Time management: how to work smarter to be more productive

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Time management means using your time in an efficient and productive way.

Knowing how to divide your time between responsibilities and activities is an important skill, especially at work. It allows you to work smarter without necessarily working harder, getting more done in the time available instead of frantically scrabbling to tick everything off a rapidly expanding to-do list.

As well as making you a more efficient and productive worker, good time management can have a positive impact on other aspects of your life. People who are skilled at time management tend to be high achievers, earning a positive professional reputation. What’s more, effective time management tends to result in lower stress levels, making you a happier and more relaxed person.

So what’s the secret behind effective time management? In this article, we’ll cover some practical ideas you can use to better manage your time at work, as well as advice for leading teams to work smarter and be more productive.

How to be more productive and efficient with your time

Let’s start by considering what good time management looks like in practice. Think of a day when everything seemed to go well for you at work. What was it about this particular day that caused things to run more smoothly than usual?

Perhaps you started the day with a positive morning routine. Beginning your day with simple but productive tasks like exercise, journaling and meditation can give you a positive foundation to work from, putting you in the right mindset to achieve all the tasks you’ve set for yourself.

Maybe you batched your tasks in a way that reduced distractions and enabled you to get more done in less time. For example, instead of checking your emails every time you get one, you could assign a couple of half-hour blocks in the morning and afternoon to tackle and respond to all your emails at once. This means you won’t be interrupted by emails when you’re in a productive flow of work, allowing you to get things done more efficiently.

Another factor could be your style of communication. Communicating concisely means less time wasted writing long emails, or sitting through meetings that lack a clearly defined purpose. Many hours are lost at work through slow or inefficient communication; committing to a more succinct approach frees up time to focus on other tasks.

Consider how your time is currently filled when you’re at work. It might help to create a pie chart comprised of daily tasks like answering emails, attending meetings, completing admin and writing documents.

Which of the segments on your pie chart can be optimised, allowing you to complete the same amount of work in less time? When you’ve figured this out you can adjust your schedule accordingly, working smarter instead of harder to complete tasks in a more efficient and productive way.

Top tips for working smarter and avoiding procrastination

#1. Shorten your to-do list. Most people feel overwhelmed when they’re faced with an intimidatingly long to-do list, and this can lead to procrastination. A better approach is to rank your tasks in order of importance, and to focus solely on the top five most important activities of the day. By reducing the length of your list and beginning with high-priority tasks, you’re much more likely to achieve what you set out to do each day.

#2. Eliminate distractions. Distractions are the enemy of productivity. If you want to use your time efficiently and stay focused on work for longer, it’s essential to remove distractions such as email and social media notifications. These are common culprits for interrupting workflow, taking up valuable headspace and decreasing productivity. Turning off notifications can help to ensure that you aren’t distracted while working.

#3. Listen to your body clock. We all have peaks and troughs in our energy levels and ability to focus throughout the day. For example, it’s common to feel energised and motivated to tackle work in the morning, and to experience a slump in energy during the late afternoon. Figure out the times when your mind is at its prime, then use this information to plan when your most important tasks should be scheduled.

How to improve time management as a leader or manager

As a leader or manager, it’s especially important to understand the benefits of time management and instil a culture of productive working within your team.

Consider how your team’s environment might be affecting their productivity levels. Some employees might prefer to work in a quiet space, away from time-sapping distractions and talkative colleagues. Others may listen to music on headphones in order to focus their minds on the task at hand. Invite your team to share their preferred productivity methods and give them the chance to put these into practice at work.

Working hours can also be adjusted to optimise productivity within your team. Prioritise results and positive outcomes over hours worked – if it’s possible for a team member to fulfil their responsibilities more efficiently at a particular time of day, this should be encouraged.

Keep an eye out for areas where time is regularly wasted within your team. It might be that people are booking unnecessary meetings when a message could be more efficiently conveyed in an email. Conversely, colleagues might be spending too much time writing out lengthy emails when a quick phone call would do the job. When you’ve identified unproductive activities, suggest practical alternatives that your teammates can use to complete their work more efficiently.

Effects of time management on staff

The advantages of time management are clear to see: positive outcomes produced quickly, reduced stress levels and a culture of productive, results-focused work.

While time management is an important skill, leaders and manager should ensure that it doesn’t come at the cost of increased pressure or reduced morale.

Time management isn’t a tool for pushing staff to produce more work in less time. It should instead be seen as an enabler that allows everyone to work at their best, without wasting time on unproductive activities or distractions.


Picture of Sue Hampson
Sue Hampson
Sue is TSW Training's Business Services Training Advisor for ILM Leadership and Management. Sue regularly writes about leadership and management techniques.
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