10 Tips to Better Time Management

One of my relatives, I'll call her "my sister", could use a little time management advice. She arrives late to every event, from doctor appointments to parties. She crams too many things into every hour and then gets woefully behind.

Her time management is affecting her insurance rates. Why? Because she tries to make up the time when she gets behind the wheel, speeding through traffic and racking up traffic tickets.

Get a Handle On Those Hours

You don't have to be like my sister, always running behind and trying to beat the clock. It's stressful . . . and dangerous. Just a few changes to your routine can have a profound effect on your time management.

  1. Make a list and set priorities. I'm a weekly list maker and make my list Friday afternoon for the following week. But if you're a daily list maker, even better. Don't make it a general list; simply prioritize the items. Oh yeah, and stick to the plan. Don't make this just one more piece of paper to deal with.
  2. Add buffer time. After you've made your list go back in and add some time to handle those unforeseen things that come up. If they don't come up, great. You've got some time to grab a latte.
  3. Learn to say "no". This one is tough for me. If someone asks for something, I say "yes" and pay for it later. It's extremely easy to take on more than we can handle. Repeat the words, "I'm sorry. I'm busy. Maybe next time," until they roll off your lips with ease.
  4. Set early deadlines. You know how good it feels to finish a project and get it off your plate? Well, it feels even better to get it done early. When you're making your list, move up the deadlines. This not only incorporates buffer time, but makes you look like a god to your time management challenged friends.
  5. Get friendly with your calendar. Get a calendar that you find easy to use. I like a weekly spiral calendar, but I have friends who are masters of the calendar app on their phone. Whatever your choice, get all your deadlines on the calendar.
  6. Stop Multi-tasking. I love juggling lots of things at the same time. It makes me feel more efficient, but ultimately, it makes you less efficient. The time it takes to move from one task to the next and then back again are minutes you'll never get back. Try to focus, avoid distractions (turn off your phone) and concentrate on the task at hand.
  7. Stop being a perfectionist. We should all strive to do a fabulous job, but none of us are perfect. Embrace that you're ordinary. Don't pay excess attention to every detail.
  8. Track your time. Track your time like you bill by the hour. You'll not only get a handle on how much time a project takes, but be able to plan better for future projects.
  9. Delegate. I don't know how many times I've heard someone (including myself) say, "It's faster for me to just do it than having to explain it to someone else." When you hear yourself saying that stop and rethink. Maybe the first time you hand something over it will take time, but what about the next time or the time after that. Invest the time it takes to delegate.
  10. Reward yourself. When you've improved, reward yourself. The reward doesn't have to be big or elaborate. Maybe it's an hour to read by yourself . . . or a maybe massage.

The Next Step

You can definitely take time management deeper, forecasting and planning months and years of your life. Or, you can learn techniques to better organize, track time, set priorities, etc. One great resource for that is the Time Challenged training video.

Not only do you learn how to avoid getting highjacked by low priority activities, it provides many helpful tips and suggestions.

Or, of course you can take my sister's advice. "Get a faster car and a kick ass radar detector."

Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor—with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.