Care.com

Patrick Ball @PatrickBall

recovering journalist. content and strategy at Care.com. writing about policies, problems and benefits affecting working families.

10 Free Tips for Improving Time Management

Busy. We know you're busy. Everybody’s busy. 

And because we’re all so busy -- and because we're all struggling to find that ideal work-life balance -- time management is one of the most important skills to have and one of the hardest to master and implement. With that in mind, we'll make this quick. 

Here are 10 cheap or free ways to improve time management:

  1. Make a Calendar 

    The consensus top recommendation -- making a calendar is the first step to better time management. Populate your calendar with all of your regular meetings, checkpoints and deadlines. Update your calendar as new commitments come up, – or personal deadlines you need to meet -- and you’ll be better able to prioritize your tasks.

    “If something is important enough to consider doing, put it on your calendar,” says Joe Tirio of Monarch Senior Care. “That’s the only way you can really know if you will ever have time to do it.”  

  2. Stick to It
    Now that you’ve got your tasks written down, you need to stick to your calendar. And schedule new engagements accordingly. “Know that if you are doing something other than what is on your calendar right now, you need to either delete an item … or postpone it to another time,” says Tirio.

  3. Remember to Schedule Time for Yourself  
    You have to be realistic. You’ll need a break in your day, mentally and physically. “Write it down in the calendar and make that regular ‘sacred space’ for time for self-care,” says  Nora Misiolek, of Misiolek & Associates Executive and Business Coaching.

  4. Be SMART About Your To-Do Lists  
    When you’re assessing your objectives for the day, Dr. Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, suggests making sure the tasks on your to-do list are specific, measurable, attainable, rewarding and time-limited – or “SMART.”

  5. Get Started Early  
    Momtrepreneur/blogger Michelle Morton and Sierra Greenman, of wintheroom.com, have found starting their days at least a half-hour earlier had its advantages.

    “This gives me time to get ready for the day and unwind a bit before starting on work,” says Greenman. And if you get going early, you might finish early “and you won’t be stressed and frazzled,” adds Morton.

  6.  Protect Your Time  
    Start by writing down how much time you spent on each task. And don’t just use time tracking to budget the time you’ll spend on future tasks. Go a step further and use the numbers as baseline for when you should be “mentally clocking in and out of a task,” suggests Ben G. Adams, clinical psychologist and researcher, and author of The Creative Process Diet.

    It can be easy to get lost in a project, but being judicious with our time can help prevent us from veering too far from the schedule we’ve set for ourselves.

  7.  Set Time Limits  
    Once you have a handle on how long each of your tasks takes, block off time for them on your calendar. “If you can attach a proposed time for when each item on the list needs to be done, you will find that you will become much more focused and will feel that extra push to get everything on your to-do list done in a timely manner,” says Joe Auer, creator of the blog skillvoyage.com.

  8. Limit Distractions
    Stuff happens. You can’t keep things from coming up and throwing your day out of whack.  But on a typical day you can pay attention to how long you’re on the phone, or how much time you spend checking non-urgent emails. If you’re having trouble meeting deadlines, get stricter on yourself about time spent on ancillary activities, like social media.

    “The goal,” says Adams, “is to remove all distractions and focus only on the task.”

  9. Outsource What You Can
    Outsourcing can be anything from divvying up tasks among colleagues to using programs and apps to streamline your scheduling process.

    Simple things, like reminders in Outlook or Google Calendar to alert you when a new task begins. Mylifeorganized to track of your to-do lists – even breaking them down by category. Or Speakphoto, which lets you take pictures, narrate and send them via text, email and social media sites. Just to name a few.

  10. Take a Day
    Seriously. Lori Karpman, who runs a small consulting business called Karpman & Associates, tells her clients, “Each week for a 24-hour period -- from midnight one day to midnight the next -- there is to be no work -- no looking at business emails, no business meeting and no talking about business, even if you are out with friends and the subject comes up. It's a 24-hour reprieve to clear your mind.”

    Not only will the day off provide an opportunity for a thorough recharge, the 24-hour reprieve doubles as a deadline encouraging the timely completion of the tasks at hand.