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4 Time Management Techniques You Have To Try

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When it comes to time management techniques, the whole concept is laughable when you’re buried in work. Wouldn’t it be better if you had more hours in the day?  What about better focus during your work hours? 

The trick is to find a technique that doesn’t take MORE of your time – and that works to help you get things done. Office Otter staff have tried almost every productivity hack, strategy, and workbook to unlock the secret of “time management”.  What did we learn? 

There isn’t one perfect technique – you need to find what works for YOU. 

But, some tactics are better than others.  For example, holding out for sheer willpower isn’t going to help you if your problem is procrastination.  Therefore, we’ve narrowed the field to time management techniques that we’ve used, or know have helped others.

Here are four time management techniques you should try:

Eat The Frog

This one is our favorite.  Long-standing as a technique to overcome procrastination, the concept originated from a Mark Twain quote. 

“If your job is to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.  And if it’s your job is to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

Mark Twain

The concept is simple: do the thing you are dreading the most, first.  Then, everything else is easier.  This item is also likely to be the most important, or hardest task.  Funny how that works?

What Problem Does it Address?

Often we aren’t bad at time management, we are just procrastinating.  Procrastination stems from a number of things: fear of the unknown, lack of appropriate resources, or even dread over the amount of work or effort something might take.  These concerns are largely assuaged once you dive in, but it can be hard to get to that point. 

Symptoms of procrastination include:

  • Doing everything BUT the project you should be doing
  • Neglecting all work to try to avoid the project
  • Expanding the scope of the project (planning phase) without actually starting the work
  • Convincing yourself the project will be easier / different if delayed

Why Does it Work?

Eat the frog takes away your excuses to “put off” a project by making it the first thing you must do.  It uses the reward system of knowing that the rest of your day/week will be EASIER when you finish the project.  Besides, after you’ve eaten a frog in the morning, how bad could the rest of the day be?

Wanna learn more about the Eat The Frog technique?  There is a whole book about it.

The Pomodoro Technique

If you are looking for literal time management, it doesn’t get more specific than the Pomodoro Technique.  It works like this:

  1. Set a timer for 25 minutes (one Pomodoro)
  2. During that time, work singularly on a project (total focus, no distractions)
  3. After the time is up, take a short break. (3-5 minutes)
  4. Repeat for a total of four Pomodoros, and follow by a longer break.

What Problem does this address?

This technique is perfect for those who have trouble focusing or getting distracted by things like email.  It is especially helpful for those who fear a project will consume their time because it sets a time limit.

Why Does it Work?

It gives you an “out”.  You don’t have to try to convince yourself to sit endlessly.  You know when you’ll be done – 25 minutes.  Then, if the project was really that bad you can take a long break or do something different in the next 25 minutes.  However, many people report that the time flies and they are able to get so much done! 

Folks say that it can become a game to try to finish something within a “Pomodoro” – increasing focus.

If 25 minutes doesn’t work for you, try a different amount of time. Maybe you can only stay focused for 15 minutes, or maybe you like a full hour. Just don’t forget to take breaks!

Interested in Pomodoro? There are variations, strategies for taking advantage of productivity, and even an app!

The Eisenhower Matrix

Are you the type that isn’t sure where to start or how to prioritize all the work in front of you? Feel like it ALL needs equal attention? That isn’t always true, and this tool will help.

The Eisenhower Matrix (also called the Urgent – Important Matrix) is a 4 square grid in which you place all tasks to determine their importance on your time.

Eisenhower Matrix of Urgency
Eisenhower Matrix

After you’ve added all your tasks, start by doing the urgent and important tasks. Then, schedule all the not-urgent but important tasks in your calendar (or task management program). Delegate the urgent but not important tasks, and eliminate (delete) those that are neither urgent nor important.

Read Also: Asana For One: Project Management When You Are Running Solo

Deleting might seem a bit harsh, but the truth is: if it isn’t urgent or important, why are you doing it? And, if a task turns out to be either of those things in the future, it will find its way to your to-do list. They always find a way…

Why This Works

This matrix opens up a lot of your time by identifying (our favorite quadrant) what you should eliminate.

Tip: Having trouble moving things out of the “important” column? Try repeating the process on your “important” quadrants to further identify priorities. Then, start with the REALLY important “important” tasks. You might find the secondary ones are less important once you’ve finished other work.

Understand Your “Prime Times”

This is less of a hack or exercise, and more about becoming more aware of your body’s natural proclivities toward alertness, focus, and recovery at different times of the day.

The theory is based on ultradian rhythms of the human body and identifies when you might find you are more productive.

Take some time over a week and track what time of day you feel the most focused, when you get tired, and when you are more creative. Here is an example of a day:

  • 8 AM – Woke up and felt really focused while reading news
  • 11 AM – Feeling restless
  • 2 PM – Starting to get tired
  • 4 PM – Felt focused while working on an art project

Once you get a feel of your natural rhythms, schedule your time based on what you are naturally inclined to be good at.

How To Work It

Based on how you are feeling, here is a list of the types of tasks you should take on (and what to avoid).

  • Feeling focused/alert:
    • Great time for writing or big projects
    • Avoid: emails, meetings
  • Restless / Unfocused but awake
    • Tackle those small things that only take a couple of minutes. Email, dropping something off at a co-worker’s desk, or doing some copying. We don’t recommend multi-tasking, but this is a good time to take on simple tasks.
    • Also, a great time to plan out your other time management techniques
    • Avoid: Anything that requires attention to detail
  • Tired / “Braindead”
    • Exercise. If you can’t take a gym break, get up and stretch at your desk. Take a walk around the block. Something to move your body.
    • Nap. Nothing beats a 20-minute power nap if you are capable. A great way to recharge.
    • Avoid coffee. This feeling is often in the afternoon after you’ve expended energy and caffeine will just disrupt your sleep cycle.
  • Creative
    • Creativity doesn’t need to include “art”. You may not consider yourself an artistic type, but you will likely still have moments of creativity. This can include any innovative ideas you have, high-level or lofty projects, or finding new ways to do your job.
    • Avoid databases. You’ll hate it.
  • Bored / Daydreaming
    • Sometimes we are bored because we’ve been doing the same thing for too long. Try mixing up your day with a quick standing/walking meeting with a co-worker (beats another email).
    • Avoid web surfing. It simply isn’t productive. If you need a break, take an actual break.

Final Note

These techniques are not meant to replace the importance of sleep, exercise, diet, and stress management. The most creative time management techniques can’t make up for neglecting our physical and mental health.

Make sure to take care of yourself before trying to take care of your to-do list!

Have a technique you like? Share with us below in the comments!

Featured photo credit: Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

Posted by Amanda Parsons

Amanda has always had an appreciation for writing instructions that are easy to follow. When not curled up with her laptop trying to figure out why Word on the Mac is so weird, she can be found kayaking in the Pacific Northwest.

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