The Art and Science of Managing Time

Our to-do lists today run endless more than the number of hours we have cumulatively in a lifetime. Yet, somehow, some individuals seem to accomplish a lot more in a day’s span, leaving you wondering if you’re doing something wrong or if you’re not working hard enough.

No one likes that sting of personal failure that is often felt with unachieved to-dos, along with the stress that comes with that. Whether it’s at work, in relationships, or simply in your personal realm, poor management of your time can often become the source of many other problems.

Well, the secret sauce here isn’t strained all-nighters or overworking, but simply the right understanding and execution of the art and science of time management.


The many ways we go wrong with Time Management

Many of us resort to multi-tasking as a means to manage time better. The underlying belief being the more I do at the same time, the more I can get done. But this is counterintuitive and hampers our effectiveness more than it helps us.

Here are some factors that are making all your efforts at time management futile-

Switching Context – Multitasking often leads to constant mental switching of one thought/context to another, leading to a lack of focus and productivity. When you work on a single task at a time, you not only prevent this but also ensure you’re giving your full attention to that one task.

Lack of Clarity – Being unaware of how to prioritise the tasks at hand is one of the major causes of poor time management. Usually, jotting down all your tasks on a sheet of paper, breaking down large goals into smaller manageable doable steps, and then categorising them into ‘important’ and ‘urgent’ tasks is helpful here.

Lack of Emotional Management – What many don’t realise is that your emotional intelligence plays a key role in how smartly you manage your time. Not only being self-aware of your emotions but also having control over them helps you be more efficient with time. Understanding your emotions and dealing with them first can help you address issues at the root cause and keep moving forward.

Too Many Distractions – One of the most common hindrances in effective time management. Too many distractions can naturally impact your focus, productivity, and performance. Now, these distractions aren’t necessarily external; they can simply be your thoughts and emotions. Again, dealing with these intrusive thoughts and emotions, and then resuming your tasks is an effective solution here.

Inability to Say No – By saying yes to it all, whether it’s at work or on the personal front, you unintentionally overcommit and overcrowd your day, making it almost impossible to manage your time well. Saying no to tasks that aren’t your priority at the moment and setting boundaries comes handy here.

Actionable Steps Towards Better Time Management

Plan and Prioritise

Planning your day or week’s tasks ahead of time is the one hack that will not only save you from mismanagement of your time but also the panic that comes with it. Pre-plan your tasks a night before and set individual timelines against them. Breaking down your tasks into dedicated slots of deep focus can also help you tick off your to-do as per the level of importance.

Switch to Singletasking

Never underestimate the power of dedicating all your time, energy, and attention to only one task at a time. Contrary to the popular myth that multitasking is the route to ticking things off your list faster, it, in fact, depletes the quality and performance, and also ends up being excessively exhausting. Focus on one thing at a time and transform your relationship with time while improving the quality of output.

Schedule the distractions

Regular breaks are not a hindrance, constant distractions are. The difference lies in the recognition of the thin line between taking a quick designated break and compulsively giving in to the many distractions. Now, eliminating distractions may not always work; what works is scheduling them so you’re not constantly getting distracted from what you’re trying to focus. Work while you work and play while you play, it’s that simple. Dedicate a fixed amount of time to the task on your list and then allow yourself to drift off into your distractions for a while. Schedule those distractions and scroll guilt free.

Find Your Productivity Hours

Each of us have specific times in the day where we perform at our peak. To better manage your time, it’s also important to find the kind of environment, time of the day, and/or place that works best for you. Find your productivity pockets and work around them, so you attain the most during those hours.

Use the Eisenhower Matrix

A tool to help you prioritise the important over the urgent, the Eisenhower Matrix includes four quadrants, each including a different strategy with not more than 8 tasks under them. The first one lists down tasks that are the most important with same-day deadlines. The second one includes a list of tasks that come second in the level of importance and can be scheduled for later that day or the next day. Thirdly, you put together a list of tasks that are urgent but not as important and can be delegated. Lastly, you list down tasks that are neither urgent nor important and can simply be pushed off the list. Click here to read more on how you can use this matrix to be more productive.

Bonus Questions to reflect on:
  • Am I able to devote time to what I really want to do every day?
  • Do I manage my time or does time manage me?
  • Is there clarity on my long-term priorities (or what’s important)?
  • How much time am I spending every week towards those long-term priorities vis-à-vis what’s urgent?
  • When will I find time to prioritise myself?

Nevertheless, no technique proves effective unless you apply it in your life. Start now by reflecting on where you’re going wrong with managing your time and identify how you can be more efficient in the same 24 hours.