Critical Thinking And Time Management Skills
17 Essential time management skills
Having lived and worked in 5 different countries, I have yet to meet anybody who didn’t want to improve their time management skills. Even those with strong time management skills realise that there is always room for improvement. Becoming productive with your time is all about seeking to make constant and never ending improvements to the way that you perform your work. Thankfully, there are many time management skills which you can improve to help you get better results. One of the biggest mistakes made by those who struggle with their time management is thinking that time management skills are entirely behavioural e.g. you set a goal and you work on it. However, the truth is that many of the most important time management skills are entirely cognitive i.e. they are thinking processes.
Understanding time management skills
Too many times, we think of time management as one skill and so, we attempt to improve that skill. But that is akin to treating a football team as if it is just one player. For a football team to be successful, it needs all its members to do their job properly and work well together. Time management is like your football team. All the different time management skills are key players on your team and time management is just the sum of all of these skills.
The greatest football managers have excellent man management skills. They are able to identify which player is not playing to the best of his ability. They then give that player a little extra support to help them improve their performance. Time management is very like that. You need to identify which of the time management skills is letting you down, so you can intervene and make the necessary improvements.
62 Powerful Time Management Tips That Work
17 Essential time management skills
Below, I have outlined 17 time management skills which play a critical role in determining your productivity levels. Some of these time management skills overlap and, in many cases, mastering one skill will greatly improve your performance in another. However, it is important that you understand each skill and the role it plays in your time management.
1. Goal Setting
Time management is not a standalone skill. You cannot manage time but you probably already know that. You can only manage how you use your time and how you use your time should be driven by effective goal-setting. The most fundamental of time management skills is the ability to use your time in a manner which serves your goals.
When making decisions about what to focus your time on, you should always be cognisant of your goals and how each action is aimed at bringing you closer to achieving those goals.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you only have to set goals around the most common areas such as money. Money is a great asset, but it is only a result of achieving your goals. Besides it is not the money which makes you happy. It is what you can do and achieve with the money which allows you extend your happiness. When thinking about goals, take a more rounded approach to your life. For example, you might want to consider the following:
- What is your ultimate goal? e.g. to be happy, to be loved
- The kind of person you want to be?
- What do you want to achieve in each area of your life?
- What do you want to have in each area of your life?
- The desires and expectations you have for your relationships?
- What do you want to learn?
- Your vision for your life?
- What values do you want to live by and promote?
- Where do you want to go?
As you can see there is a lot to think about when it comes to your goals so, don’t be flippant about it. Take the time to get clear about how you really want your life to be and start making more time management decisions based on that while remembering that goal setting is just the start of the time managements skills.
Related: If you do not have clear goals, check out the Ultimate Guide to Goal Setting.
The biggest reason that most people struggle with prioritisation is that they start too late in the process. They attempt to prioritise the items that are on their task list. However, if you look closely at most task lists, you will find that they contain items which never should have made it on to the task list in the first place.
As strange as it may sound, prioritising should not begin with a focus on getting more work done. Prioritisation should always begin with avoiding/eliminating the tasks which you should not be performing. Once this has been done, you can switch your focus to completing the most valuable work you can with the time and resources available to you. Prioritisation is one of the most misunderstood and misused of the time management skills. When you get it right, you will find that your time management improves rapidly.
At the other end of the prioritisation spectrum is the difficulty in deciding what you should be doing next from a bunch of good ideas. To paraphrase Ryan Deiss, ‘Bad ideas don’t kill businesses; Too many good ideas kill businesses.’ Whether you are just trying to get some good projects completed or you are self-employed, prioritisation becomes one of the key time management skills when you have too many good ideas. Because good ideas are useless unless they are implemented. And, if you have too many good, you end up jumping from one to the other unless you prioritise effectively.
In school and at home, you may have been praised for having many good ideas but in the real world, you need time management skills to stop you getting carried away with your good ideas.
Resource: For more on the importance of prioritisation, click play on the audio below:
No two people like to work the same way. We all have our own preferences for how we like to work e.g. some people work best in the mornings while others prefer to work late. We are motivated by different things and like to work in our own way. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it is quite healthy. It just means that you need to have a good understanding of your own likes, dislikes and needs.
There are an endless number of areas where your preferences can affect your work. It is worth taking a little time for reflection, on a regular basis, to observe how you get the best from yourself. Any time you perform to a very high standard, take a little time to identify what was specific about the situation that allowed you to perform to such a high standard. I recently discovered that I could improve my performance, creativity and overall performance by turning my desk around to get more sunlight.
Just as importantly, when you perform poorly, try to identify the conditions which encouraged your poor performance. Self-awareness is one of the easiest time management skills to develop because you just have to pay attention and use a little trial and error. But is also one of the most powerful time management skills because it allows you to work in the way that best suits you by reducing your own resistance.
Remember, time management is not a one size fits all discipline. When you have a high level of self-awareness, you are able to take the very best time management advice and tailor it to fit your own style.
You will have days where you do not want to do anything. You may be sick, tired, bored or simply lacking motivation. On days like this, there is little that anyone else can do to get you going. You need to be able to motivate yourself to take action, even though you’d rather not. If you have improved your self-awareness, you will have a great deal of the information that you need to motivate yourself.
In addition, as you move up your organisation or, if you go down the path of the entrepreneur; there will be nobody standing over you to hold you accountable on a daily basis. You will be totally responsible for your own results. You could have all the other time management skills but if you lack the ability to motivate yourself, you will soon experience large amounts of pressure and stress.
In earlier times, most people worked in manufacturing or production. They had defined jobs so, each day, they would go to work knowing exactly what they had to do and what was expected of them. We are now in the era of the knowledge worker where most people have jobs that are less defined. You need to have the motivation to define your job, goals and priorities before you can even do anything. Then you need the motivation to get the work done That’s why self-motivation ranks so high amongst time management skills.
Regardless of what you are trying to do, there will always be something else competing for your attention. It’s not easy to shut everything out and focus on the task at hand. Focus is one of those time management skills where you don’t realise how important it is until you struggle with it.
It is important to remember that no matter how many tasks need to be done, you can only work on one task in any given moment. The myth of multi-tasking causes many problems for those who wish to improve their time management but if you want to get results, you must learn to focus on one task at a time and block out all distractions.
Singletasking is the best way to achieve focus. Rather than trying to get many things done at once, you identify the most important and block all others out. It is only when you finish the most important task you can do at that time that you move on to the next most important task. In fact, you might even argue that focus is made of two time management skills, the ability to quickly identify the most important task you can complete at the time and; the ability to block everything else out while you focus on that task.
Related: Get more focused withThe Modern Professional’s Guide to Organisation and Focus.
6. Decision making
It would be nice to think that you could just sit down and do your work without having to put any serious thought into it. Alas, there are few jobs that fit that description. You will have to make important decisions e.g.:
• Which task to do
• Which tasks do not get done
• When a task is completed
• Which meetings to attend
• Who you can or cannot help, etc.
If your decisions only affected you, it wouldn’t be such a big deal but few tasks are performed in isolation. Almost every task has a knock on effect on another person, or task, which means that every decision that you make has consequences both for you and for others.
Decision making is one those time management skills which if you are not good at it, you will notice the negative impacts in every area of your life. It is imperative that you are able to consider the consequences and make effective, clear decisions.
Like all time management skills, decision-making is greatly improved If you do some preparation beforehand. Perhaps the most important preparation is to have clear criteria to make you decision. For example, when deciding what task to do next, I would consider the following:
- How much time do I have available?
- What resources do I have available to me? e.g.:
- My personal energy levels
Then I use a great question from David Allen – ‘What is the most important task I can complete with the time and resources available to me.’
So, if I am in a waiting room, 10 minutes before a meeting, I can’t do a 2-hour task which requires my computer and files. But, I could probably make a quick call or reply to an email on my phone.
Resource: For more advice on how to decide what you should be doing next, check out the audio below:
As mentioned earlier, tasks will overlap and be dependent on each other. There will often be times when one task cannot be started until another task is finished. Your schedule will also be impacted by the schedules of others. These factors need to be considered at the beginning of each project and, monitored throughout. Failure to do so can lead to delays and missed deadlines.
Planning is one of the essential time management skills because it allows you to foresee all of the tasks which will be required to complete a project and, how they will best fit together. A well made plan will save you a great deal of time.
Planning is one of the time management skills which comes naturally to us. We can do it and we use it regularly to find our way through life. But unfortunately, we have been taught an alternative way to plan which doesn’t work and actually inhibits us from performing to our best. Planning done the right way is quick and easy but when we use the wrong method it becomes a real pain.
Resource: For more about planning the right way, check out this great TEDx Talk by productivity master, David Allen:
8. Communication Skills
You will have to work with others on a daily basis. It is unlikely that you will perform every aspect of your work so you will need to enlist the help of others. Strong communication skills will enable you to build supportive relationships with those whom you work with. You will be able to work better together and achieve more than you ever could apart.
When you require another person to do some work for you; you will want to communicate in a manner which will enable them to perform the work to the desired standard, in the fastest time. Should any errors occur, you will want to raise the issue quickly and explain clearly about the adjustments that need to be made. In these situations, the quality of your communication directly impacts the quality of the work that gets done.
There is another one of the critical time management skills which falls under the umbrella of communication skills. That is the ability to say ‘No’. Other people want to get their work done too. They have their own priorities and if they can offload some of their workload to you; they will. It is not intended to be mean or nasty but as I will discus later, delegation is also one of the essential time management skills and if they can delegate the work to you; they will. So, learning to use two letters, in the right order, will massively improve your time management.
Related: If you need to improve your communication skills, check out How To Talk So Others Listen.
9. Questioning and challenging
If you want to work to the highest standard, you must be willing to challenge anything and everything which does not meet your standards. This begins when somebody attempts to assign a task to you. If you do not think that you should be the person to perform the task; you must raise the issue and challenge the person that is assigning you the task. When you begin to do this, you will often see a decrease in the amount of work which gets delegated to you. Quite often, people delegate work to you because it is convenient; not because it is the correct course of action. If you want to improve your time management skills; this must become a thing of the past. As mentioned earlier, eliminating work that you should not be doing is the beginning of prioritisation. Questioning and challenging are essential skills to help you achieve this.
Questioning and challenging are also essential when you are being assigned work that you should be doing. Never accept a task until you are crystal clear about what is expected e.g.:
• What is to be done?
• When it is to be completed by?
• How much is required?
• The manner in which the work is to be performed
• Any other details which impact on your ability to complete the work
If you have any objections, you should raise them before giving your firm agreement.
Questioning is so important is because it allows you to achieve clarity. You can get all the information you need to perform the job to the highest standard possible. After all, none of the other time management skills are important if you have no idea what you trying to achieve. Asking a few questions upfront will allow you to avoid a lot of hardship further down the line. Taking the time to achieve clarity at the beginning will save you far more time in the long-run.
Resource: For more great information about clarifying and questioning, check out the audio below:
62 Powerful Time Management Tips That Work
Just as others will want to delegate work to you; there will be times when you want to delegate work to others. You will want to ensure that all the important work gets completed but that does not mean that you have to be the person to complete it. One of the greatest time management skills is knowing when you are not the right person to perform the task.
If the task is more suited to somebody else’s skill set; you should consider delegating the task. Of course, when delegating, it is important that you provide all of the necessary information and ensure that the person who will perform the task is clear about what is expected of them.
Delegation / outsourcing is not just a matter of getting work off our plate and onto somebody else’s. You want to get the job done by the right person, to the highest standard, at the right time. Not only do you have to hand the work off with clear instructions, but you need to check in with the person doing the work to see if they are getting the job done or; if they need some form of assistance. If you wait until the deadline arrives to check in; you are going to suffer regular disappointments. Managing all of this while keeping everybody onside, is why delegation is one of the more difficult but most rewarding time management skills.
Note: As a point of clarity; delegation is when you assign the job to somebody within your organisation. Outsourcing is when you hire somebody external to complete the job.
11. Coping Skills
Things will go wrong from time to time. You can be certain of that. When things do go wrong, you can sit around wallowing in despair or you can review the situation, identify the correct course of action and implement that action.
Time management is not just a behavioural skill. It is cognitive too. Your thinking and mindset play a massive role in determining your results. Knowing how to cope with setbacks will help you bounce back quickly and reduce the amount of time lost when things go wrong.
I am going to give you an incredibly relevant example. I have just updated thish article to add fresh content. In the process of my research, I have found that a woman on LinkedIn has stolen my content (this article) and presented it as her own. This costs me money by stealing my traffic i.e. people read her article on LinkedIn rather than visit my website. As you might imagine, I am trying to deal with the issue, but I still must get on with my daily work, update this article and get work done on some long-term projects. The theft of my content is costing me enough without letting it cost me more money by me wallowing in my own self-pity.
Coping skills are essential time management skills because as the cliché goes ‘the show must go on.’
12. Stress Management
With work comes pressure. Pressure in itself is usually a good thing. It motivates you to take action and to do a good job. However, once you begin to feel that you can no longer cope with the demands placed upon you, you begin to move from pressure to experiencing stress. Stress is not a good thing. People often speak of good stress but that is just an inappropriate way of labelling pressure.
When you experience stress, your body and mind begin to suffer. Large arrays of mental and physical problems have been linked to prolonged exposure to stress. Before you get to that stage, stress begins to have a negative impact on your performance and your time management. If you experience stress, you will have so many things on your mind that you will find it practically impossible to focus on the task at hand. As a result, it will take you longer to perform even the simplest of tasks. A backlog will start to build up as you fall behind which in turn increases your stress levels and so the spiral continues.
Time management skills and stress management skills are intertwined. They also have one major thing in common – they allow you to understand that it is better to prevent the problem occurring than having to deal with it once it does occur. If you want to improve your time management skills, make proactive stress management a ritual in your life.
Related: If you are struggling with stress, check out Stress Free Living
13. Working effectively with others
I have already highlighted the importance of communicating with others in maximising your time management. Working effectively with others is often the quickest way to get a job done properly. This is about more than just communication and delegation. It is important to understand how others like to work; their goals and expectations. As you get to know people better, you build positive relationships where you can work together for the benefit of all concerned.
It is important to remember that teams are not one unit who all think the very same things and want the very same things. Sure, the members of the team will usually have a lot in a common but there will always be subtle differences among their wants, needs and desires. They will have slightly different goals and ambitions and even where they share a goal, their reasons for wanting to achieve the goal may differ.
Working effectively with others is one of the most delicate and subtle time management skills because it requires you to identify the subtle differences and try to find a way to ensure that everybody’s needs are met in so far as possible while most importantly, ensuring that the objectives of the team are met. And, of course, understanding the time management skills of each team member plays a big part in being able to work effectively together.
Related: For more on working effectively with others, read Effective teams. 4 Essential steps for working better together.
14. Record Keeping
When you are on top of everything and you know exactly what is going on; you can make effective decisions and provide information quicker. Regardless of your subject area, accurate information is essential. You do not have to know everything off the top of your head but you would be surprised at how much time you can save when you know where to find the necessary information at the moment you need it.
You must determine what information you need to have and put systems in place to ensure that it is collected and stored.
Another often forgotten benefit of record keeping is that you get to maintain records of what worked and what did not work on any project. This may seem pedantic the first time that you do it but if you must repeat the project or, work on a similar project; you will be able to make a better project plan, quicker than you did the first time. It is for this reason that not only is record keeping a time management skill, but it benefits other time management skills such as self-awareness, decision-making, focus, delegation etc.
15. Organisation and filing
This is an extension of record keeping. I used to laugh at the amount of effort that my first boss used to put into his filing system. His desk was spotless, as opposed to mine – I couldn’t even see what colour my desk was. Whenever I asked him for something, he was able to reach his hand out and grab it in a matter of seconds. When he asked me for something, I would practically tear my desk apart trying to find it.
It does take some time to set up a proper filing system but once it is set up, you save large chunks of time because you can store and retrieve information without having to think about it. And, that is the ultimate benefit of organisation – you only have to think about anything once. Everything has a place and, unless you are using it, you will be able to find what you are looking for in that place.
Another benefit of organisation is that you capture every commitment that you make. When you let others down by not completing the work you agreed to, it is often because you failed to make a proper note / record of that commitment. You meant to do it but it ended up slipping your mind or, you lost the piece of paper you wrote it down on. When you have a proper organisation system, you capture every commitment so, when you are deciding what to do next, you choose from a full list of the commitments you have made. I have repeatedly said that most of the time management skills are useless if you don’t know what you are supposed to be doing. Organisation and filing aren’t a lot of fun but they make everything else possible.
Related: To improve your organisation, check out The Modern Professional’s Guide to Organisation and Focus.
Many people think that time management skills are all about getting more work done. That is not the case. Time management skills are about ensuring that you get the important work done. You could try to focus on getting more done but you end up rushing things and making mistakes. By the time you have rectified the mistakes (if it is possible to do so) you will have spent more time than if you’d taken your time and done the job properly.
Patience isn’t just a virtue; it is a skill. It is something which you have to practice. The very best time managers do not rush things. They have patience and take precisely the amount of time required to do the job properly.
In the knowledge work era, it has also become more common to do work which doesn’t produce real results for months, or longer. One example is creating content for the internet. You could write an article today, and it may not start to show up towards the top of the search engine rankings, even it it is great, for months or even a few years.
A friend of mine worked in the video game industry and he worked on many games where the work began 2 or more years before the game was released. In these situations, patience is one of the most important time management skills you can possess, along with the vision to understand that results often lag long behind the work.
62 Powerful Time Management Tips That Work
Like patience, forgiveness is actually a skill. It is not something which magically happens; it is something which you must choose to do. As you try to improve your time management skills and become more effective, you will make mistakes. Others will also let you down from time to time; though rarely intentionally. It is easy to become irate when these things happen but if you do, you will find that you become too emotional to focus on your work. In the end, you compound the mistake by reducing your effectiveness further due to your own frustration.
When things go wrong, give people the benefit of the doubt. People rarely get things wrong on purpose. Whether it was you or somebody else who made the mistake, choose to forgive. Accept that it was a genuine mistake, and then focus on identifying the corrective action that you need to take. This way, you will maintain your self-esteem, improve your relationships and reduce the amount of time wasted following the mistake.
The most important thing to remember about forgiveness is that it is for your benefit, not the other person’s benefit. Forgiveness means to let go. When you fail to forgive, you are looking back at the past events which prevents you from looking forwards and moving on. You don’t have to like what happened and you don’t have to forget it. In many situations, you can choose not to deal with the other person again. But you must forgive, let go and move on.
Forgiveness is not just one of the most important time management skills; it is one of the most important life skills.
Resource: For more about why you need to forgive, check out the audio below:
Related: For effective strategies to improve your time management skills, check out Quick Fixes For Your Productivity.
If you want to get the best results possible from your life; time management skills are essential. As you improve your time management skills, you will find that you get more valuable work completed in less time. It is not about increasing the quantity of work that you complete. It is all about ensuring that you complete your most important tasks which will enable you to achieve your goals quicker and with less stress. There are many different time management skills and the list above is by no means exhaustive. If you take one time management skill at a time and work to improve it, you will find that it has a knock on effect on your entire performance. Pick one of these skills today and get started on your journey to high productivity?
Time management series
Developing time management skills is a journey
that may begin with this Guide, but needs practice and other guidance along the way.
One goal is to help yourself become aware of how you use your time
as one resource in organizing, prioritizing, and succeeding in your studies
in the context of competing activities of friends, work, family, etc.
First: try our exercise in time management:
How do you spend your time each day?
Strategies on using time:
These applications of time management have proven to be effective as good study habits.
As we go through each strategy, jot down an idea of what each will look like for you:
- Blocks of study time and breaks
As your school term begins and your course schedule is set, develop and plan for, blocks of study time in a typical week. Blocks ideally are around 50 minutes, but perhaps you become restless after only 30 minutes? Some difficult material may require more frequent breaks. Shorten your study blocks if necessary-but don't forget to return to the task at hand! What you do during your break should give you an opportunity to have a snack, relax, or otherwise refresh or re-energize yourself. For example, place blocks of time when you are most productive: are you a morning person or a night owl?
Jot down one best time block you can study. How long is it? What makes for a good break for you? Can you control the activity and return to your studies?
- Dedicated study spaces
Determine a place free from distraction (no cell phone or text messaging!) where you can maximize your concentration and be free of the distractions that friends or hobbies can bring! You should also have a back-up space that you can escape to, like the library, departmental study center, even a coffee shop where you can be anonymous. A change of venue may also bring extra resources.
What is the best study space you can think of? What is another?
- Weekly reviews
Weekly reviews and updates are also an important strategy. Each week, like a Sunday night, review your assignments, your notes, your calendar. Be mindful that as deadlines and exams approach, your weekly routine must adapt to them!
What is the best time in a week you can review?
- Prioritize your assignments
When studying, get in the habit of beginning with the most difficult subject or task. You'll be fresh, and have more energy to take them on when you are at your best. For more difficult courses of study, try to be flexible: for example, build in reaction time when you can get feedback on assignments before they are due.
What subject has always caused you problems?
- Achieve "stage one"--get something done!
The Chinese adage of the longest journey starting with a single step has a couple of meanings: First, you launch the project! Second, by starting, you may realize that there are some things you have not planned for in your process. Details of an assignment are not always evident until you begin the assignment. Another adage is that "perfection is the enemy of good", especially when it prevents you from starting! Given that you build in review, roughly draft your idea and get going! You will have time to edit and develop later.
What is a first step you can identify for an assignment to get yourself started?
- Postpone unnecessary activities until the work is done!
Postpone tasks or routines that can be put off until your school work is finished!
This can be the most difficult challenge of time management. As learners we always meet unexpected opportunities that look appealing, then result in poor performance on a test, on a paper, or in preparation for a task. Distracting activities will be more enjoyable later without the pressure of the test, assignment, etc. hanging over your head. Think in terms of pride of accomplishment. Instead of saying "no" learn to say "later".
What is one distraction that causes you to stop studying?
- Identify resources to help you
Are there tutors? An expert friend? Have you tried a keyword search on the Internet to get better explanations? Are there specialists in the library that can point you to resources? What about professionals and professional organizations. Using outside resources can save you time and energy, and solve problems.
Write down three examples for that difficult subject above?
Be as specific as possible.
- Use your free time wisely
Think of times when you can study "bits" as when walking, riding the bus, etc. Perhaps you've got music to listen to for your course in music appreciation, or drills in language learning? If you are walking or biking to school, when best to listen? Perhaps you are in a line waiting? Perfect for routine tasks like flash cards, or if you can concentrate, to read or review a chapter. The bottom line is to put your time to good use.
What is one example of applying free time to your studies?
- Review notes and readings just before class
This may prompt a question or two about something you don't quite understand, to ask about in class, or after. It also demonstrates to your teacher that you are interested and have prepared.
How would you make time to review?
Is there free time you can use?
- Review lecture notes just after class
Then review lecture material immediately after class.
The first 24 hours are critical. Forgetting is greatest within 24 hours without review!
How would you do this?
Is there free time you can use?
Select one of the ten applications above.
and develop a new study habit!
Try something you have a good chance of following through and accomplishing.
Nothing succeeds like a first successful try!
Try the University of Minnesota's Assignment Calculator
Develop criteria for adjusting your schedule
to meet both your academic and non-academic needs
- Create a simple "To Do" list
This simple program will help you identify a few items, the reason for doing them, a timeline for getting them done, and then printing this simple list and posting it for reminders.
- Daily/weekly planner
Write down appointments, classes, and meetings on a chronological log book or chart.
If you are more visual, sketch out your schedule
First thing in the morning, check what's ahead for the day
always go to sleep knowing you're prepared for tomorrow
- Long term planner
Use a monthly chart so that you can plan ahead.
Long term planners will also serve as a reminder to constructively plan time for yourself