Everyday life is full of commitments, and it can be increasingly difficult for us to manage our time. We worry about juggling our jobs, studying, family life, hobbies, commuting, tax bills, appointments, and even walking the dog.
With so much to do and think about, organising our time without becoming stressed or suffering burnout can often be tricky.
The good news is that there’s a handful of tried and tested time management methods that can help us get everything done while avoiding stress and worry. We’ve broken down the best time management methods to help you structure your time better, with easy-to-follow steps and practical advice.
6 of the best time management methods
Here are six of the best time management methods and how to employ them:
The Eisenhower method
If you struggle to structure your working time efficiently, give the Eisenhower Principle a try. This method involves categorising your tasks based on their importance and urgency using the Eisenhower matrix. The matrix consists of four quadrants that you should assign to each of the tasks you have to complete in your selected time period:
- Quadrant 1: Important and urgent tasks that should be prioritised and completed promptly.
- Quadrant 2: Important tasks that are not urgent. You can schedule these tasks for a later time.
- Quadrant 3: Tasks that are urgent but less important. Delegate these tasks to others if possible.
- Quadrant 4: Tasks that are neither important nor urgent. These can be postponed or discarded.
This method is suitable for both short-term and long-term projects, and it is especially beneficial for people in leadership positions. It can also be useful if you’re revising, just swap out the ‘delegate to others’ for ‘do another day’.
ABC method of analysis
Similar to the Eisenhower Principle, the ABC analysis is an excellent method for prioritising tasks. This strategy is more suitable for structuring shorter time periods and is ideal for learning the basics of time management.
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You should start by writing a to-do list in the morning or at the beginning of the week and categorise your tasks within that time period as follows:
- A-tasks: Important and urgent tasks crucial for achieving your goals.
- B-tasks: Important tasks with more flexibility in terms of timing.
- C-tasks: Routine tasks that can be done within a specific timeframe.
By structuring your tasks in this way, you can easily manage how much resource you put into the task that day/week/month. If you start by completing the A tasks, then the next time you write the list, your B tasks might jump up to A. This way, you can keep on top of all your work and avoid missing or forgetting to do an important task.
The Pareto principle
Another way to manage your time is through prioritisation. The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, is a concept made to help you prioritise. The principle suggests that roughly 80% of the effects or results come from 20% of the causes or inputs. In simpler terms, it means that a small portion of your efforts or actions often leads to the majority of your outcomes or success.
- In business, approximately 80% of your profits may come from 20% of your customers.
- In a project, around 80% of the results may be achieved by focusing on the most critical 20% of the tasks.
- In your personal life, you might find that 80% of your happiness comes from 20% of your relationships or activities.
The Pareto Principle reminds us to identify and prioritise the few essential factors that have the most significant impact on our desired outcomes. By doing so, we can optimise our time, resources, and efforts to achieve the greatest results.
The ALPEN method
Another great way to manage your time is by following the ALPEN method. The ALPEN method is a technique that helps individuals structure their work and prioritise tasks effectively. It provides a systematic approach to planning, executing, and reviewing daily tasks, allowing for better organisation and reduced stress.
ALPEN stands for:
- Activities: make a to-do list of all planned activities, tasks, and meetings.
- Length of time: estimate how long each task will take.
- Plan buffer time: this involves adding extra time for interruptions and breaks.
- Establish priorities: consider the urgency of each task and which order they should be in, whether they can be delegated, etc.
- Note the level of success: evaluate at the end of the day and find out whether your estimations were accurate or need adjusting for future reference.
With time, your ALPEN method should become more successful as you get better estimations of what your priorities are and how long tasks usually take you to complete. If you write them down or put them online, you can go back and read your review to see how long past tasks took you.
The Pomodoro technique
This technique has a strange background as ‘Pomodoro’ translates to ‘tomato’ in English. It got its name from a tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Italian author Cirillo used when he initially developed the method.
The Pomodoro technique is a popular time management method that involves breaking your work into intervals of focused work and short breaks. Here's how it works:
- Set a timer for 25 minutes.
- Work on a task with total concentration until the timer goes off.
- Take a 5-minute break to relax and recharge.
- Repeat the process four times, then take a longer break of 15-30 minutes.
This technique helps you maintain focus and prevent burnout by providing you with regular breaks. It's especially effective for tasks that require intense concentration where you can’t afford to be distracted.
Our final time-management technique is time blocking. Time blocking is when you set aside specific blocks of time on your schedule for different tasks or activities. It helps you stay organised and focused by giving each task its own dedicated time slot. It's like creating an appointment with yourself for each task, making it easier to manage your time and get things done. Here’s how to do it:
- Identify your tasks: make a list of the tasks or activities you need to do.
- Determine time blocks: divide your day into blocks of time. For example, you can have morning, afternoon, and evening blocks.
- Assign tasks to blocks: allocate specific tasks or activities to each time block based on priority and estimated duration. Be realistic about how long each task will take.
- Block distractions: during each time block, minimise distractions and focus solely on the assigned task. Avoid interruptions or multitasking.
- Stick to the schedule: follow your time blocks as closely as possible. Start and end tasks on time, and move on to the next block as scheduled.
- Adjust if needed: if a task takes longer than expected, adjust your schedule by either extending the block or moving tasks around. Be flexible but try to maintain the overall structure.
What are the benefits of good time management?
If you’re able to manage your time effectively, you can enjoy a whole host of benefits. By following the above time-management techniques, you can start to enjoy some of these. Here are the main benefits of good time management:
- Increased productivity: effective time management helps you accomplish more in less time, leading to higher productivity levels.
- Reduced stress: proper time management allows you to avoid last-minute rushes and deadline pressures, reducing stress and promoting a better work-life balance.
- Enhanced focus and concentration: by allocating dedicated time slots for tasks, time management improves your ability to focus and concentrate, resulting in higher-quality work.
- Improved decision-making: managing your time effectively provides opportunities for reflection and better decision-making, leading to more positive outcomes.
- Better time utilisation: time management helps you identify and eliminate time-wasting activities, making the most of your available time and increasing efficiency.
Enhanced work-life balance: by balancing work, personal life, and leisure activities, time management promotes overall well-being and prevents burnout.
If you would like to see more guides for wellness-related content, then check out The Recommended's wellness page. Here you can find guides including how much sleep do you need?, eight mindfulness habits to boost your everyday happiness, and five tips for better focus and improved concentration.
Finn Byrne is a Digital Writer for Immediate Media. He works across several brands including The Recommended, RadioTimes.com, MadeforMums and BBC Gardeners’ World. Finn has previously written for publications including MyLondon, The Mirror, The Express, and The Star. When not writing Finn enjoys spending time on the football pitch and getting stuck into a book.