How come that some people have a hard time finishing a small number of tasks while other are able to do a lot of work in a limited amount of time? It all has to do with how you manage your time. If you can do so effectively, you can do a lot more than you can ever imagine. In this blog, I will share my tips for effective time management. Enjoy!

1. Introduction

Time is precious to everyone. Nevertheless, some people seem to have found a way of working in order to get a lot of things done in a limited amount of time. What is the secret? Well, there is no secret, it is all about having an effective way in order to manage your time. A book that really helped me with this is Getting Things Done by David Allen. It is a must read and contains valuable tips and tricks for managing your time. I do not follow the book to the letter, but during the past ten years, I created my own way of working. It contains of course quite some elements from the book. In the next sections, I will highlight some tips that work for me in order to manage my time as effective as possible. I apply them to work, but also to my spare time.

2. Create a To-Do List

Creating a To-Do list is a quite crucial element in time management. You need to have a list which contains all the things you need to do. This will prevent you from memorizing things you need to do. More important: the To-Do list must be accessible immediately when you need it. I will come back to this later on. I have several To-Do lists: a work-related one, a private-related one and now and then a common one to share with my partner. They have different purposes and I use different tools for each one.

2.1 Work-Related To-Do List

My work-related To-Do list is a simple Excelsheet which I maintain on my laptop. Reason for this is, that for work-related items, I mostly have my laptop nearby. Editing the Excelsheet is therefore quite easy. The contents of the sheet is based on Getting Things Done, although I prefer using one To-Do list. In the book also a separate sheet for actions waiting for others or projects is being used, but I do not use this. I prefer one list. Otherwise, I keep on cutting and pasting between my own sheet and the waiting for others sheet. Projects are put on the bottom of the sheet.

The sheet contains the following columns:

  • Category: in order to group actions easily. Categories are projects I am working on, or other common items;
  • Description: speaks for itself, a description of the item, actions that have been taken, the status, whether I am waiting for someone, etc.
  • Date: the date the item was registered.

Every column can be filtered and sorted which helps you in organizing the list.

2.2 Private-Related To-Do List

My private-related To-Do list is organized by means of Google Keep. The reason for using Google Keep is that it is a simple app for creating notes. I try to keep the list short and therefore I do not need fancy features. Although you can categorize your notes in the app. I use it mostly on my phone but it is also handy to have it synchronized on my laptop.

2.3 Common To-Do List

My partner gives me also tasks. If I can manage them, I just pust them on my private-related To-Do list, but sometimes the list can grow rapidly and I do not know where to start first. I created a Trello board for both of us where my partner can prioritize the items. We do not use it quite often, but it is useful now and then. I use it mostly on my phone and sometimes on my laptop.

3. Prioritize Items

Creating a list and keep it up-to-date is one thing, but you cannot do everything simultaneously. Execute important items first. At least, the ones that cannot wait. Not everything on your list is probably urgent (if it is, you need to talk to your boss immediately). The less important items can be planned. But, do not forget to inform the people involved. I try to inform others about my planning. Sometimes they come back to me about the suggested deadline as it appears that something I thought was not that urgent, was urgent for my counterpart. You need to do some replanning after that, but this is better than waiting for an escalation.

4. Say No

Saying no will disappoint people. But sometimes you have to do so in order to protect yourself. Do not hesitate to say no. Also explain why you need to say no. Show people your To-Do list and your planning. This way, you can explain clearly what your other tasks are and their priorities.

5. Bundle Items

Categorizing items can save you quite some time. For example when you have a category for items that you need to execute on your laptop, then it will be more time efficient when you execute these all (or most of them) at once. Taking your laptop, execute one task and put your laptop away costs more time if you have to do this for each task instead of bundled for more tasks. The same applies for items you need to do for a specific customer. It is more time efficient to execute several tasks for the same customer after each other than switching between customers.

The same concept can be applied to meetings. Try to bundle meetings at the same day or at parts of the day (in the morning, in the afternoon). Meetings cost time and often requires many context switches. You will not feel very productive. But between the meetings, you need to ensure that you have meetingless blocks during the day. These will be time blocks where you can work without many distractions. Currently, I manage to have Wednesday and Friday more or less meetingless days.

6. Execute Small Task Immediately

If someone asks you to execute a small task, execute it immediately. The moment someone asks you something, you are already distracted. If the task to be executed is small (let’s say 5-10 minutes), execute it immediately. If you don’t, you will probably put the task on your To-Do list, read it again in half a day or a day and then execute it. This will cost you maybe double the time than executing it immediately.

7. Timed Items

Items with a time component, must trigger you at the right moment. Let’s say that you promise to answer someone next Friday the latest. If you forget this, the person you made this promise to, will not be amused. This will cost extra time because it probably will include unnecessary communication. It is better to prevent this. You must be triggered about this promise you made. I just create an agenda item in my Outlook Calendar for it. Depending on how much time the task takes, I will put the reminder on the day itself or earlier. At least, the reminder must come in order that I can still keep my promise or that I can inform my counterpart that for any legitimate reason I cannot keep my promise and suggest another date. The most important thing to remember is that you must inform you counterpart and not the other way around.

8. Clean Mailbox

Try to keep your mailbox as clean as possible. I prefer to archive mails when they are just informational. Mails that require an action of me are executed immediately when it concerns a small task or are put on a To-Do list and archived. I tend to make a reference to the mail in my To-Do list. Sometimes, I also create a special archive folder for mails that are put on my To-Do list. Important is that you can retrieve the mail very easily without needing to search for it for a long time.

If your mailbox is full, you will probably constantly scan the same mails over and over again. This will cost you valuable time which can be better spent to executing tasks from your To-Do list.

9. Remove Items From To-Do List

This is the part where the date column in your To-Do list becomes important. If an item remains for a long time onto your To-Do list, it is probably time to remove it from the list. It might not become important enough ever and it pollutes your list. You will read it over and over again. So, do not hesitate to remove unimportant items from your list. It will keep your To-Do list manageable, otherwise it will only grow over time.

10. Documentation

Oh no, not documentation! People hate documentation! But I do not. I document with a purpose. If I write something down and someone comes to me to ask me something about the topic, I just refer to the documentation: “Read it first, if you have any further questions, you come back to me”. Documenting costs time? Think about how many times you explain exactly the same thing to different people. That will cost time! And this assumes that you know the answer right away. Most of the time you need to think yourself for the answer to someone’s question and you need to spend time to figure it out again. That is a waste of time!

11. In-between Moments

How often do you have to wait for a meeting, wait for someone to show up, wait for an appointment, etc? Most of the time, these are 5-10 minute in-between moments. What do you do during that time? Read the news again? Do useless things on social media? Or do you check your To-Do list whether you can pick up a task? I often use these moments to read a blog I have put on my private To-Do list. Reading a blog takes only 5-10 minutes and fits perfectly in this time frame.

12. Healthy Mind In a Healthy Body

All of the above, will improve having a healthy mind. But being active and do some sports will improve having a healthy body. And a healthy body will improve having a healthy mind. Do not forget this.

Also, enjoy what you do, try to avoid having to do many tasks you do not enjoy. Of course, sometimes you need to do an unpleasant task, but this should be rather rare than usual.

13. Conclusion

These are my tips for effective time management. I hope some of them can be of any value to you!