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12 Time Management Tools and Strategies for Maximizing Productivity

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12 Time Management Tools and Strategies for Maximizing Productivity
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12 Time Management Tools and Strategies for Maximizing Productivity

We all have those days when we arrive home from work and see nothing but more work all around us. There are dishes in the sink, piles of laundry in the corner, and kids hungry for dinner. Yet after a ten hour day and two hour commute, we can only muster enough energy to microwave leftovers and stream videos.

With so much to do in our busy lives, time management is essential. Without it, projects miss deadlines, homes fall into disarray, and days and weeks march on with nothing meaningful accomplished.

Yet managing time is a skill that eludes many of us. Efficiency and productivity are not our middle names. Rather, our days are consumed with busywork, we procrastinate, or else we work so hard that we inevitably crash and burn.

The right tools help to develop time management skills. They clear away brain fog, capitalize on our energy, and squeeze the most out of every moment in our days. With the right approach to time, our days become full of accomplishments and intention. In this post, we’re going to look at some of the best tools and strategies for time management.

Considerations for Time Management

High Level Considerations

A time management tool is a bit like adding oil to an engine. And unless that engine is well-built, even a top notch full synthetic oil isn’t going to make much of a difference. So starting out, let’s consider some big picture requirements to have in place before implementing time management tools and strategies.

A Vision

A project or endeavor needs a North Star. A clear vision eliminates busywork and establishes priorities in the day-to-day. Time is spent on those tasks that maximize value and bring a project closer to its overall goal.

Self Knowledge

Some of us are charged and ready to go first thing in the morning. While for others, it takes several hours to finally get into the groove, and we produce our best work in the afternoons. For others, commitments and obligations such as children mean that the only window for getting work done is the wee hours of the morning.

When we come to know ourselves and the daily rhythm of our lives, it provides a template for arranging days and tasks. We can capitalize on our power moments, and schedule high priority items into these windows of productivity.

A Calendar

Time management is about managing the scarce resource of time. And regardless of our personality and tendencies, a calendar in some form, be it digital or paper, serves as a template and backdrop to any time management system or tool. It allows us to evaluate time in broad overview, to set deadlines, and evaluate dependent tasks alongside each other.

Bearing these broad requirements in mind, let’s now dive into some time management tools that allow your life to zip along like a car on an empty highway.

Tools for Time Management

6 Time Management Tools

A time management tool enables productivity and efficiency. The right tool smooths out processes and eases up on cognitive overwhelm. Using one shouldn’t feel like an obligation or chore. Rather, it should feel empowering and easy. When selecting tools, determine its efficacy by this criteria.

Additionally, a tool’s potential is unleashed by the user. In order to be effective, it’s often necessary to determine how the tool will be used. It’s too general to say “we’re using this software to save time.” Rather, it’s necessary to delineate precisely how the tool incorporates with the current systems. Maybe one tool is specifically for communication, and another for organizing workflows.

With these guidelines, let’s consider the top six tools for managing time.

1. Teamly Kanban Boards

Kanban is a productivity method developed out of the theory of constraints and the principles of lean production. It emphasizes a pull workflow and limits work in process items. In doing so, it eliminates bottlenecks and increases fluidity in work processes. Teams swarm around a work item and bring it to completion before introducing anything else into workflow.

Teamly software offers intuitive and easy to use kanban boards, ideal for both in-person and remote teams. Tasks receive labels, dates, and can be assigned to specific people. Automations move tasks seamlessly along a workflow, and drag-and-drop tools allow for simple adjustments.

Teamly is a comprehensive software that provides a myriad of other tools as well. In addition to kanban boards, it also offers storage, sophisticated communication tools, video sharing, and even time logs. It promises to improve the overall efficiency of your organization. The software is available in both free and paid plans.

2. Todoist

Writing out tasks is a powerful exercise. It not only keeps the things front of mind, but it also orients our energy around seeing the task to completion.

Todoist is a popular application for managing tasks and recording to-do lists. It’s so easy to use that anyone can get up to speed on the application in no time. And its tools are helpful for both professional and personal use.

In Todoist, a user creates lists for a variety of topics. These lists can be viewed in both board and list view. It’s possible to look back into the past and into the future as well. Its planning tools allow you to plan the upcoming week and month, and its search feature makes it easy to retrieve helpful lists from past projects.

As a bonus, Todoist links easily with other applications. It offers both free and paid plans.

3. Trello

Trello is a software from the Australian company Atlassian that promises to organize projects and save time locating information.

With its dashboard, it’s possible to survey an entire project in broad overview. Tasks can be arranged by work-in-process, priority, completed, or by any other relevant topic. Its drop and drag functionality make it easy to bring tasks into different boards. Trello is particularly helpful for visual learners who need a visual space for organizing brain clutter and complex information.

People love to use Trello boards for a variety of purposes. They’re excellent for brainstorming at the beginning of a project and collaborating with clients as well.

Trello links with many tools, so you don’t have to leave the platform to get other things done. It offers both free and paid plans.

4. A Scrum Board

A scrum board is elusively simple. This board generally consists of four columns, including a backlog of total work, tasks not started, work-in-process and completed work.

While basic, this board keeps tasks and projects flowing efficiently. This visual grouping of tasks keeps everything front of mind. It prioritizes significant tasks and allows teams to efficiently work through small batches of work.

One variation of the scrum board includes a column for blocked or impeded work. When used within the scrum framework, the ongoing reflection removes these impediments and gets the proper tools to the team to execute on tasks efficiently.

5. Sunsama

Burnout is one of the greatest impediments to effective time management. When we ignore work-life balance and choose instead to burn the candle at both ends, it doesn’t result in greater efficiency. Rather, we collapse and become unproductive.

Sunsama is an application that aims to remedy this tendency. It establishes clear demarcations between personal and professional life. Using this application ensures that we attend to the self-care that’s part and parcel to productivity. It does this in part by encouraging startup and shut down routines.

This application pulls related tasks together and time blocks our days. Its daily planner and to-do list offer both week, list and calendar views. The program assists with planning the entire day then reviewing the day. It warns when too much time is spent on certain areas, and sets weekly objectives that correlate to specific tasks.

All this assistance comes with a cost, however. Sunsama doesn’t offer a free plan, and its lowest tier plan costs about $20 a month.

6. A Priority Matrix

One common hangup with using time effectively is that between everything that needs to get done, we cannot identify what really matters. And so we spend the day on tasks that don’t move the needle or bring us closer to our overall goal.

When we evaluate tasks individually, it’s much easier to manage time. According to a chart known as both the Priority and Eisenhower Matrix, every task falls into one of four categories:

  1. Important and urgent
  2. Important but not urgent
  3. Urgent but not important
  4. Not important nor urgent

Urgent and important work needs to be completed, stat. This includes things like paying the electricity bill. If it doesn’t happen, the lights go out. Important but not urgent work, on the other hand, brings us closer to overall vision, and receives a high priority. Any work that’s not important can be crossed off the to-do list.

With this clarification, it’s easy to parse through a list of tasks and choose a few to focus on. For example, maybe the Saturday morning to-do list includes buying groceries, picking up the kids, getting a haircut and changing oil. With the constraint of time, not every task can be completed. The matrix clarifies the criteria for choosing what to place at the top of the list.

With this summary of some helpful time management tools, let’s now look into strategies that complement them.

Time Management Strategies

6 Time Management Strategies

The story of the rabbit and the hare shares a takeaway that applies to everyday life. Faster isn’t always better. Time saving tricks require creative thinking that sometimes fight against our intuition. With this in mind, let’s look at some top strategies for managing our precious time.

1. Habit Stacking

Productivity isn’t about getting to a place where things are done. To borrow a phrase popular with the agile methodology, it’s about getting things “done, done.” When the goal is to make dinner, for example, it’s not enough to simply purchase groceries. The food needs to be prepared and cooked as well.

Yet procrastination is part of our nature. It’s one of the most common hangups to effective time management. There’s so many things that we just don’t feel like doing. So they don’t get done, and we face consequences. We lead an effective meeting, then fail to write the minutes or send follow up emails and so plans don’t turn into action. We ignore email inboxes, and clients start to drop off.

Habit stacking is a clever method that can remedy a tendency to only complete a job halfway. It starts by looking at those good habits we’ve already incorporated into our lives and routines. This includes simple everyday things like brushing our teeth in the morning, cooking dinner at night, or checking email upon arriving in the office. Next, it “tacks” an aspirational habit onto this well-established habit.

Immediately after finishing dinner, for example, a habit stack might be to take the dishes to the sink, rinse them, place them in the dishwasher, then wipe down the counter. At work, a habit stack could be to read emails, respond to them, and then check phone messages and open incoming mail.

2. Routines

Burnout and overwhelm are not necessarily caused by having too much to do. Rather, they’re caused by cognitive overwhelm. Having too many individual things to think about can weigh so heavily that our brains are liable to collapse in on themselves.

Perhaps in one morning we have three simple tasks to complete: write a thank you note, compose an email, and bring clothes to the dry cleaners. Taken individually, thinking through these three simple tasks can easily exhaust someone. The note must be written, addressed, stamped, then placed in the mailbox. Then the email must be written, formatted, edited, addressed and sent. Next, garments are collected from the closet, taken to the dry cleaner and dropped off. That’s at least ten processes to think through.

A routine eliminates this excessive thinking. Rather than plod through a list of tasks, they put us into autopilot. After work we may have a routine of folding laundry and preparing dinner. On Saturday morning, the routine might be to start laundry, water the garden, eat breakfast then run some errands.

Building routines into our daily life allows us to get a lot done without excessive thinking and planning. We still feel energized and enthused after a busy stretch.

3. Work Batches

Sometimes a small work item takes way too long to complete. When it’s finally finished, there’s still a pile of things left to do. Batching is a system that makes it possible to complete time consuming tasks with hours to spare.

Let’s consider the simple example of making dinner. Perhaps you set out to make lasagna one evening, but between the grocery shopping, preparation and cooking, you don’t set down to eat until 9:00 pm. And then the next night, it’s the same routine all over again with a different entree.

An easy way to solve this dilemma is to work in batches. One Saturday each month could be meal preparation day. During this time, the dinners for the entire month are planned, groceries are purchased, and each entree is cooked and then frozen for easy preparation on an individual night.

A work batch correlates similar tasks together for ultimate efficiency. Things aren’t done piecemeal. It can be applied to all sorts of tasks, such as sending emails or running errands. If you need gas for the car, for example, this can be batched with purchasing groceries and mailing a package at the post office.

Applications such as Sunsama and Todoist are helpful with batching. With these tools, it’s easy to lay out every work item that needs to get done, and then correlate like items together. An entire workday or project can be structured for ultimate efficiency.

4. Contractors & Assistants

It’s easy to think that the easiest and most efficient way to get something done is to do it yourself. And sometimes this is the case. At other times, however, it’s far more efficient and cost-effective to outsource work to a skilled professional.

In order to determine whether or not to outsource work, it’s necessary first to understand your own skills, weaknesses, and constraints. Perhaps with your busy life, it’s unrealistic that you’d ever find sufficient time to clean your home.

In this case, hiring a house cleaner makes sense. Or if you’re chronically unorganized, then a virtual assistant might be just the thing to keep emails and important files in order. Strategic outsourcing allows you ample time to focus on those things you do well.

5. Boundaries

Distractions are the ultimate time waster. Perhaps you’re deep into a task, then a knock on the office door diverts your attention, and it’s thirty minutes before you’re back on track again.

While distractions such as emails, texts and phone calls are a fact of life, they can easily run our day off the rails if we allow them to.

Setting some boundaries during work hours, such as removing the phone, not checking email, and putting on headphones allows for meaningful work to be accomplished in a timely manner. Another approach to setting boundaries is to identify quiet hours, such as early in the morning, when things can get done with few interruptions.

6. Agile Principles

Sometimes work doesn’t get done because we make everything too darn complex. Or else we never take any time to reflect, and so all our efforts ultimately lead in the wrong direction. Incorporating the principles of agile into our daily routines serves to make the most of our work hours.

Simplicity

Agile empathizes maximizing the amount of work not done. This principle pares work to its barest essentials. Similar to the priority matrix, it’s about cutting out that work that is neither important nor urgent, and then simplifying workflows to cut out unnecessary steps.

Reflect & Pivot

It’s common to start out on a project with a clear goal in mind, then to have things completely shift as new information comes to light. The agile process of continual reflection allows for adjustments, so that all work is oriented around the goal.

Conclusion

Time is potential and when it is maximized wonderful things happen. But time is also a treadmill that doesn’t ever stop or slow down, no matter how much we wish it would.

It’s common to feel so constrained by time that it’s impossible to meet all the demands of life. Things can so easily then fall apart. A deadline arrives yet things aren’t in place, or a business deteriorates.

Time management hacks and tools eliminate overwhelm, and allow us to live productive lives with healthy balance.

One principle time management tool is Teamly. This software offers so many tools for simplifying projects that it will save you hours in busywork. Visit and sign up for a free plan today!

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