Smart time-management tips for workers

Take these steps to minimize disruptions and make much better use of your time.

Smart time-management tips for workers

Better time management can help you work smarter, not harder.

Real talk: Most of us could benefit from learning some time-management tips. We just don’t know how to manage everything we need to get done in the limited amount of hours there are in the day. That’s no surprise, though, when you consider all of the obstacles that can get in your way—and all that was true even before the coronavirus crisis descended.

Your smartphone is buzzing constantly. Your boss likes to pile more work onto your plate before it’s cleaned. Your very concept of work-life balance might as well be non-existent. Burnout isn't that far off.

Sound familiar?

Now, here’s the good news: There are some simple techniques you can use to work smarter, not harder. “Time management is not rocket science,” says Peter Turla, a professional time-management trainer and, oddly enough, former NASA rocket designer.

Let’s get started.

Try the Pomodoro Technique

This time-management strategy, developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, entails breaking up your workday into intervals—traditionally 25 minutes in length—with short breaks in between them. Each interval is a “pomodoro,” from the Italian word for “tomato,” named after the classic tomato-shaped kitchen timer. “Some of my coaching clients love this way of working,” says Elizabeth Grace Saunders, time-management coach and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment. “It can help your brain to know that there is an end in sight when you’re working.” Obviously, the Pomodoro Technique doesn't require a tomato-shaped gadget. The timer on your cell phone works just fine.

Multitask the right way

Multitasking gets a bad rap, but many experts say it can be done effectively if you’re strategic about choosing what tasks you’re going to tackle simultaneously. Physical chores, such as de-cluttering your desk, can pair well with mental tasks, like listening to a phone conference, according to research by Harvard Business School professor Bob Pozen, author of Extreme Productivity.

Plan out your day in advance

Many people fall behind on their work because they lack direction, Turla says. “I suggest creating two lists: One is a short daily action list of up to five things you’re going to achieve in a given day, and a master list where you have all of the tasks that you need to complete.”

“Before you sign off every day, I recommend creating tomorrow’s daily to-do list so that you can empty your brain into your planning system,” Turla adds. “This will allow you to clear your mind in the evening and sleep better.”

Tackle your more intensive tasks when you’re very alert

A handful of time-management tips focus not only on what you plan to do, but also on when you plan to do it. Allocate high-intensity work when you're most up to the challenge. People tend to be most productive during the late morning hours, when they’re well-caffeinated. However, “if you’re not a morning person, do less brain-intensive tasks in the morning, and vice versa,” Turla advises.

If possible, step away from your work space—a recent study found taking a walk, even if it’s indoors, can recharge a person’s energy levels.

Shut out distractions

Find your workflow being sidelined by smartphone notifications such as emails, text messages, social media, and news alerts? Turn your mobile onto silent or airplane mode, suggests Craig Jarrow, author of Time Management Ninja: 21 Rules for More Time and Less Stress in Your Life.

Another approach: Research mobile apps and website blockers that prevent you from being able to access things like social media, shopping, and games during a set time period. This software is most beneficial for people that lack control over their digital behaviors, Jarrow says.

Embrace trial and error

A time management technique that works well one person may not work for someone else. Be prepared to test out a few methods in order to find what strategies work best for you and your work style.

Practice, practice, practice

You don’t learn how to be a great time manager overnight. “Time management skills can take a good amount of time to learn, because we have so many habit patterns, both subconsciously and consciously, that we need to reprogram,” Saunders explains.

Jarrow agrees. “Time management takes time to learn because it isn’t something you can turn on and off,” he adds. “These habits need to become part of your daily life.” (Read: the adage “practice makes perfect” rings true.)

Look at the bigger picture

Maybe you've done all you can to get your workday in order—Pomodoro Technique included—but you still can't seem to get ahead. In that case, perhaps it's not you that's failing. Your company or boss could simply be a bad fit for your work style. Need some help finding a job with better balance? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. Monster knows that your time isn't up for grabs, so let us help you make the most of it by taking some of the weight off your shoulders.