a schedule for a long period of time can easily lead to burnout and demotivation.

Optimization is fluid, and can occur at any point in the process.  Depending on the type of change you are looking to make, you may need to invest varying levels of effort.  For the most part, I optimize my schedule through noticing small inefficiencies and finding ways around them.  I like to call this a "time hack."

The idea of a time hack is simple: a part of your schedule is hindered due to time and you need to change something to fix it.  My favorite example of this is a story involving me setting a schedule to read every night for an hour.  At the end of the day, I was so exhausted that I would fight myself to stay awake while reading.  I accomplished the goal of "reading" for one hour... at the cost of reading 5 pages.  This was a norm when my schedule included "read" from 9:00-10:00 PM.  I realized, however, that I had considerable dead time during bus rides to university every day.  By moving "read" from before bed to my bus ride I not only cut back on my day's dead time, but I freed up an hour at night to do other things!  This is an example of an optimization that can be made in almost every schedule.

Want to Learn More?

Personal growth and development is one of my favorite topics!  As someone who lived a very inefficient and ineffective life previously to the past couple years, I understand the difficulty in making positive life changes.  If you have any topics you would like to talk about, feel free to join my Discord community and send me a message on discord.  If you want to talk live, find friends in an active community, or just have fun, you can chat with me on stream at twitch.  Thank you for reading and have a good day!