Time Management

Work Smarter (Not Harder) and Master Time Management

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Work Smarter (Not Harder) and Master Time Management
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Work Smarter (Not Harder) and Master Time Management

We can thank industrial engineer Allen F. Morgenstern for the common saying “Work smarter, not harder” but what exactly does that mean? In essence, you need to find the most efficient way to work, as opposed to the most complex and demanding path. It may seem like it is common sense but people are notorious for making things harder than they need to be and wasting valuable time on non-valuable tasks.

One of the most effective ways to work smarter is to implement a time management system that works for you. Time management is defined by Oxford as “the ability to use one’s time effectively or productively, especially at work.”

Time management is a hot topic lately, and for good reason! Every single person has the same 24 hours in a day but how we spend those hours matters. Think about it, you and Oprah have the same time in a day!

It is helpful to consider the non-negotiables in our day: sleep, commute, food prep and consumption just to name a few. From 24 hours, we can subtract about 8 for sleep right off the bat. If you have children and require some kind of night time routine, you may have to add on an additional hour to that time block. Consider how much time you spend in your commute, is it an hour both ways or do you work from home? People tend to underestimate the time they spend buying, preparing, and consuming food too. Don’t let your own health and wellbeing be what gets the leftovers, you also need to consider time for exercise, socialization, and hobbies.

When it comes to time management, it really boils down to understanding where you spend your time and your ability to prioritize the remaining time after all the non-negotiables are considered. Forming good habits is key, knowing how and where to spend your time takes practice and a deeper understanding of the concept.

Five P’s of Time Management

Five P’s of Time Management

Time management is a big topic but helps to look at the five categories that form the guiding principles of the practice. Consider the following five key elements of time management.


How will you know how to get there if you don’t know where you’re going? The first key is to be crystal clear with your purpose in order to understand how to prioritize your activities in a way that will help you move in the right direction. When you consider your purpose, understand that you may have a work purpose separate from your personal one.

Purpose in Action: When you have a task, it is helpful to ask if that task will serve or distract you from your purpose. Not every single task will directly bring you closer to your purpose but consider indirect actions as well. Maybe you need to respond to an email regarding a topic that isn’t related to your project but the sender is someone who is important to have in your network. The task of responding to that email is indirectly related as you build a valuable relationship.



Once you know your purpose, you can better prioritize the proper work. As mentioned above, not every single task will directly relate to a greater purpose but being able to distinguish and recognize which ones are more important will help move you in the right direction.

Priority in Action: With a to-do list in front of you, take a moment to rank tasks in order of their priority. It helps to consider deadlines but also the priorities of your team. Try actually numbering your tasks so that you have a visual of your priorities.


In a given day there may be hundreds of tasks that come your way. It is physically impossible to do every single thing that is asked of you. The ability to determine if you will do, delegate, or delete tasks is key. When you purge, you can do less tasks and focus on quality completion of a few.

Purge in Action: Anytime you are presented with a task, the first question you should ask is if you are the best person for this job. Sometimes, it is actually better handled by another department, an assistant, or even a student.


Excellent time management skills don’t happen overnight, you need to prepare and put in the leg work. There are a number of fantastic books, blogs, courses, and time management leaders that can help you improve your skills. Embrace training and educational opportunities and research different systems until you find one that fits.

Prepare in Action: When you come across a time management system that speaks to you, try it! Take a moment and spend some time on Google. Find one system to start with today and commit to it for a week. Time blocking is a great place to start.


Or “party”… take your pick! The point is that if you don’t make room for play, you have not fully grasped the concept of time management. Feeling rested and having a life outside of work will actually help you work better and feel more motivated. It is important to ensure that you feel rested and have a life outside of work. Time management isn’t all work, no play.

Play in Action: We know that play is an important part of a child’s development and it doesn’t stop when you hit adulthood. Pick up a hobby, make something new for supper, or plan a family outing like it is part of your job. Make sure it finds its way on your schedule.

Take Control of Your Time

Take Control of Your Time

There are literally whole books written on this topic. Here are some recommendations:

  • Getting Things Done – David Allen
  • 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think – Laura Vanderkam
  • Eat That Frog – Brian Tracy
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey

But if a blog post is more your style, keep reading because here are some practical ways to take control of your time and start mastering the art of time management.

1. Embrace an Existing System

Before you go through the work of finding a custom system to fit your needs, try on an existing one for size. There are a number of time management systems to choose from including:

The benefit of trying an existing system is that they sometimes work out for you! Even if some components don’t fit, you can always look at other systems to fill in the blanks.

2. Recognize Where You are Actually Spending Your Time

One of the most common mistakes that people make when it comes to time management is underestimating the time it takes to complete a task. There are a number of great templates online but, essentially, you time yourself doing regular tasks in order to better account for the true time cost of the activity. This will help you be more reasonable in your scheduling.

Chose a Planner and Scheduling System

3. Chose a Planner and Scheduling System

Digital or paper, or try both! Whichever one you will actually use is the right one for you. Experiment with daily, weekly and monthly planners. Instead of adding to your full to-do list today, have a place (notepad, calendar, app) where you can park incoming tasks until you can schedule them properly in your system. If planning ahead doesn’t come naturally to you, it is okay to start small. Plan one specific task a day that you will start and finish at specific times. Build your confidence one task at a time.

4. Eat That Frog

Not an actual frog, a figurative one. You have likely heard this saying before and it’s based on Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog. What he is actually saying is to deal with the biggest and least desirable task first so that it’s out of the way. You will move on with the rest of your tasks with a heightened sense of accomplishment and end your day with easier and with less stressful tasks.

5. Utilize Time Blocking

Time blocking is a very popular and effective time management technique that involves dedicating specific chunks of time to specific tasks. You may feel that you are doing this already but, chances are, your attention is pulled in a number of directions. Time blocking is locking in on one specific task for a set time and ignoring everything else. This helps you get in the zone to do some great work!

6. Build in Buffers

Life happens or sometimes you need just a little bit more time with a task. That isn’t a problem when you have buffer space accounted for. Whether your buffer is 15 or 30 minutes, giving yourself space for the unexpected will help you resist the urge to rush between tasks and acknowledge that your brain needs time to switch between activities.

7. Master the Art of To-do Lists

These lists can be very handy… when done properly. While every person will have a different ideal number of tasks, more is not better. It is important to only keep the tasks that need to be done within view. Don’t abandon the task you can’t do today but put them somewhere else, on a separate list. What this does is it gives you permission to stop thinking about it and focus on what is in front of you instead.

Practice Saying No

8. Practice Saying No

Yes, you can say no. The best way to manage your time is to have less things to manage. This isn’t always easy to do, especially if you have a demanding manager/job but people learn pretty quickly that doing less tasks improves the quality of their work. If you can’t outright say no, try delegating instead. You may even benefit from hiring a virtual assistant, check out this Teamly Blog for more information on virtual assistants.

9. Experiment with Tasks at Different Times of the Day

This one will take time but you will thank yourself for figuring it out. For example, many people find the mornings are best for creative activities like writing or design and afternoons better for more repetitive and less brain intensive activities like emails or paperwork. The reverse may be true for you but try playing around with your schedule to see if you perform certain tasks better than others at different times of the day.

10. Take Charge of Your Schedule

While this may not be possible in all situations, workplaces are increasingly embracing flexible work schedules. Would coming in an hour earlier to leave an hour earlier make more sense for your life? Maybe it will let you pick up your child on time from school and beat rush hour traffic, giving you an extra hour in your day when the family is home. What would you do with an extra 5 hours in a work week? Try asking for one work from home day a week and see where it goes!

11. Inspiring Spaces

Work in a place that makes you feel like you want to work. If you have a remote position (full or part time) try changing it up! You may find that you work better in a co-working space or a cafe. Even if you work at a desk, keep it uncluttered and clean but ensure to personalize it. Pictures of your family, a dream vacation, or inspirational quotes from people you respect can remind you what you are working towards.

If you are looking for even more time management tips, check out 12 Powerful Time Management Tips & Tricks for Every Style.

Take Control of Your Life

Take Control of Your Life

When you develop a time management system that considers the five P’s, the effects can be felt in all areas of your life. The ability to distinguish between the things that are important and those that can wait (or be ditched) is a great skill to possess in your personal life. When you learn how to manage your time, you will experience a higher quality of life with more value added activities.

Can’t get enough of time management? Check out 6 Principles of Time Management to Help You Get More Done.

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