While time management strategies help you work faster and more efficiently, they can also help you work smarter. By leveraging tools and strategies that help manage our workload, we can focus on more important tasks and avoid distractions.
After all, we have approximately eight hours in a typical 9-to-5 job to accomplish everything on our to-do lists. But if you take away time for breaks, meetings, conversations, distractions and task-switching, we’re actually left with far less.
Say you draft a proposal but get pulled into a meeting before you can finish it, or unexpectedly spend an hour editing your team member’s work, or check your phone to see a flood of messages and tasks. Now the hours are slipping by, deadlines feel daunting, and you’re hungry, distracted and tired.
So let’s take a look at how to implement various time management strategies, along with how leaders can strengthen time management skills and practices within their organizations.
Why do time management strategies matter?
Poor time management doesn’t just make our work more difficult—it can also lead to increased stress. Of 1,049 Americans surveyed by Gallup, 41% feel they don’t have enough time to do what they want, and a similar proportion feel anxious about it.
With such limited hours and seemingly unlimited amounts of work, time management strategies are an important tool for improving employees’ productivity and focus. But it’s not only individuals that can benefit.
Global consulting firm McKinsey notes how organizations are beginning to play more of a role in how employees hone their time management skills: “Time management isn’t just a personal-productivity issue over which companies have no control; it has increasingly become an organizational issue whose root causes are deeply embedded in corporate structures and cultures.”
And leaders really can have an influence on how well employees manage time—85% of people who identified themselves as being effective time managers said they received support in scheduling and allocating time, according to McKinsey. By training your team in time management strategies, developing communication techniques, and engaging them in work that speaks to their strengths, organizations can better tap into employees’ potential.
How to set up effective time management strategies
Time management boils down to a combination of strategies and techniques to help you intentionally set priorities, limit distractions and stay focused on outcomes. Each of these has its own unique benefits and, when brought together, can help your team operate at peak efficiency.
Make a plan and communicate it to teams
Self-improvement coach Daniel Dowling says that spending 10 to 30 minutes planning daily or weekly tasks can increase productivity because it provides people with a clear vision of where they should be (and what should be done) within a certain time frame. This same principle can be applied at the team level. It’s the team leader’s responsibility to make sure everyone is on the same page and has a plan of prioritization to refer back to, keeping individual team members on track in the process.
Leaders also need to set communication channels to share progress throughout long- or short-term projects. Productivity expert Maura Thomas also recommends providing clear instructions and expectations for how teams should use them.
Ensuring that the team is aligned and informed doesn’t just improve time management, either. According to research from telecommunications company Mitel, employees spend more than two-thirds of their time connecting, collaborating and communicating with one another and lose nearly 15% of their work time to ineffective communication.
Develop a structure, but allow for flexibility
Look at the results your team is hoping to achieve, and promote time management strategies that help employees meet those goals in a way that provides both structure and flexibility. Research reveals that productivity increased by 5% and sales increased by 7% for Gap retail employees who were given a concrete schedule in advance, indicating a link between stability and output. At the same time, however, many employees crave flexibility: Of those surveyed by Slack, 52% said they want to work where processes always improve.
Clearly, needs vary across companies. But leaders should collaborate with employees to find a process that works for everyone:
- Let your employees have a say in how they achieve tasks by prioritizing results. If they know what needs to be done, they can create their own process.
- Set expectations, rather than deadlines, for your team when possible. Good work can be done without a time crunch.
- Clarify the overarching goals of the organization, and connect those to individuals’ immediate tasks. This helps everyone to see how they fit into the larger plan.
Cultivate teamwork and support
Thomas says a lack of time management skills isn’t the only thing preventing employees from reaching maximum output. Instead, it’s a wider cultural problem that is sometimes reinforced by senior leadership.
She identifies several ways in which organizations and leaders unintentionally create unproductive environments, such as expecting team members to be online at all hours and respond to emails immediately. More important, however, “While many employees do struggle with time and attention management, the solutions won’t stick unless leaders address the underlying culture issues.”
Instead of expecting round-the-clock email monitoring, make sure every employee has a trusted team member who can fill in during their absence. That way, when employees are off, they can be fully off. Having a dependable proxy is not only good for productivity; it will also prevent burnout and stress, which can minimize costly turnover.
Time management strategies can truly make a difference
You know that proposal you couldn’t finish because you kept getting interrupted by meetings? Now you’ve scheduled time for focused work in your calendar, so no one comes knocking at your desk. Your team members are clear on goals, so you’re not being pulled into last-minute editing sprees. And while a flood of messages may still light up your phone, instead of panicking, you remember that you’ve set aside time specifically to address them.
With the right combination of time management strategies, deadlines don’t seem so daunting, you feel less stressed, and you feel comfortable enough to take a real, hard-earned lunch break.