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How to Improve Time Management Skills

Learn how to improve time management skills for yourself, your team, or your organization with the following 5 key elements.

Each of us have our preferences for how we organize and schedule our days and personal and professional responsibilities.

Each day may include personal items like social outings, gym time, school, and other things we enjoy outside of work.

Professionally, our days might include conference calls, team meetings, client appointments, business travel, board meetings, and more.

How Do I Improve Time Management Skills if I Don't Have Any?

No matter our daily, personal and professional to-do list, the great danger is in not having a plan for effective time management or a time management guide.

That realization brings us two important points:

  1. "If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail." ~ Benjamin Franklin
  2. "If you want to change the future, you must change what you're doing in the present." ~ Mark Twain

For some, high school academics were a breeze, offering little mental challenge.

Once those same students reached college classwork, they had little time management skill set with which to handle the demands of a more challenging curriculum.

The good news?

No matter your starting point, you will be able to improve through daily practice of each of the following key points.

5 Ways to Improve Time Management Skills

1) Have a (Formal) Schedule

The first element in effective time management is to ensure that you aren't winging it, or going by what you are able to commit to memory.

Whether pen and paper, calendar app on your phone, or cloud-based time management software, having a way to schedule tasks, appointments, and to-dos is a necessity.

It is also key that you, and those who may be stakeholders in your project(s), have a way to reference each of these items easily.

2) Prioritize The Items On Your To-Do List

A danger in only having a to-do list, but not a schedule or prioritization of tasks, is that when the day is over, you may or may not have completed the items of the greatest importance.

When that is the case, and when it becomes habit, items of necessity go unaddressed, leading often to missed deadlines and related penalties; often financial.

With online and cloud-based time management software, it is easy to apply tags to items, categorizing them, and distinguishing those of greatest value.

For some, in beginning each day, it has proven helpful to address the highest priority item on their list. For others, that may also be the item to which they least look forward. 

Employ this tactic, and you can be more confident that you will be making more significant progress daily.

3) Make It Routine

Now that you have a system, of both scheduling and prioritization, it must be practiced daily.

This system can't just be practiced. It must become habit.

And, it can take 2 months, or more, for newly practiced habits to become automatic.

Commit yourself to the discipline it takes to last this time. Do this with each new habit you wish to add to your skill set, and the results of your will certainly be influenced positively.

"Successful people aren't born that way. They become successful by establishing the habit of doing things unsuccessful people don't like to do." ~ William Makepeace Thackeray

4) Set Timers

No matter our ages, or our levels of commitment, we each have our own attention span.

And, though we may be able to endure beyond, once we have passed a certain point, our productivity will suffer.

With that, it can be helpful to set a timer for the tasks that you will be addressing.

Though the total time that must be dedicated to each task will vary, I have found a 52-minute timer to work well.

It allows one to commit to a reasonable period of time in which to avoid distraction, provide full attention, and focus on achieving great productivity.

And, once that timer cues the end of the given period, there are 8 minutes left within the hour to stretch one's legs and mind, in order to be better prepared for the next block of time.

5) Ensure Accountability

In aiming to have structure with the systems you use to improve time management skills, you will encounter obstacles.

The greater your ability to hold yourself accountable to sticking to your schedule and prioritization, the more you will accomplish.

This means being able to say "No" to attending instantly to every curveball you might see, or opportunity or appointment that might be presented.

If it is not an emergency, does not negatively impact your ability to provide great experience or service to your clients, and time can be dedicated fully at a point in the future, then stick to your intended schedule.

Use your newly implemented systems to schedule the new opportunity or appointment at a time that reflects your availability and the level of priority it should be given.

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