Get Things Done. 21 Tips for Better Time Management

Do you ever get to the end of the day and wonder how you managed to get so little done? You’re not alone. And while you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself for your time management shortcomings, here are 21 ways you can get more done.

  • Make appointments with yourself

    This was actually a game changer for me!

    If a task or project is important enough to do, it’s important enough to add to your calendar. Get in the habit of calendaring everything, and sticking to those appointments.

    You should place as much importance on your appointments with you do with client appointments. You would never miss a client appointment because the cost of doing so would be so high, so why treat yourself as any less important? Your time is just as valuable, so don’t let yourself get away with broken appointments!

    If you don’t get those tasks done, you don’t achieve your goals.

  • Set a timer

    No matter what task you’re working on, set a timer—preferably one that makes an audible ticking sound. You might choose a 25-minute time block as recommended by proponents of the Pomodoro Technique, or you can simply set a timer to remind yourself of your next appointment. The psychology is the same no matter which method you choose.

    The idea here is that the ticking sound helps keep you on task. It’s a subtle reminder that you’re supposed to be working, so when you’re tempted to wander off to check Facebook, your subconscious will help keep you focused.

  • Take a day off

    Have you ever noticed how much more you get done in the last days before heading off on holiday? I know I’m caught up in this cycle at the moment! Suddenly you’re super motivated to:

    • Return all those phone calls you’ve been putting off
    • Clean out your email inbox
    • Finish your bookkeeping for the month
    • Get the rest of the month’s blog posts written

    And anything else that represents an “open loop” in your life or business.

    You can create that same sense of urgency to get things done simply by scheduling a day off. In fact, you may even decide to take this strategy one step further, and take an extra day off each week!

  • Give yourself permission to say no

    You’re not responsible for everything, but all too often we feel that we simply cannot say no…to anything.

    This is especially true for entrepreneurs, because you just want to help everybody. But if you try to accommodate everyone, you’ll wind up stressed out, overworked, and your time management skills will suffer.

    Instead, learn to say no. Say no to the client you don’t want to work with. Say no to the volunteer position you don’t have time for. Say no to another year as treasurer for your local club. You can (and should) even say no to household chores that don’t have to be done.

    After all, no one will be harmed if your living room doesn’t get dusted today. Wouldn’t you rather spend your time working on something that really matters?

  • Take a break

    Too much time spent at work can be decidedly UN-productive. When it begins to feel like you’ll never get all your work done, it’s the perfect time to step away from your desk for a quick break.

    Go for a walk in the park. Nature has a wonderful way of recharging our batteries.

    Play with your kids. They’ll remind you why you do what you do every day.

    Read a novel. Paint a picture. Knit a scarf. Just do something other than work. It will improve your perspective and give you more energy to face the rest of your day.

    Some of my recent activities have included painting a couple of staircase spindles at a time, or when it’s been sunny, getting in the garden and painting a fence panel. As well as giving you that much needed break from your work, it helps a big job get done bit by bit.

  • Give up control

    A leading cause of overwork—especially for “type A” personalities—is the feeling that you must have control over everything. When you mistakenly believe that no one can do your job as well as you can, you’ll take on too much work and ultimately fail to get everything done.

    A far better choice is to give up some control and allow others to help.

    Does it really matter that the towels aren’t folded precisely as you’d like? Or that a sales page isn’t formatted quite the way you’d have done it?

    Probably not. Learn to recognise when good enough really is good enough, and let go of your need to have everything “just so.” You’ll save hours of time that can better be used on other projects.

  • Practice focusing

    How many browser tabs do you normally have open while you’re working? (I’m very guilty of this!!) Ever listen to a webinar while responding to emails? How about browsing Facebook while writing a blog post?

    All these multi-tasking habits (and many others) are massive time-wasters that can turn a 30-minute task into an afternoon of accomplishing next to nothing. While we all like to think we’re good at multi-tasking, the truth is, multi-tasking is really “task switching,” and every time you stop to quickly do something else, you lose your focus. That lost momentum costs you added minutes every time you turn your attention back to the task at hand.

    So close all those browser tabs, turn off your webinar, put a block on Facebook, and regain your focus. You’ll be amazed at how much more productive you’ll be. 

  • Schedule shorter meetings

    No other workday task manages to feel so important while being such a waste of time. Nip these time-sucks in the bud by scheduling only those meetings that must happen, and keeping them to a minimum.

    • Skip the small talk
    • Create an agenda—and stick to it
    • Make sure everyone knows the meeting’s purpose and expected outcome.
    • Use email to discuss non-urgent topics

    I also like to estimate a return on investment from meetings. Realise how much each meeting costs and ensure you get a proper return on investment from it.

    The obvious exception to this rule is your client meetings, but even those can be more productive and maybe even shorter by applying the rules above.

  • Reduce interruptions

    Text messages, Skype conversations, email notifications and other “urgent” interruptions will take you out of the moment and add up to hours of lost time over a week.

    Make it a habit to turn of your phone, Skype, email and other instant message applications while you’re working. Between tasks, schedule a quick check in if necessary, but don’t allow these interruptions to dictate the course of your day.

  • Work remotely

    Always working at your desk can put you firmly in a work rut. Want to get more done? Change it up a bit. You became an entrepreneur to have more freedom, so enjoy it—and get more done in the process.

    • Take your laptop to the library or coffee shop for an afternoon of phone free work.
    • Head to the park on a nice day and let the beauty of nature inspire your product or content creation.
    • Rent an office for one day each week to get away from distractions such as laundry, television and other work-at-home pitfalls.

    If it’s sunny, even sitting out in the garden to do planning tasks, research etc can be all the change you need in a day.

  • Plan your day the night before

    Do you turn on your computer in the morning and immediately jump into Facebook or email because you don’t know what you’re supposed to do next? Or do you turn to your calendar first to know what task you should be focused on?

    Schedule 15 to 30 minutes at the end of each day to plan out the next, and you’ll never again be caught wasting the first hour of the morning on non-essential tasks.

  • Pick 3 things

    If your to-do list looks more like a grocery list after you haven’t shopped for a month, your productivity is going to suffer. Trying to focus on all those “must do’s” will have you instantly overwhelmed and jumping from task to task as you struggle to get it all done.

    A far better option is to pare your list down to three things you absolutely must get done. Prioritise those, set your timer, and get to work.

    Without the distraction of an endless to-do list, you’ll be better able to concentrate on what really needs to happen, and you’ll be much more likely to get your projects done quickly.

    And when those three tasks are done you can choose to add three more to your list, or take the afternoon off. You deserve a break!

  • Schedule time for email

    When is the last time you received a truly urgent email? If you’re like most people, the answer is rarely, if ever. So why do we keep our email client open all the time and obsessively check it each time that bell dings or the little red number pops up to tell us we’ve received an email?

    Allowing your email to dictate how you spend your time is a recipe for distraction, and it can turn your best-laid time management plans into little more than a wistful fantasy.

    Just like you schedule time for your projects and client meetings, schedule time for email. Allow yourself 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon (or more if necessary, depending on the volume of email you receive) to process your inbox. Strive to “touch” each message one time. Either:

    • Respond to it
    • Do it (if it’s a task)
    • Delegate it
    • File it

    Strive to reach “inbox zero” each time you process your emails, and your time will never again be dictated by the demands of your email client.

  • Break projects down into small tasks

    “Write a book” or “create a new coaching program” or “build a new opt-in fu