Time management hacks for increased productivity
By Iryna Savruk /

Even though we all have the same 24 hours a day, it seems that there is never enough time to complete all the tasks. Meanwhile, there are plenty of people who achieve much more with their time than others.

Time management is a crucial skill for organizing and planning your activities.There are different useful techniques that help you to allocate your time more effectively and stay on top of things without hustle or stress. Also, good time management helps to get things done in less time, which is especially important while working with tight deadlines and under high pressure.

Write everything down

Considering the fact that our brain can remember only 7 +/- tasks, we shouldn’t use it for storing information, but for processing it. To be productive and keep track of all tasks, it is necessary to jot everything down. Ideally, it should be a specific place (paper notebook, app, Google Drive ), so you will not waste time and energy to find the information written down some time ago.

Also, keeping all the tasks in one place helps to prioritize them. The best practice is to write down everything that comes up in your mind during the day and then take some time to categorize the items. It is especially helpful when you are easily distracted by different trivial tasks. Another good habit is to accomplish all the tasks that require 2 or fever minutes of your time. Dealing with them first will help you focus on more important work.

Plan your week SMART

Take some time on Friday to evaluate your performance. Analyse the completed tasks and write down a plan for the coming business week. Writing down specific goals will help you to tackle procrastination and be more focused at work. To make your goal more attainable, you can use S.M.A.R.T. system. Your goals should conform to the following criteria: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

Another tip to enhance your performance is scheduling low-priority tasks for Monday evenings and other low-energy times. Creative and demanding activities should be done in the morning in the middle of the week. Fridays are great for planning and networking.

Create a daily to-do list synchronized with your calendar

There are 2 major systems of time management: Eastern and European. Europeans tend to set each task for a specific time. Every minute of a day is scheduled: meetings, coffee breaks, commute, calls, emails, stand-ups. If you follow this time management system, keep in mind that you should schedule only 60% of your time and leave 40% of it as a buffer zone for unexpected issues.

Asian planning system, on the other hand, is not so rigid and suggests having hard and flexible tasks. Hard tasks should be prioritized and scheduled, flexible ones are done in free time slots. You can also set reminders a day, week or hours before the task should be done, which is also a great solution for being more organized.

Complete your most important tasks first

The first hour of work is considered to be the most productive, that’s why it is a wise idea to make the most out of it.

Mark Twain once said, "If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first." After you complete the most difficult and demanding task, everything else seems less complicated or scary.

The Pareto Principle

Do you agree that 20% of accomplished tasks bring 80% results? The 80/20 rule suggests that two out of ten items, on any general to-do list, will turn out to be worth more than the other eight items put together. Identify the 20 % of the efforts that produce 80% of the results and scale that out.

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix helps to prioritize tasks by urgency and importance, sorting out lower priority tasks which you should either delegate or not do at all. All tasks are divided into 4 quadrants with different work strategies.

The first one contains tasks important for your life and career that should be done immediately. This quadrant takes a lot of resources and usually brings some stress.The second quadrant is for less urgent to-does, but necessary for your professional and personal growth in the long run. To be successful you should strive to live in the second quadrant. The third one contains quite urgent but less important tasks that can be delegated. And finally, the fourth quadrant contains the things you shouldn’t do at all.

Add a “done list” to your to-do list.

The benefits of having a daily to-do list can not be overestimated. While accomplishing planned tasks, write down other urgent or unpredicted activities you did during the day. Every time you tick a task, your brain gets a portion of dopamine that increases motivation.

Make use of visualization

Daily planning and visualization significantly impact your productivity. Researchers is the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Ohio looked at brain patterns in weightlifters. It turned out that when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds, the same brain areas were activated when they only imagined the lifting process. The study revealed that mental practices are almost as effective as true physical exercises, and that doing both is more effective than either alone. During the experiment, researcher Guang Yue discovered that people who went to gym have a 30% muscle increase. The group of participants who did mental exercises of the training increased muscle strength by 13.5%. Popular athletes like Tiger Woods and Muhammad Ali use visualization and affirmation technique on the daily basis.

Visualization is also very helpful if used together with detailization during goal setting process. These methods help you to split large complicated tasks into clear executable steps. Your brain thinks in pictures, that’s why mind map method is very popular.

Declutter and organize your working area

Productivity experts emphasize on the importance of keeping your working space clean, because redundant clutter distracts you from dealing with high-priority tasks. Take some time to analyze what you actually need, because on average people use only 2O% of the stuff on the desk. Research has shown that even having your cell phone proved to be very distracting. The rule of 72 hours can also come in handy when dealing with clutter. According to this rule, if we don’t apply new information during the next 72 hours in practice, there is less than 1 % possibility we will return to it in the future. It is high time to dispose of your old notes and copies.

Don’t multitask

Multitasking is detrimental for your productivity. Every time you switch between tasks you face attention and memory loss. According to professor Clifford Nass, people who regularly multitask need more time to switch between tasks and focus on a specific activity. To reach high performance you need at least 50 minutes of uninterrupted work on a task. The first 5-20 minutes are considered so-called warm-up stage, which is needed to get into the flow. The next 30-40 minutes are the most effective, then the productivity reaches its culmination and goes down. While multitasking you never experience the flow or reach the pinnacle of your productivity.

Turn off alerts and reply in batches

When your emails, telegram messages and alerts are pouring in, it's easy to get distracted. Don’t automatically answer messages the very second they arrive because each interruptions decreases your ability to work on high-focus tasks. Schedule time to read and respond to random messages and calls in your down time.

Don’t strive for perfection and remember about Parkinson's law

Should everything you do be perfect? How much efforts and time are you ready to spend on this particular task? Step aside and take some time to analyze if it is actually worth it. Wouldn’t it be better to do the task well enough and use the remaining energy and time for dealing with other important things? Usually, perfectionists spend eternity on some low-priority tasks that require few hours of productive work. While dealing with a task, keep in mind Parkinson's law. According to it, "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion". Every time we set vague estimates we steal our own time. Time management experts advise to set a realistic deadline for each task and then decrease it by 15%.

Take frequent breaks

There is a popular thought that the more activities you plan for a specific time range, the more you actually accomplish. It is true to some extent, but you should be very mindful about your emotional and physical resources. Don’t forget to schedule breaks. “Turns out, the secret to retaining the highest level of productivity over the span of a workday is not working longer–but working smarter with frequent breaks,” wrote Julia Gifford in her study of the highest-performing workers. These people worked for 52 minutes intensively and then had a rest for 17 minutes before proceeding work. Frequent breaks will help to keep your energy level high and protect from physical and emotional burnout.