Warren Buffett once said, “I can buy anything I want, but I can’t buy time.” In addition to being a stark reminder of mortality, this also alludes to one of the biggest reasons that many businesses fail: poor time management skills.
Why is time management important? CEOs and managers simply can’t afford to be inefficient in how they run things, especially if they hope to have a successful business or a work/life balance that’s anywhere close to healthy.
Previous studies have found that the average employee spends just around 40% of their workday on “actual work,” and, unfortunately, many high-level business people who have worked their way up the corporate ladder bring the same kind of inefficiency with them.
That’s why time management apps are a big business. If they can help you reclaim even 5% of the time you spend on trivial tasks, that could potentially free up a couple of hours every week.
Below you’ll find the best time management tips, as well as some useful apps, to help you take back control of your schedule.
How To Acquire Essential Time Management Skills
No one is born a bastion of efficiency or knowing all of the keys to time management in business. When it comes to mastering time management techniques, as with any other skill, practice makes perfect.
In looking for the best time management app offerings out there, you’ll notice that most of them praise even the smallest successes rather than punishing failure.
It’s also unwise to buy into any time management tools that are overly prescriptive and fail to recognize that in the world of how to manage time, incremental progress is still progress. So let’s get to it.
1. Plan ahead
There’s an old cliché in the business world that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” As is usually the case, there’s some truth to it.
Although sticking unflinchingly to a plan that isn’t working is just as bad, having some idea of the direction you want things to go is always a good starting point.
If you’re not sure how to manage your time and are of a right-brained mindset, a tool like Aeon Timeline is excellent for laying out tasks in a visual way.
More than that, Aeon Timeline allows you to:
Work on multiple projects at once, breaking things down into subtasks
Link tasks with dependencies and assign them to yourself or others
Use project templates designed to be visually appealing and highly customizable
Import CSV files and export images, PDFs, or interactive presentations
Sure, a to-do list can be a good start to any project, but it usually fails to capture the lay of the land in the same way that a more visual plan does.
2. Prioritize ruthlessly
When you have a plan in place, you can start figuring out what you need to do in the short term to make progress towards successfully executing that plan.
There are various ways to go about prioritizing your tasks, from “eating the frog” (which involves tackling the tasks you’re least enthused about first thing in the morning to reduce procrastination) to categorizing your tasks by type:
Important and urgent
Important but not urgent
Urgent but not important
Not urgent or important
In looking at how to manage time, learning to prioritize (and to say “no” when something simply isn’t a priority) is a valuable skill.
3. Delegate to be free
Once you have a better idea of what you need to be doing in the coming days, weeks, and months, as well as when you need to be doing it, you can think about which tasks you need to tackle yourself and which you can delegate to employees or colleagues.
Tools like Wrike, Trello, or Jira are great for this but, if you prefer something that feels more like a native app for Mac, check out Merlin Project Express.
In addition to letting you plan out your projects with tasks, dependencies, and progress tracking, Merlin Project Express also allows you to:
Take advantage of tried and tested, but very flexible, project templates
Track team member performance and time spent, with cost generation capability
Sync with your Mac address book to keep everyone on the same page
Break down big projects into smaller tasks with a smart project timeline that reflects the urgency of your to-dos
Attach emails, notes, and images to your project, so everything you might need to access is available in one place
4. Analyze your capacity
Once the wheels are set in motion, it’s way too easy to assume that everything is going exactly to plan. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. It’s inevitable that plans, or at least some element of them, don’t work as expected.
When that happens, it’s important to right the ship in a timely manner. Using project management tools properly lets you get insight into the progress others are making without the need for endless meetings or “status update” emails back and forth.
It’s important to get into the swing of addressing shortfalls or other problems as they arise because it means that you don’t need to wait for something to go drastically wrong before you pay attention to it.
As for your own time management activities, an app like Timing is helpful for keeping an eye on things because it analyzes and reports on how you use your Mac without the need to stop and start manual time trackers (which are way too easy to forget about).
Automatic time management tools like Timing are useful because they:
Save time by “knowing” what you’re working on without having to add lots of information manually
Keep track of the documents and apps you’re spending the most time on, even when you don’t realize it yourself
Prepare reports that make it clear at a glance what you might need to cut back on or speed up, and areas you might be neglecting
Still allow for the addition of “off-Mac” activities such as phone calls or meetings manually
5. Eliminate distractions
From speculative emails and social media to what’s going on outside your office window, the modern workplace is full of potential distractions. That’s why many people consider time management strategies more important than ever.
Some swear by the Pomodoro technique, which sees users working for blocks of 25 minutes before taking a 5-minute break, while others believe that listening to your body (e.g. starting and working late if you’re a night owl, or vice versa if you’re a morning person) is the key to reducing distractibility.
Be Focused is one example of a time management app that aims to eliminate distractions during time allocated for working, and fits the Pomodoro technique nicely with its default settings.
More flexible than many other trackers, Be Focused allows:
Full customization of interval, short break, and long break duration
Balancing multiple tasks at once, with easy switching between different to-dos
Pausing or skipping of work intervals in case of unexpected interruptions
Cross compatibility with iPhone and iPad (iOS version available)
Generation of CSV files and reports to track progress towards your goals
Mindfulness is all the rage these days, so it’s no surprise that many time management activities in 2019 embrace the principles of eliminating distractions and concentrating for preset periods of time.
6. Take frequent breaks
It might sound counterintuitive to think about taking breaks when considering time management activities, but they are absolutely vital to prevent burnout and reset your mind before coming back to tasks with fresh eyes.
Some folks work best taking short breaks, perhaps heading out for a brisk walk or catching up on social media, while others prefer to split their day into two with a longer lunch break. Test a few different styles and see what works.
Session will help you shape the routine that works specifically for you. By default, it offers a standard Pomodoro schedule (with longer 30-minute breaks that you can take once in a while). But the best thing about Session is that it encourages you to reflect on each of your sessions — indicate whether you’ve felt focused, neutral, or distracted using emojis. You can also add some notes if you like.
Track your progress at the end of the day or week, and you’ll learn a lot of useful insights about your productivity. If you use Session via Setapp, it’s great because you get both Mac and iOS versions — so you can receive reminders and track progress even when you’re not at the computer.
7. Never cease to experiment
When you’re looking into how to manage time, you’ll come across literally hundreds of articles and apps designed to help you make progress. What most won’t tell you, however, is that many of the time management strategies you read just won’t work for you.
Different people have different business styles, which inevitably means that a time management app some people swear by could feel utterly pedestrian or like a chore to you. And that’s totally fine!
The key here is to find the best time management app, and other techniques, that fits in with you.
What is time management? Not a destination, but a journey.
It’s easy to groan whenever anyone describes something as “a journey, not a destination,” but it really is true when it comes to developing time management skills.
Just as hoarders don’t decide to toss everything they’ve collected in one go, you can’t expect to become a time management mastermind overnight. Instead, this is a developmental process during which you figure out the right time management tips to help you. There’s certainly no shortage of them out there for you to try!
Again, why is time management important? When you’re more productive at work, you develop a healthier work/life balance, worry less about work during your free time, sleep better, and likely develop a stronger relationship with your colleagues or employees. It doesn’t get much more important than that!
Best of all, every single app you need to excel at time management, be it Aeon Timeline, Timing, Merlin Project Express, Session, or Be Focused, is available to you for a free trial through Setapp, a platform with over 200 productivity app for your Mac. Start experimenting early to rip all those long-term benefits!