Everyone knows immediately what is meant by time management. But the term is misleading, because we cannot manage time. It always stays the same: a day has 24 hours. But we can and must manage our use of the time we have. In that sense, when we say time management, we are really talking about self-management.
What is my aim with time management?
Our digital everyday is full of inventions that make our work and processes faster. They are so effective that we can do much more in one hour than our grandparents managed 50 years ago.
This phenomenon of condensed time leads to stress. And lasting stress is not healthy. That is why improved time management skills are worthwhile. We want to exhaust our list of important tasks without feeling exhausted ourselves at the end of the day. We also make a better job of achieving personal goals when we consciously take time to do so, i.e. make better use of our time.
What are the prerequisites for my time management?
Time management takes time. It sounds paradoxical, but if you want to make better use of your time, you need to invest time in the process. A little bit every day, to become aware of what to do and what not to do. A pen and paper and a watch, or in digital life a notebook and/or an app for time measurement, are helpful.
However, managing time is also a matter of discipline. Even the best tips are no help if we do not use them repeatedly and stick with it every day until it becomes internalised and a matter of course…
‘We don’t have too little time; we have too much to do.’
What methods will help my time management?
An overview of the most common methods with a short description.
- The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. It states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. To reach 100%, a lot more effort is required. In other words, perfection is not economical in time management terms.
The ABC analysis or ABC method shifts the focus onto the most important tasks.
A-tasks can only be completed independently, are extremely important and are highly valuable.
B-tasks are upcoming tasks that can be partially delegated and create value.
C-tasks take up much time, but bring little added value.
All tasks are evaluated using these criteria and distributed across the day.
Getting Things Done (GTD) is a method from David Allen. To be both productive and relaxed, you write down all the tasks to be completed. This first step, ‘capture’, ensures that nothing is forgotten. This is followed by step 2, ‘clarify’, step 3, ‘organise’, step 4, ‘reflect’, and step 5, ‘engage’. There are various list types into which the tasks are entered. Repeatedly reading through, adding to and completing these lists should become routine. You can start with the two-minute rule: anything that can be completed in two minutes or less should be done immediately. You are then free to take on the bigger tasks in the to-do lists.
‘One should never have so much to do that there is no time left for cogitation.’
- The not-to-do list is said to have been devised by Warren Buffett and helps to prioritize. It comprises three steps: 1. Write down the 25 most important aims – e.g. personal targets for the year or career goals in time period x. 2. Find the five aims in that list that are really important. 3. Cross out the other 20. The not-to-do list is finished. And you can concentrate fully on the five things you want to achieve above all.
- The Eisenhower Matrix, named after the US president Eisenhower, helps differentiate between importance and urgency. All tasks are divided into four quadrants in a matrix. Quadrant 1 collects together all the tasks that are both urgent and important. Quadrant 2 contains tasks that are important but not urgent. In the third quadrant is everything that is urgent but not important. The fourth quadrant holds everything that is not important and not urgent.
- The Pomodoro Technique, an interval technique with a timer, trains concentration in five simple steps to boost your productivity. To use it, choose a task and note down what needs to be done to achieve it (step 1). The timer is set for 25 minutes (step 2) and work starts (step 3). When the timer sounds, what has been done is ticked off (step 4). Then there is a five-minute break (step 5). If the task is not finished, the five steps are repeated. After four sequences, a 30-minute break should be taken.
- The SMART method, also known as the SMART formula or the SMART principle, helps us to precisely and specifically define aims in a project and ultimately even to bindingly note them down in a calendar. Like a checklist, each letter stands for a task used to formulate and implement the aims: S = Specific, M = Measurable, A = Achievable, R = Realistic, T = Time-bound. The question required in order to check how specifically an aim has been defined is therefore: is my aim specifically formulated, measurable, achievable, realistically planned and with a deadline?
- The ‘silent hour’ is a method for concentrated work. It requires quiet. No ringing telephone, no checking emails, no colleague with a quick question. Nowadays, having that silent hour at work is something that needs to be organised, because an hour of uninterrupted work requires a fixed appointment in the diary. Any interruption slows everything we are doing. We can press pause on our email program, browser push notifications and similar distractions ourselves. Calls might have to be taken by colleagues. If you work in an open-plan office, you are better off booking a small work room for a silent hour.
- The 18-minute rule, a concept by Peter Bregman, is designed to help you organise your whole life better. It only takes 18 minutes a day. Five minutes in the morning to plan the work day. Five minutes after work to evaluate what you did well that day and how, and what was difficult, and why. And answer the question ‘What do I have to do tomorrow?’ That leaves eight blocks of one minute, taken individually for reflection after each hour of an eight-hour working day: how sensible and productive has my work been? The more often we consciously perceive our days like this, the better use we will make of our time.
How do I find the right time management method for me?
There are entire books and courses for most of the time management tips and techniques that we have briefly presented here. But before investing in these methods, it is worth testing whether they suit you. What can I use well and consistently – in my everyday life and at work?
It is also a good idea to arrange to meet colleagues and make dealing with time more relaxed together. You can then offer each other mutual support and identify and ward off ‘time thieves’ together. And also celebrate together once you have managed to live and work in a more relaxed way, on your own and with others.
Six life hacks that help you to use your time in a more relaxed way each day:
- Be aware of your tasks: what do I want to get done today?
- Write to-do lists and set deadlines: what needs to be done?
- Set priorities: what is most important and most urgent?
- Divide time: when will I do what, and for how long?
- Measure time: how long will I work for? When will I take a break?
- Say no: what disturbs me, what is distraction, what is unimportant?
What is successful time management?
When do we use our time well? That is not just a question of efficiency and productivity. The arts of taking a break, doing nothing, resting and decelerating help us to experience time in a conscious and healthy way. That is why we end this text with a tip on slowing things down.
Don’t plan the full day, but rather half of it. There is always something that changes, puts the brakes on, delays, disturbs or takes priority. It is good to have time to react flexibly to these variables. That helps you to still get what you intended done and to finish the day with less frustration. This tip also has a name: the fifty-fifty rule.
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