Time Management Skills: a Quick Review

“Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.” — M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled.

“Time is the scarcest resource of the manager; if it is not managed, nothing else can be managed.” — Peter F. Drucker, Austrian management guru.

Make use of time; let not advantage slip.” — William Shakespeare, British playwright.


Time management. You can’t escape the topic when discussions turn to personal productivity, for a very good reason: time management forms the skeleton upon which you build your productivity. It underlies all productivity programs, whether group or individual. Without at least rudimentary time management skills in play, you may stay constantly busy, but you probably won’t get anything substantial done on a regular basis.

My work often keys on time management skills and the critical need to maintain them. But often, even my discussions touch the topic obliquely, as something that goes without saying…rather like basic arithmetic. We all know how to do our sums, and without thinking much about it, we use those skills every day.

But basic time management skills require occasional review in a way that 1 + 1 = 2 doesn’t. Otherwise, you can slide off course; or worse, fall into the kind of superficial, rote behavior that develops into unproductive busywork.

So one more time: what is time management, and why do good time management skills really matter?

In its most rudimentary sense, time management boils down to organizing and budgeting time to your best advantage. In principle, we all know time management really amounts to self management. You can no more manage time itself than you can lasso the moon, since we all get the same number of hours per day. As clichéd as the preceding phrase may seem, it bears repeating, because all of us lose track of this reality occasionally.

It starts with setting goals. What do you want to achieve in your job? What are your performance objectives? Based on your job description and your boss’s expectations, what must you achieve in order to maintain a reasonable level of workplace productivity?

Establish deadlines for each of these goals, whether short- or long-term, and take especially seriously the deadlines your boss sets for you. Then determine what you have to do to meet each deadline.  Break down large goals into manageable smaller goals, and track each one separately in your time management system.

Establish priorities for all the tasks required to reach those goals, paying special attention to the ones you should deal with first: looming deadlines, crises, and items you must perform every day to keep your team and personal workflow on track. Set secondary priorities for items that lack the urgency of your Priority 1 tasks but need attention soon (or may scale up to Priority 1 later). Everything else can fall off the list if time runs short.

Once you’ve established priority, block off time on your calendar if possible to do big, important stuff goes first; fit everything else in around it, such as meetings and email. If possible, retain some flexibility in your schedule, but focus on pushing through the hardest, highest-priority tasks first—realizing all the while that your priorities might change suddenly, depending on circumstances.

Beyond prioritizing and scheduling tasks, find ways to fine-tune your focus—whether that involves isolating yourself, clearing your environment of distractions, or cutting procrastination and perfectionism out of your mindset. Make things as simple as possible, and then crank your self-discipline setting to maximum.

If time slips away and you can’t tell exactly how, keep a time log for several days, possibly as long as a week. Every 15-30 minutes, record everything you do, and how long it took. Account for every minute, including the time you spend chatting with your officemate and going to the coffeemaker. Then review your logs and see where you can trim out time-wasters.

Finally, I can’t stress enough your need to adopt a good personal time management system. Your organizer will act as the hub holding together all the disparate elements of your life. Make sure your chosen time management system contains and correlates every schedule in your life, so you don’t end up arranging a client meeting when you should be at your daughter’s dance recital. Establish an easy way to review those schedules every day, so you know what you need to do when, and add in new items as they pop up. Make room for your to-do lists, both daily and master, as well as thorough, detailed information on all your important contacts.

There you have it: the fundamental principles of time management. Plenty of nuances and wiggle-room exist here, naturally, as with all important things. But if you’ll learn to exercise basic time management skills, and continue to pay attention to and hone them as you go, it will be much easier to avoid overwhelm and other forms of productivity meltdown.



  1. Jaeger Jermaine says:

    This is a nice article. I totally agree on how setting goals can help in one’s productivity. I, too, have been setting goals and establishing priorities which actually helps me to nail down whatever it is that needs to be done, be it a long-term goal or short-term. I always make it a point to jot down the things I need to accomplish because I, personally, recognize the importance of goals being scheduled and marking tasks as done for it gives me a sense of fulfillment as an individual, thus, increasing productivity in work.


  2. Time management = self management. That’s something to remember!


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