Have you ever felt overwhelmed and stressed with too much to do and insufficient time? It’s a familiar feeling.
Good time management skills at an early age prepare you to succeed at school, in the workplace, and life. It is challenging to manage our time when we have so many distractions competing for our attention with immense data growth, social media, biases, and those bad habits like procrastination.
Yet, with strong motivation and hard work, we can do better. We have time management tips below.
What Are Time Management Skills?
Most of us need to improve at managing our time well. Time management is the process of planning, arranging, and controlling how much time to spend on tasks and activities to maximize effectiveness. Time management skills are part of soft skills essential for success at school, work, and life.
According to a survey, only 10% of people say they feel in control of spending their day. Developing good time management habits will give us more control over our lives. Learning how to allocate our time and energy is beneficial.
Time management skills are as precious as our time. Here are some essential skills to muster:
- Set a routine for daily tasks.
- Track your time, don’t waste it.
- Prioritize tasks strategically.
- Avoid procrastination.
- Avoid multitasking.
The Benefits of Time Management Skills Are Huge
- Become more productive, effective, and efficient.
- Have an awareness of wasting time and be able to make adjustments.
- Have a better focus, less stress, and be healthy.
- Improve work/life balance.
By saving more time, we can have more opportunities to achieve meaningful career and life goals.
How Time Relates To Money
We often discuss the relationship between time and money and their importance as resources. Time is money, as said by Benjamin Franklin and many others. But is it?
Time is a finite resource that is permanently gone when it has passed. On the other hand, the time spent is gone forever. Although money may be hard to find when you are out of a job, you can replace it even when times are hard, as they are now. You can file for unemployment benefits, turn to money saved for an emergency, borrow money, search for a job, or start a side hustle. While not optimum, we at least have the possibility of replacing money.
Many tips for improving time management skills are akin to better money management habits. Having time management strategies is essential when you are in college, the workplace, and life.
How To Better Manage Time And Money
Tracking time spent is similar to tracking your spending. By doing so, you may better see how wasteful you are and can make changes.
Budget your time wisely for what you need to do first before acting. When budgeting your money for essential needs such as living costs, you can better assess what you have for discretionary spending for your wants.
When you spend time foolishly, you may be late on deadlines, do a poor job, and need outside help to complete your job. Overspending leads to ramping up debt, which may take more work.
Being frugal with your time is a way to acknowledge your wish to spend it more prudently. The same goes for money when we are cheap with how we spend money.
For college students, having time management skills are a must to achieve their goals. Avoid procrastination by taking better control of your schedule. Managing your time will help you do well, graduate from school, and start your career. Time management skills are relevant, and you can carry these skills forward into the workplace to be more effective and efficient at your job.
I Wasted Time At College
My time management skills could have improved in college, and there weren’t any courses to take to help me eliminate time wasters. Intuitively, I knew I was wasting time and know when I do so now.
The difference between then and now is that I have become more aware and proactively work on being more focused—years of needing to be effective and agile as an equity analyst helped me realize better productivity. If I didn’t control my time better, my competitors would undoubtedly have advantages.
Improving My Skills Out Of Necessity
That said, I truly learned to develop time management skills when I went to law school. I went back to school at an older age and had some good habits already. However, I had some bad ones too. Law school made a world of good in the world of time management.
As a student, I read the legal cases ahead of time, then compiled the relevant concepts into extensive study guides. Then I cut the principles down into an index card for each class. I had daily to-do lists with detailed schedules for the rest of the term. I was focused, organized, and strategic about my priorities.
Think of time management as a means to an end. Mastering your time well in school and at your job often leads to handing in your assignments on time with outstanding quality, less stress, and having free time to enjoy family, friends, and yourself. By saving time, you can accomplish more of your goals in your life.
My sixteen-year-old daughter, Alex, has had a system for managing her priorities with stickers for as long as I can recall. My son, Tyler, not so much. As a result, he needs to be more timely with assignments. However, he has taken a page out of Alex’s book and has dramatically improved.
Merely having goals without good habits is not enough to reach them. The desire to lose 20 pounds, hand in assignments on time, or save $10,000 within a year is an empty promise without a plan and good habits. We can improve them with hard work, persistence, and perseverance.
12 Ways To To Improve Your Time Management Skills
Be Goal-Oriented With A SMART Approach
To achieve success, you need to know your short- and long-term goals. Most of us are more focused on the near term, but these targets should fit our life goals. That doesn’t mean you can’t adjust your long-term plan. However, having some idea of the lifestyle you’d desire motivates you in the short term. For example, seeing a house near a lake may produce an image for your memory bank that you may want to pursue someday.
To better reach goals, a SMART approach can bridge the gap to better habits. George T Doran first introduced the acronym in Management Review in November 1981. College students and employees can use this approach to adapt to money and time management:
- Realistic (or Relevant, Reasonable)
A SMART Example For Students: Improve My Academics
You are a sophomore, and your GPA is just under 3.0. You have been floundering a bit but recently have decided to pursue a career in business. So it is time to work on your grades to boost your GPA to 3.5 by graduation.
This semester, you registered for business courses you are interested in, such as Consumer Behavior, Business Law, and Finance. You also have to take Statistics, which you are worried about because it has a lot of math. It would be best if you got your overall GPA to B/B+, including Statistics, by the end of the semester, a 6-month target. (SPECIFIC)
Keep in mind that your grades matter. If you can improve your scores to a solid B or higher this term, with better planning, you should lift your GPA to over 3.0. (MEASURABLE)
Achievable And Reasonable
Ask yourself: Can I get at least a B or better in each course I am taking? It will require more organization of due dates for homework assignments and required papers. I will schedule much more study time ahead of the midterm and final exams and ask for help when needed.
As math is sometimes an issue in Statistics, go to the Tutoring Center and schedule a few sessions ahead of exam time. Spend more time on the Statistics classwork. (ACHIEVABLE, REASONABLE)
Your goal at college is to have a 3.5 GPA by the time you graduate. After graduation, you plan to get a job in business, potentially in finance, where it is competitive. With a better focus on academics, you can improve your GPA each semester, picking up a few A’s. (TIME)
- Plan Your Work Daily
Being strategic about handling your work day-to-day is essential. You can use a daily planner or calendar app that works best for you, and you should complete specific tasks in a certain timeframe.
Make a daily to-do list that is as specific as possible. This list should identify what you need to do that day and anticipate critical due dates to help you tackle reports, papers, meetings, exams, and projects. If you work collaboratively with others, integrate those meetings into your planner or app.
For example, you are working with three students to make a study guide for an upcoming exam on global history. Split up the topics, and each should have respective deadlines for submitting their piece to the person coordinating the study guide.
Organizing time in the workplace may require more effort when working when people are working in teams collaboratively rather than individually. However, planning upfront by allocating different activities to individuals in the group with respective deadlines provides accountability. No one wants to be the deadweight person in a team or department who will not be part of the group’s next project.
- Get An Early Jump On Your Tasks
Get a jump on assigned work, especially if it is not part of your routine. If you are still getting familiar with the task, there may be a more significant learning curve. Give yourself extra time by reviewing the assignment, researching, and sketching out an outline that will help you get started. Then you can plan and prepare in advance to help spur your motivation.
Look at the big picture first and break down the assignment into smaller steps. Ask for help as soon as possible if you need clarification on the work. I have sometimes wasted a lot of time, fearful of admitting to others that I didn’t know something.
When working at a particular company, when I was an associate to a senior analyst, I was unfamiliar with a specific regulatory requirement that would impact the business. When I finally got up the nerve to ask the senior analyst, she hadn’t heard of the provision, which was unique.
- Set A Routine
Be strategic about recurring daily tasks. Eliminate or change how you do things that may be timewasters. Reading and answering emails are essential but decide how you will address this task. Should you tackle emails first thing in the morning or later in the day?
Make choices about emails and stick to that routine. If you have daily or weekly meetings with your group, stick to a specific amount of time allotted to certain topics. Avoid unnecessary meetings. A good routine is a good habit.
Determine when you are most productive. That is usually the best time to tackle demanding tasks rather than the easiest ones. Have a plan for handling those most critical and urgent, then devote time to the challenging projects.
The due date is fast approaching, and you realize you are behind schedule. If you have too many pressing demands on your time, it may be from procrastinating over the tasks. Plan better to avoid unnecessary stress.
There Still May Be Contingencies
Recognize that as great as your daily routine may be, there may be surprises to your plan. Deadlines may be moved up or, later on, a potential opportunity to do an extra project or pick up a new client who needs a lot more attention upfront. Leave room to be flexible when you need to go to a contingency plan.
I recall vigorously working on a significant report, happy to be getting some quiet time to do it. Suddenly, a merger in my industry was about to be announced that evening. Switching gears on a dime, I set aside my report to focus on the potential merger.
As such, I prepped an outline of the consolidation’s pros/cons and made some calculations for the possible event. The merger announcement happened after the close of the stock market. Being ready is always a good discipline to have.
- Consider ROTI or Return on Time Invested
Return on time invested or ROTI is similar to ROI or return on investment. ROI is a well-known financial ratio calculated as net income divided by the investment cost. Using ROI, we can evaluate the investment’s cost-efficiency, whether a return on stocks, bonds, or a business project. ROTI, however, can help you measure how time-efficient you or your team are.
For example, how many minutes or hours did you spend at the department’s morning meeting versus what you learned? Colleagues can take a survey sharing their thoughts about how much time spent out of the total was valuable. If 75% was valid out of the 90 minutes meeting, why not cut meeting times by 20-25 minutes unless there is more on the agenda? Many people found that zoom meetings have been shorter, more effective, and more efficient during the pandemic. See if you need to spend more time on non-essential topics.
Related Post: 18 Financial Ratios You Should Know
- Track Time And Avoid Distractions
Like tracking your spending, track how you spend your time. Review how you spend your time over 30 days. You may find surprises at how efficient you are in some things and wasteful in others.
What are the most common time wasters you may find? Do any of these look familiar?
Are you continually checking messages?
Long meetings drag on. (Zoom communications can be more effective. However, I noticed they are getting longer too.)
You were mulling a decision too long.
You are socializing when you have work to do.
Saying Yes to a task, you should have said No. Learn how to say No when it matters most simply.
You are delaying more demanding tasks by spending too long on more manageable tasks.
Make changes when you become aware of how much time you wasted. Budget your time wisely so you have ample time and resources to do a quality job. This list and many more such timewasters distract us from doing our work. They are bad habits we need to eliminate strategically, and we will find a lot more time to focus on other activities that will enhance our grades, careers, and lives.
- Make Good Habits Which Allow You To Be Effective
Once formed, habits allow us to do things automatically in everyday life. Our practices start through repeated actions that may come with rewards.
Studies say it takes 21 to 66 days to break a bad habit like scrolling aimlessly through email or social media rather than using your time more productively.
How Long Does It Take To Make A Good Habit?
The 21-day time frame dates back nearly 70 years. Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a 1950s plastic surgeon, found that it would take his patients about 21 days to get used to seeing their new face, or post-amputation, they would sense a phantom limb. Dr. Maltz wrote about his adjustment period to changes and new behaviors to form a new habit. It requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.
There is more research that indicates that it takes 66 days to form a new habit. A 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology by Phillipa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, indicated it took 66 days on average (in a range of 18 days to 254 days) to form a new habit.
Whether 21 days or 66 days, it takes significant time, effort, and determination to create a new habit.
James Clear has studied and written extensively on habit stacking, including in his book Atomic Habits. Clear says the quickest way to build a new habit into your life is to stack it on top of current practice. This method is called habit stacking. First, Clear explains how a study of synaptic pruning may build new and presumably better habits.
In a 2007 study from Oxford University, researchers compared newborn brains with adults’ brains. They found that the average adult had 41% fewer neurons than the average newborn.
The fewer neurons were a surprising result considering that babies are born with blank slates and don’t have the strong connections adults have. However, adult brains prune away connections between neurons that don’t get used and build up relationships often. It is a biological change that leads to skill development.
Are you with me? Synaptic pruning could lead to building new habits.
Habit stacking is related to implementation intention, created by BJ Fogg. It pairs a new habit (you desire) with current practice (you have). You are using routines that already exist and adding new behavior. This method increases the likelihood of sticking with practice by stacking new behavior on an existing one.
Habit Stacking: Time Examples
Think in terms of your morning routine.
Get up, go to the bathroom, shower, brush your teeth, and get dressed. (Too much information?) A typical start to my day:
Go downstairs, and let Kelly, our dog, out. Make coffee, say hi to Teddy, our puppy, and my husband, Craig (usually in that order).
Turn on CNBC for financial news, have coffee, and have a bite. I reviewed the to-do list I had written the night before, adding tasks I couldn’t finish. I suggest doing a quick small activity like checking homework from students. On days I teach, I go online to set up my lesson.
I flounder after my classes end in the mid-afternoon. Whittling down my list is a good habit and replaces my idleness. To remain productive until dinnertime, I realize I need to grade papers, which I sometimes delay. Pairing a good practice with a desired habit helps me to take care of this responsibility.
Later in the day, I read emails and answered them. Make phone calls. Dinnertime is family time, though, in recent years, my teen kids rush off to homework or friends. After work, I outline and research an article I plan to work on the next day.
Finish work for the day. Go walking on a treadmill or outdoors.
- Avoid Multitasking By Doing One Activity At A Time
Multitasking is when you are juggling a lot of tasks simultaneously. It may seem like a great way to get it done, but we could be doing it better. There has been a lot of research that proves multitasking takes its toll on our productivity, especially if the tasks are involved.
There are costs in switching between the tasks. Psychologists have conducted task-switching experiments. In the mid-1990s, Dr. Robert Rogers and his team found that even when people change completely and predictably between two jobs every two to four trials, they were slower on the task switch.
In a 2001 study, Joshua Rubinstein, Ph.D., Jeffrey Evans, Ph.D., and David Meyer, Ph.D., conducted four experiments in which young adults switched between different tasks, such as solving math problems or classifying geometric objects. The researchers found that the participants lost time when they had to switch from one task to another.
As assignments got more complex, participants needed more time. As a result, people took significantly longer to switch between more complex tasks. Time costs were also higher when the participants changed to relatively unfamiliar tasks. They got up to speed faster when they changed to jobs they knew better.
More recently, a 2018 study by Anthony Wagner, a psychologist at Stanford University, and his colleague, Melina R. Uncapher, found that heavy multitaskers have reduced memory. Specifically, serious media multitasking performed significantly worse on simple memory tasks for people who use many media types simultaneously.
To do quality work, focus on one task at a time and do it well. Multitasking may be a great concept, but it is challenging to implement with possible downsides.
- Prioritize Tasks
It is easy to lose focus when you have a lot of work in front of you to vary in priority. Some work may be necessary, urgent, challenging, or easy, required to do yourself or with others. Some tasks are similar so that you can bunch them together in one fell swoop. Your work may be academic or rote, requiring technology, problem-solving, or critical thinking skills.
Prioritizing your tasks in the right way is essential for productivity. Academic and workplace settings use the following three standard methods.
Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 Rule
The Pareto principle is an oldie but goodie, also known as the 80/20 rule. This rule signifies the law of the vital few. It takes its name after an Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, for his work in 1896.
In practice, the premise often means that 20% of customers account for 80% of its revenues. Therefore, a greater focus on those customers is essential. From a salesperson’s or student’s perspective, 20% of their work may account for 80% of their commissions or grade respectively. The 80/20 rule is among the most valuable time and life management concepts. For example, 20% of activities are critical, contributing to 80% of your success. Be strategic about spending your time on these tasks to maximize your goals, revenues, subscribers, homework, or term assignments for class.
The ABC Method, developed by Alan Lakein, helps you prioritize tasks by assigning letters and numbers to the items on your to-do list. The highest priority, which is essential and urgent on your list, is A. As such, it would get a number 1 for A1, A2, and A3. Then you move to B and C.
Students use this method at colleges and businesses. It calls greater attention to what is most urgent and what must-do using due dates on your timetable. After completing A priorities, B priorities are those B tasks you should do. Then C has lower priority tasks, which would be nice to do.
Yes, the Eisenhower method is attributed to a quote by the 34th President, Dwight D. Eisenhower. He said I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The critical is optional, and the essential is never urgent.
Group daily tasks into four categories:
Category 1 is urgent and vital and requires the most substantial attention paid to those activities in that they are both critical and essential. For example, a due date is fast approaching for a term project worth 50% of your grade.
Next, Category 2 refers to essential but not necessarily urgent tasks. For example, you need to plan and organize activities for a vital conference for your company requiring speakers on specific topics in a relatively short time frame.
Category 3 tasks that are urgent but someone can delegate jobs to others, freeing time up for you. Workers must undertake delegation of functions, but people are often reluctant to do so to their detriment. Learn how to do this better.
The final group is Category 4, the lowest priority. These tasks are neither urgent nor essential and are often timewasters, and as such, they seriously should be considered for being dropped.
There are other methods people can use to identify what is most critical and least critical in their to-do list. The point is that they deserve varying amounts of attention determined by their importance and urgency. Make sure to make a task urgent because you avoided doing it for so long, which is just procrastination.
- Avoid Procrastination
Procrastination is the enemy of good planning, whether for financial or time management.
Tomorrow is always a better day for those who procrastinate to make better decisions or tackle tasks they don’t want to do. Procrastinators voluntarily delay doing something like paying their bills or doing their work, despite knowing they will be worse off due to the delay. Avoiding procrastination is a way to get back on track.
When planning your daily, weekly, or monthly calendars, you schedule dates when essential tasks like reporting for school or work and paying bills. With fair scheduling and a calendar, you will take care of what’s necessary on time before it becomes urgent.
College students are big procrastinators.
Procrastination tends to be particularly prevalent among college students, and an estimated 25%-75% procrastinate on academic work. As a professor, I can attest to grappling with students handing in assignments well after deadlines despite knowing the due dates at the start of the term, amplified by me in the classroom or online.
In a classic 1995 study, Joseph R. Ferrari, Judith I. Johnson, and William G. McGown have written academic research on students and their tendencies to:
- appropriate too little time to perform tasks;
- overestimate how motivated they will be in the future, and
- mistakenly assume they need to be in the right mind to do the project.
It’s not just college students who procrastinate. According to Ferrari, 20% of US adults are chronic procrastinators, and delaying is part of their lifestyle.
Surveys show many employees don’t opt-in for an employer-sponsored retirement plan because they need clarification on their choices. Yet, language in the retirement plan tells employees they can make future changes to allocations. Fortunately, more employers provide opt-out clauses that automatically enroll all employees into their 401K plan.
- Biases Cause To Be Less Rational
Biases tend to get in the way of working rationally, whether we manage our finances or time. We have written a lot about biases.
Related Post: How Our Emotions Lead To Irrational Money Decisions
Behavioral economists refer to procrastinators as having “present bias” tendencies. They frequently are overweighting today with instant gratification and underweighting tomorrow, resulting in pain and losses in the future.
Academic research is plentiful in confirming that procrastination is a significant predictor of impulsive financial behavior and inadequate financial and time management planning.
Sunk Cost Fallacy
Sunk cost fallacy is another significant bias. You cannot recover these sunk costs. Let’s apply it to money or time. Imagine paying $50 for a ticket to a concert. On the day of the show, there is a blizzard. Despite the worsening weather, you drive hours to the concert because of your initial investment, even though you are less interested in attending the event.
Sometimes you may spend a lot of time researching and writing a paper. You have been writing pages and realize the topic could be more interesting, and you are spinning your wheels and wasting time. Still, you don’t want to abort your paper, and you keep going.
Both of these examples are casualties of this bias. When you think you are spending too much time on an activity you are no longer interested in, you are bound to do poorly.
You are better off walking away than spinning your wheels. Take a step back and evaluate if you can do better by focusing on another topic or activity. Don’t worry about the time spent if you still need to complete the task. Reversing course can be painful, but I have often regretted not doing so. Start by sketching an outline of your report and research your topic.
Plan For Downtime
I hate wasting time and other people’s time. As a result, I often carry a notebook, a book, and a small calendar when I find some downtime outside my office or home. When I meet someone in a restaurant, Starbucks, or the park, I enjoy working on small tasks as a precursor for doing an article or a report if I am early. Alternatively, I may read if I don’t feel like working.
Reading during downtime has been a typical habit going back to law school when I had limited time. It was always difficult to carry those heavy legal textbooks to use my class notes to summarize on index cards for studying.
Sometimes, we need downtime to stretch, do yoga, walk, run, sit, and enjoy our lives. For some, the pandemic has allowed us time to be at home with our families if we were fortunate enough to work remotely. That means reducing your commute and being home more. Saving time may have resulted in some achieving a work/life balance that didn’t exist before.
We have precious time to do what we need and want to do at school and work. By improving our time management skills, we can control our lives while being more productive. Although multitasking doesn’t work well, we can improve our effectiveness and efficiency in many ways.
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With a passion for investing and personal finance, I began The Cents of Money to help and teach others. My experience as an equity analyst, professor, and mom provide me with unique insights about money and wealth creation and a desire to share with you.