5 Time Management Strategies that Will Change Your Work (and Life)

By Dean Yeong on May 28, 2018

Do you often find yourself wanting to work on your goals and change the world, yet feeling lazy and unmotivated from time to time? Me too.

While others accomplish their goals as if they have a magic wand or some time-traveling superpowers, you just wish you could have an extra 12 hours in a day so you could finish everything on your to-do list.

The truth is, being productive is not about how much time you have. Time is subjective. How much time you have and how fast or slow it goes by depends on how you perceive it. High performing professionals like musicians and athletes even feel as if time stops when they’re performing in what is known as the flow state.

In other words, rigid time management strategies such as strict daily routines and scheduling your day down to the minute won’t work, especially in this information overload era.

You’re not a robot. Instead of managing time, you should manage your awareness, your priorities, and your attention. And instead of squeezing minutes out of your day, here are five time management tips that will help you accomplish your goals so you have more time for other things that matter.

1. Eisenhower Matrix

Before Dwight D. Eisenhower became the 34th President, he served as a general in the United States Army as the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during World War II. Dwight’s position required him to make tough decisions regularly about what he should focus on each day.

This then led him to invent the famous Eisenhower Matrix—also known as the urgent-important matrix—that helps decide on and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance.

The Eisenhower Matrix

To make high-stake decisions fast, categorizes your to-dos into four quadrants based on their urgency and importance. The x-axis would have “urgent” and “not urgent,” followed by “important” and “not important” on the y-axis. Then, add your priorities, habits, and tasks into one of these four quadrants according to their characteristics.

After you have your habits and to-dos categorized into these four different quadrants, you get a clearer picture of whether you should or shouldn’t do them.

  • Urgent and important: things to do now.
  • Urgent but not important: things to do now but you should try your best to delegate or eliminate this.
  • Not urgent but important: things to focus on. When you do this, you will have less urgent tasks.
  • Not urgent and not important: things to ignore or eliminate.

The Eisenhower Matrix not only helps you manage the time spent on each task you have at hand, it also provides you with an extra layer of awareness and clarity for what you should and shouldn’t be doing.

2. Pareto Analysis

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian engineer, sociologist, economist, political scientist, and philosopher. He made numerous important contributions to economics.

One of the famous observations he popularized is that power and wealth weren’t distributed in a linear pattern, instead, it’s a reversed hockey-stick where a small percentage of the population own a majority of the wealth.

Furthermore, he saw the same pattern everywhere in every area.

  • In Pareto’s finding, 20 percent of the population owns 80 percent of the wealth.
  • In software, 80 percent of errors and crashes could be eliminated by fixing 20 percent of the bugs.
  • In business, 20 percent of the products or customers bring in 80 percent of the revenue.

And the same 80/20 principle holds true for our productivity: 20 percent of your routines lead to 80 percent of your outcomes, at the same time, 80 percent of failures or inefficiencies are caused by 20 percent of the triggers or bad habits.

Pareto Analysis

To increase the value and impact of your time spent, use the Pareto’s Principle to analyze every impact your routines create and optimize them so they generate the best and largest possible output. Here is the two-step process (based on Warren Buffet’s 25/5 Rule) you could follow:

  1. Make two lists. The first list would be the 20 percent of routines that produced 80 percent of the results. Then, make another list of the 20 percent of routines that led to 80 percent of the undesired outcome or inefficiencies.
  2. Focus on the first list and eliminate the second. Try to eliminate or at least, minimize the destructive routines and focus your time and energy on the top 20 percent habits that lead to good progress.

It’s worth mentioning that you shouldn’t just analyze your routines and habits based on the efficiency from a time management standpoint. Instead, think about how these habits affect your emotions and behavior too because they play a critical role in improving your productivity.

3. Parkinson’s Law

In 1955, a British historian and author, Cyril Northcote Parkinson made an interesting statement. He observed that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. This observation was first published in The Economist in 1955 and since republished online. He called it the Parkinson’s Law.

To Parkinson, the Parkinson’s Law boils down to is the essence of what takes a lady of leisure an entire day to write and dispatch a postcard while it takes a busy man three minutes.

The total effort of the task is identical but the time spent on finding a postcard, writing it, searching for the address, etc. is the difference between a person who has time and another who doesn’t.

Parkinson's Law

The idea of Parkinson’s Law is about giving yourself time constraints on everything you do—even if you don’t need to. This self-imposed deadline will act as a cue to focus on your work instead of procrastinating.

  • If you have eight weeks to complete a project, try to force yourself to finish it in six weeks so you can start early and have more time for a review.
  • If you think you need nine hours to write an article, try giving yourself six hours instead.
  • If you usually take two hours to go through your email, try finishing it in an hour.

A self-imposed, tight deadline not only forces you out of procrastination and into actually doing the work, it also forces you to look at your task creatively. By having a shorter time to complete your task, you’re more likely to come up with a better system and workflow that make you more effective and efficient.

4. Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method invented by an engineer Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. This technique uses a timer to break work down into intervals that encourage regular breaks and reduce the impact of both internal and external interruptions.

Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a simple, useful concept:

  • Before you start working on anything, decide on the task you want to get done.
  • Then, for every 25 minutes you work with total focus, take a five-minute break to remove yourself from the work. This is counted as one set.
  • After the five-minute break, get back to the task and give it your full attention for another 25 minutes.
  • Repeat these sets until the task is done.
  • You can also take a longer break—15 to 25 minutes—after three to four sets of work and repeat the routine again.

This technique works because it fits with how our energy and attention work. Instead of working around the clock like a machine, our energy rises and falls many times throughout the day. Taking regular breaks in between intervals of work is like pressing the reset button,  helping us refocus on our task (in the next interval) instead of giving in to distractions.

There are many software programs created with the integration of the Pomodoro technique. However, Cirillo encourages a low-tech method such as using a mechanical timer, pencil,and paper. The physical act of setting the timer and tracking it on a piece of paper could be an excellent stimulus that triggering focus and flow.

5. The 2-Minute Rule

By using the rigid time management approach, most people are trying to boost their productivity with external motivations, cruel punishments, and sheer willpower. The problem is, our brain is wired to crave for instant gratification and perfection instead of getting important things started and done.

Trying to force yourself into a task only adds more stress and resistance to it that makes you procrastinate even longer. The next time you feel an immense resistance to a certain task, try implementing the 2-minute rule.

2-minute rule

The 2-minute rule works on three simple rules:

  • When something takes less than two minutes to complete, do it immediately.
  • When something takes more than two minutes to complete, start on the first two minutes of the task and focus only on that.
  • When you’re distracted, stop and spend two minutes to think before you give in to the triggers that distracted you.

The 2-minute rule isn’t magic. To make ourselves start doing something, we need activation energy that is bigger than the resistance to the task.

The 2-minute rule lowers the resistance because now, instead of thinking about the big to-do you need to get done, you’re focusing only on the first 2 minutes of it. When you complete the first two minutes, the momentum will carry you forward to finish the entire task.

Manage Your Awareness, Priorities, and Attention

If you haven’t noticed yet, these five time management strategies are written in an order based on the impact they bring to your productivity.

  • Eisenhower Matrix. Be self-aware of your priorities by defining the urgency and importance of each task you have at hand.
  • Pareto Analysis. Make use of the 80/20 rule to maximize your output with minimum effort and input.
  • Parkinson’s Law. Use the power of a deadline to get things done faster.
  • Pomodoro Technique. Do more in less time by scheduling your tasks based on your energy level.
  • 2-Minute Rule. Break procrastination and avoid distraction using a simple psychological trick.

If you’ve never heard of or tried any of these tips, it’s recommended to implement them according to the order. First, to bring self-awareness to how you (want to) spend your time. Then, prioritize your time based on the impact it brings. And finally to manage your attention and transform your habits.

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