7 Strategies to Develop Effective Time Management Skills and Achieve Your Goals

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do? Have you felt the days go by, and you are not able to organize your time effectively to advance in the achievement of your goals?

Here we are going to explore seven productivity strategies that will help you better organize your time, to reach your goals.

→ INTRODUCTION

Most of us feel overwhelmed when we face a to-do list that is getting longer rather than shorter. Especially when we have no idea where to start.

But if we all have the same amount of hours a day, why is that some people make the most out of their time?

For example, Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, works many hours a week in these two companies, producing electric cars and taking humans to Mars, among other projects. But he also spends time with his family, does exercise, and maintains some hobbies.

Would you like to know how to efficiently organize your time to meet your career goals while maintaining a healthy lifestyle?

Next, we are going to cover some of the most critical factors, like having clarity in your goal, establishing an action plan, defining priorities, avoiding distractions, outlining your tasks, blocking time, and optimizing your results.

Let’s take a look at these seven strategies.

→ BODY

1. Design a work environment that enhances your productivity.

Keep your workspace clean, with your tools and documents organized, both physical and digital. By having a defined place for each item, file, or device you need, you can make better progress in your essential activities. Eliminate objects that could be a distraction and create an atmosphere that inspires you to work.

One essential element to avoid distractions in your work environment is to turn off notifications on your mobile phone during your most productive hours. Imagine it’s Wednesday and it’s 8:30 in the morning. You’ve been working for 15 minutes on a presentation that requires a lot of creativity, and you feel inspired. Suddenly, your phone, which is right next to you, makes a sound, the screen turns on, and you change your attention to the message you just received. You stop what you’re doing, and pick up the phone to write an answer. Perhaps it didn’t take you more than 30 seconds to answer the message. But the problem is that you just lost inspiration and momentum on what you were doing. You can also lose focus and get distracted by checking your email, other messages, or social media afterward. At that point, you will have spent too much time and energy on stuff that is not a priority.

To avoid this situation, try to keep your phone stored in silent mode, so you don’t get distracted when you’re working on a crucial activity. Most devices can be set to turn off notifications during specifics hours of the day — for example, Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m.

2. Adjust your goals according to your purpose.

You can be working many hours a day, but if your goals are not aligned, you may not be moving in the right direction. Therefore, whenever you consider it necessary, make a pause, and reset your goals to keep them aligned with the big picture of the purpose you want to accomplish. When you rewrite or redefine an objective, ask yourself: How do I want my life to look like in 5 and 10 years? Does this goal fit into that vision?

At this point, you can discard some goals if you realize they are not relevant to you. That will allow you to dedicate more of your attention and time working on your real priorities.

Once you have identified the goals that are relevant to you, write them down. You can do this by using the SMART method, which tells us that your goal should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.

  • Specific means that it’s set to complete a particular and well-delimited activity.
  • Measurable means that it’s quantifiable, or that it contains specific criteria to measure its progress.
  • Achievable implies that it’s realistic and possible to achieve with the resources at hand.
  • Relevant means that it’s aligned with your overall purpose.
  • Time-related implies that it has a deadline for completion.

If while adjusting your goals, you realize that some of them are too big or too broad, you can divide them into smaller goals that meet these five characteristics.

Writing your goals this way not only forces you to be clear about what you want to achieve and when. It also brings you the motivation to complete all the necessary activities you have to do, within the established time frame.

3. Plan your work based on priorities.

Defining your priorities can help you eliminate unnecessary tasks that consume your time. That way, you can plan your work based on the activities that are most meaningful to you.

You can do this by classifying your tasks in a priority matrix, which consists of a square with four quadrants. The two quadrants below are for activities of low importance, and the two quadrants above are for activities of high importance. The two quadrants on the left are for non-urgent tasks, while those on the right are for urgent tasks.

Both the urgency and the importance of a task are relevant characteristics for classifying it. Urgent activities are situations to which you have to react immediately, such as certain emails, telephone calls, text messages, or some unexpected crisis. Important tasks are the ones that contribute to your mission, values, and long-term goals.

The combination of these two elements, urgency, and importance, leads us to classify all activities into these four types:

  • The important and urgent tasks are crucial actions that you have to carry out as soon as possible because they are emergencies or because you have already run out of time. For example, when you have to finish tonight the presentation you need for tomorrow’s morning meeting. These kinds of tasks are often stressful. That’s why it’s a good idea to complete your crucial activities before they become urgent. The idea is to avoid, as far as possible, having tasks in this quadrant. Which takes us to the next group.
  • Important but not urgent tasks. Here is where you should spend most of your time. This list will contain activities that are important and related to your professional and personal goals but without the urge of knowing that you are about to reach the deadline. For you to focus more of your time on these kinds of tasks, you need some planning. These essential but not urgent activities will allow you to work efficiently, be creative, and get some learnings. For example, writing a new section of your thesis, designing a new section for your website, or writing five more pages of the book you proposed to publish in the future.
  • Urgent but not important tasks. These tasks require your immediate attention but are not directly related to your long-term success. Many people tend to focus too much energy on these tasks without wondering if they are really important. Here we find, for example, making some phone calls, responding to some emails, or attending meetings that are not related to a critical issue. Consider making a plan to discard or delegate some of these activities. Or at least define a specific block of time to attend them, without them becoming a distraction.
  • And finally, some tasks are neither urgent nor important. These are tasks that you should eliminate or reduce to a minimum. For example, checking your social media apps every ten minutes or binge-watching your favorite series. It’s okay to plan a time of day to relax your mind, enjoy a movie, or see what’s new on Facebook. Just try to do it consciously, once you’ve completed your high priority tasks.

4. Write a to-do list that’s easy to follow.

Based on the priority you have defined for your activities in the previous point, make a list of the most important tasks you want to complete.

Keeping an organized list helps you handle all your essential activities in one place, so you don’t forget anything critical. And by prioritizing tasks, you’re planning the order in which you’re going to do them.

If you use your to-do list correctly, you will experience less stress, knowing that you haven’t forgotten anything necessary. By having clear what your priorities are, you’ll be able to focus your time and energy on high-value activities. This way, you’ll be more productive.

A common mistake to avoid when making task lists is to overload them. When you take responsibility for multiple projects, you may get overwhelmed as your list grows. Try to keep a record of priorities for each project that doesn’t exceed ten elements. And limit the number of projects you work on at the same time.

Another common problem is defining unclear and non-specific tasks. For example, instead of writing a general and confusing task such as: “make the business plan,” you should divide the project into more specific tasks such as: “write the mission and vision for the company,” and then: “gather information from competitors,” and so on.

In this way, very general tasks become projects, divided into smaller and more manageable activities.

You can also group similar tasks in chunks so you can deal with them more efficiently. Let’s suppose you must send the agenda and invitation to five different meetings during the week. You can dedicate two hours on Monday to write the invites and schedule all the sessions for that week in just one block of time, and focus on other activities for the rest of the week.

5. Work on one task at a time.

You can get overwhelmed if you think of the extensive list of things you have to do. And no matter how much you think about your list, it’s not going to complete itself. The best thing you can do is concentrate on the task in front of you. Start working on that single action that will take you one step closer to your goal. Just breathe and do it.

Remember that your brain is not designed for multitasking. When you constantly force your mind to shift focus from one task to another, you can become exhausted and out of focus. Interruptions have a very negative impact on your cognitive performance. It takes the brain approximately 23 minutes to return to the same level of concentration it had before an interruption.

Professor Sophie Leroy conducted a study on what is called the “attention residue” effect. In this study, a group of volunteers was assigned a task that required a high level of mental effort, like solving a high difficulty puzzle. Then, at some point, they were briefly distracted as an experiment. They were asked to turn and move their attention to some other trivial thing for a short moment. When they returned to the mentally demanding task they were doing, their performance declined considerably, and remained that low for a while: approximately 23 minutes. The residue of attention takes some time to disappear. This effect is what happens to many people when they take a quick look at their email or mobile device. No matter how brief the distraction is, it causes them to have trouble concentrating on essential activities, and it takes them much longer to complete them.

So, no matter how long your to-do list is. If you feel a natural urge to do many things at the same time, keep in mind that multitasking slows you down. If you want to make the most out of your time, the best thing you can do is proceed to complete one task at a time.

6. Work by intervals and time blocking.

Planning specific blocks of time to work in particular projects can help you be more productive. When you have your projects and activities clearly defined in your schedule, it’s more difficult for other people or distractions to steal your time.

Work for 25 to 40-minute intervals focused on one single activity, and then take a 5-minute break. Research has shown that it is more difficult to maintain concentration and excellent performance when working for long periods.

So, here are some recommendations that can help you work by intervals efficiently:

  • Use an app or a timer that notifies you when you complete the 30 minutes of work and the 5-minute break.
  • Assign only one task to each work interval.
  • Don’t skip your breaks.
  • Don’t check your email or social media during your breaks. It’s better to walk a little bit, go for a glass of water, or take deep breaths and stretches.
  • Take a more extended 15 to 20-minute break for every four intervals completed.
  • Avoid interruptions or false emergencies during your work intervals.
  • Set a daily goal. For example, to complete six intervals of activities related to your highest priority project during the day.

7. Record and optimize your results.

Being productive also means doing fewer activities, specifically those that add more value to your life, your organization, and your business. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep a record of the activities you do throughout the day, and the results you get.

The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, can help you discard unimportant activities and projects. This rule was introduced by an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto. The basic idea is that 20% of your efforts produce 80% of your results. For example, for most companies, 80% of their sales come from 20% of their customers and 20% of their products.

Have you recently asked yourself what the vital actions that make a significant difference in your business, your career, and your personal life are?

Identify and prioritize the activities that are meaningful to you, and discard any occupation that is not relevant or that doesn’t bring you closer to your goals.

Once you analyze how you usually spend your time, you can identify the hours of the day when you have more energy and creativity. You can also optimize your time by recognizing the external circumstances that help you achieve the best results. Plan your most important activities at times when you know you are more productive. Anticipate distractions and prepare your environment to replicate any positive results you have achieved in the past.

→ CONCLUSION

What do you think about this information?

If you apply these seven strategies, you will have the opportunity to organize your time better and get closer to your goals. You will also be able to improve your health, earn more income, develop your self-esteem, and maintain a balanced lifestyle.

At the end of the day, what you need to do is to devote more of your time doing meaningful activities in which you can apply and develop your talents and skills. By better organizing your priorities, you will have the opportunity to enjoy more your work, your studies, and your personal life.

Music, painting, dancing, sports, walking in the forest or going on a trip. We tend to say we don’t have time, but we all have the same number of hours a day. How you use them is up to you.

Put these strategies into practice and be more productive each day, so your life can be more plentiful, happy, and meaningful.

☞ References:

https://www.dominican.edu/dominicannews/study-highlights-strategies-for-achieving-goals

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.183.1776&rep=rep1&type=pdf

https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/205427

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Things_First_(book)

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