One More Time: Three Effective Ways to Polish Your Time Management Skills

“Better three hours too soon, than one minute too late”. – William Shakespeare, British playwright.

In the past few decades, as we’ve all taken on more work and become increasingly productive, time management has become a crucial part of every worker’s skillset. You’ve probably spent years learning how to implement and improve your time-management skills. Therefore, you may be wondering, “What can you possibly tell me I haven’t already heard before?”

Maybe nothing. But I believe in revisiting and repeating old lessons, especially when things become too overwhelming or there seems nowhere new to go. That’s when you return to basic principles and re-examine the true foundations of high productivity. It’s easy to forget time management is based on an open secret you can’t hear too often: You don’t really manage time. You manage how you react to and use the time we all receive in equal amounts.

Let’s take a look at three basic ways to manage your use of time more effectively, so you can get the absolute most of it. One’s obvious if taken to a severe level. One’s something everyone should do but few actually practice. The last is counterintuitive… but may be the most important.

  1. Eliminate distractions and interruptions. If you keep getting distracted and interrupted all the time it’s ultimately your fault. Sure, some of the distractions and interruptions you face come from others. But with few exceptions, you’re responsible for either letting people bother you, not speaking up, or not finding ways to avoid their distractions. Ask people to get on your calendar to talk or find a place where you can work uninterrupted. To block noise, use earplugs or a noise-canceling headset. Apply stringent self-discipline to your internal distractions. Turn off all notifications. Resist the urge to do personal tasks or waste time during work hours.

  2. Track your time. If you can’t figure out where your time is going keep a time log. You can find numerous templates online. Write down how much time you spend doing everything during work hours for a week, and I mean everything: coffee, social media, bathroom, resting, drop-in interruptions, calls, lunch, work, printer runs, etc. Even things that take as little as five minutes—document them. At the end of the week, study the log and determine how much time you spent working and what took up the rest of your time. You may find it startling! You can then start eliminating the unproductive items, one by one.

  3. Rest. You aren’t a machine; your body and mind are made for sprints, not marathons. Just as we sleep best in 90-minute cycles, we work best in 90-minute bursts. If you can sink into a productivity trance for that long, uninterrupted, you’ll come out of it realizing you’ve accomplished quite a bit. A quick break before you go back to work will help you clear your mind. Take your lunch break, too, and go home at a reasonable hour. You may have to work late sometimes but if you make a habit of it, it will be counterproductive. We know from numerous studies that working long hours results in increased mistakes and bad judgement calls that offset the increase in work hours. Long hours also increase the likelihood of cardiac events like heart attack and stroke. Take your breaks, your evenings, your weekends, and your vacations, so you can decompress, feel refreshed, and give it your best shot when you do go back to work. Feeling rested and capable is one of the best ways to manage your time.

To Infinity and Beyond

High-level time management isn’t always simple. But it does have simple foundation principles. It’s easy to lose sight of those so if your schedule seems to be careening down a mountainside out of control… well, just stop. Stand off to the side for a little while, re-examine where it all began, and take off again with renewed determination.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on productivity and performance. Funny, engaging, and full of real life strategies that work, Laura will change mindsets and attitudes so your people can maximize productivity, strengthen performance, and get the job done right. Her presentations at corporate events, sales kick-off meetings, and association conferences help audiences improve output, increase speed in execution, and save time in the office. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401, email, or CONTACT US.

Here’s what others are saying:

“Laura Stack’s session with a group of our seasoned operations managers was eye-opening. We all learned new ways to be more productive with the tools we already have. I’ve never seen each of our seasoned, experienced operations managers so engaged in a session. Many of our senior and mid-level leaders were wowed by what they learned and have already begun using the new techniques with their teams.”
—Mary Pawlowski, Learning Design, Piedmont Natural Gas

“What I enjoyed most about your presentation was that it was not only engaging but also practical in application. I’ve read everything from Covey’s system to “Getting Things Done,” and you presented time management in a way that is the easiest I’ve seen to digest and apply. Thank you for helping our system today!”
—John-Reed McDonald, SVP, Field Operations, Pridestaff

“Laura is an incredible speaker who takes practical information to improve productivity and efficiency and makes it interesting and fun! She has a great sense of humor and completely engaged our corporate and sales team. Laura motivated everyone to take steps to make their lives more productive and efficient.
—Molly Johnson, Vice President Domestic Sales, Episciences, Inc.

“Ms. Laura Stack’s program received the highest scores in the 13-year history of the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) in Cleveland! From the 83 participants, the workshop received a perfect 7.0 for “Effectiveness of the Speaker” and 6.8 for “Value of the Content.” Managers especially valued learning about task management, how to minimize interruptions, organizing with Outlook, prioritizing, effectively saying ‘no,’ how to set boundaries, and recognizing self-imposed challenges to time management.”
—Don Gorning, Chair, Institute for Management Studies Cleveland