We live in a world where time management is not a ‘nice-to-have’ skill, but a crucial one. Being able to manage our time properly is more important than ever in the digital age.
At work, computers and automation can help us do our tasks more easily. But as a consequence, our to-do list has increased exponentially. Much more is expected from us.
We are required to reach exceptional productivity at all times.
At home, many things call for our attention. We’d like to spend more time with our families, but we need to cook, clean the house and do our daily chores. We’d like to have more time to study, but we want to exercise and practice our hobbies too.
Additionally, we live surrounded by distractions. Distractions perfectly designed to drain our time and attention, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube… Open one of these sites and a couple of hours will magically disappear from your life.
At TimeTune, we’ve been helping you improve your time management skills for a while. But we wanted to know more. We wanted to dig deeper and find the essence of time management.
That’s when a question popped up in our minds:
Could all the different methods, techniques and philosophies about time management be reduced to a common set of principles?
After a long research, we found out that the answer is yes. This is what brought us to The 8 Pillars of Time Management and Productivity.
HOW WE DID IT
In brief, we conducted our research by:
- Distilling the core ideas from around 50 books on time management and productivity, from long-established classics to recent works.
- Searching for the current voices in the time management and productivity arenas (authors, bloggers, YouTubers…) and analyzing their theories and methods.
- Reading countless articles and blog posts.
- Watching a lot of productivity videos.
- Researching other alternative methods used by successful people.
The first thing we realized was that many authors treat the terms ‘Time management’ and ‘Productivity’ as synonyms. And it makes sense. We want to manage our time in order to be more productive. But productivity cannot happen if we don’t manage our time properly.
That’s why we decided to title our research ‘The 8 Pillars of Time Management And Productivity‘.
After researching for a while, we began to see some patterns. All methods and techniques seemed to revolve around a common set of principles. Some methods were based only on one principle and some others were based on several. But the principles never changed.
Let’s see what those principles, or pillars, are.
PILLAR #1: GOALS
Everybody wants to improve their life. We all want to grow and achieve more things. But we cannot start our journey if we don’t know where we’re going.
Having a set of goals seems obvious, but it’s surprising the amount of people who don’t define their goals clearly enough or don’t define them at all. If you say something like “I’d like to write something, maybe an essay, maybe a book… someday”, this is probably never going to happen.
All experts stress the importance of defining your goals (personal and professional) in a clear and precise way. But not only that. You need to set firm deadlines too in order to get you moving. So instead, say something like: “I’m going to write a novel, and I will finish it by (specific date)”.
In general, your goals should be:
- Clear and concise. Define what you want to achieve in all detail.
- Long and short-term. Establish which goals you want to achieve now and which ones in the future.
- Personal and professional. Set goals for every area of your life.
- Meaningful to you. Your goals should adhere to your core values. You’ll struggle a lot if they don’t.
- Realistic but challenging. A goal must represent a personal challenge that will make you grow.
- Written down. Don’t save your goals only in your mind. Write them down and check them regularly.
- With firm deadlines. A firm deadline will motivate you to act.
Additionally, all authors put a special emphasis on the dangers of confusing ‘Work’ with ‘Life’. Your work is not your life. They are different things and you need to set different goals for them.
PILLAR #2: PLANNING
Once you have defined clear and concise goals, you need to establish a plan to achieve them. Break down your goals into smaller steps and tasks. The more detailed, the better. This allows you to take one step at a time and prevents you from feeling overwhelmed.
In other words, planning is what transforms your goals into digestible tasks. A good plan will allow you to be efficient and make the best use of your time.
When designing your plans, productivity experts recommend to:
- Set clear deadlines for each step of your plan.
- Set aside time every week for planning and evaluation.
- Be flexible and adapt your plans to the circumstances when necessary.
- Make short, mid and long-term plans. This means setting daily, weekly, monthly and yearly goals and plans.
- Make your daily plans the night before. This removes pressure in the morning.
- Select your main objective for the day. Some authors call this their ‘Most important task’ or their ‘Highlight’. Your daily objective must be important and challenging.
- Schedule every step of each plan. Put the steps in your calendar, not on a list.
A few tactics to help with your planning are, for example:
- The Timeboxing or time blocking method.
- Planning batches of small tasks into a single block of time.
- Planning day themes, like ‘Cleaning day’ or ‘Research day’.
- Running personal sprints to make substantial advances on your goals.
PILLAR #3: PRIORITIZATION
Learning to prioritize your tasks is essential for time management and productivity. Besides being faced with all the tasks coming from your plans, a myriad of unexpected interruptions, to-dos and chores will get in your way.
Prioritization is the skill that will take you from feeling overwhelmed to being truly productive. It will enable you to decide exactly which task you need to tackle next in order to advance your goals.
The main advice from the experts is to avoid confusing ‘being busy’ with ‘being productive’. Or in other words, to avoid confusing the ‘urgent’ with the ‘important’. You need to work on the tasks that are important to you and for your goals. The rest, urgent or not, should be delegated, outsourced or eliminated.
Besides that, all authors emphasize the importance of:
- Learning to say ‘no’ to avoid putting other people’s priorities before yours.
- Avoiding to do things you don’t want to do.
- Avoiding to do things that don’t match your values.
There are a lot of methods to help you prioritize your your tasks, like for example:
- The Eisenhower matrix.
- The 80/20 principle.
- Working on high priority or difficult tasks first (i.e. ‘Eating the frog’).
- Personal Kanban.
- Getting Things Done.
- The Action method.
- The Must, Should, Want method.
- The MoSCoW method.
PILLAR #4: ROUTINE
Besides defining goals and plans, you need to follow a strong, productive and healthy routine. This is what Michael Hyatt calls his ‘Ideal week‘, for example.
A well-designed daily and weekly routine will take your time management to the next level. You’ll have time for work, family and leisure without feeling overwhelmed. Therefore, you’ll be able to enjoy every moment.
To design your weekly routine you need first to identify the main activities that happen during your week (work, exercise, leisure, family…). Then you need to define the ideal distribution of time and activities that would bring maximum productivity and satisfaction to you.
A good routine will lead you to excellent, healthy and productive habits.
When crafting your weekly routine, experts recommend to:
- Schedule all types of activities, including meals, exercise, family time, etc. Don’t leave anything out.
- Schedule your blocks of deep work.
- Take your energy cycles into account. Do your hard work when your energy levels are high.
- Always reserve time for leisure and disconnection.
- Schedule time every week for reflection, planning and evaluation.
- Go to sleep and wake up at fixed times, even on weekends.
- Sleep eight hours and do exercise. Productivity can only happen on a healthy body and mind.
- Refine your routine progressively.
If you need extra help to stick to your routine, you can use some tricks, like following morning or evening rituals, or playing a specific kind of music during certain activities.
Finally, remember that we created TimeTune to help you design, follow and improve your distribution of time. If you try it, let us know what you think.
PILLAR #5: FOCUS
This is a trait universally shared by all productive and successful people: the ability to relentlessly focus on a single task, the task at hand. Without this skill, achieving any meaningful progress is almost impossible.
Truly productive work can only happen when you focus intensely on your current task. This kind of deep focus is what can take you to that fulfilling sensation of ‘getting in the zone’ or ‘flow’, as explained by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and other authors.
But achieving total focus on a single task is not as easy as it may seem. Not only do you need to avoid external distractions and interruptions (calls, emails, notifications, co-workers, etc), but you need to avoid the internal thoughts that will happen in your mind as well (like thinking about personal matters at work). Because every time an interruption like this happens, you lose precious time trying to refocus on the task.
So, in order to improve your focus and concentration, experts recommend to:
- Block interruptions. For example: turning notifications off, hiding your mobile, establishing contact hours, putting up a ‘Do not disturb’ note on your door.
- Never multitask. It is not a human capability and makes you lose your time and concentration.
- Write distracting thoughts on paper to deal with them later.
- Take regular breaks to prevent mental exhaustion.
- Avoid the sense of urgency, as it’s not compatible with concentration.
There are many techniques to help you focus, like for example:
- The Pomodoro technique.
- Using Parkinson’s law in your favor.
- Using meditation to exercise your ‘focus muscle’.
PILLAR #6: ACCOUNTABILITY
Another key factor in your quest to managing your time is accountability. Knowing whether you are making adequate progress on your goals or not is crucial to detect where your plans need adjustment and maintain your motivation.
Productivity experts recommend to keep a log and track everything that happens with your time, from the tasks you worked on to the interruptions that happened.
Regularly (preferably once a week), you should analyze this log and evaluate your progress. If something needs to change, change it.
Rewards play an important role in accountability too. They bring motivation and are the perfect validation that you are making progress on your goals.
Some tools offer rewards as a way to motivate the user (like karma points or badges), but you can set your own personal rewards if you prefer (like buying yourself a gift after finishing a project).
A few methods to help with accountability are, for example:
- The ‘Don’t break the chain‘ method.
- Keeping a ‘to-done‘ list.
- Having others hold you accountable for your progress.
In summary, accountability will uncover where you are making adequate progress and where you are not. Don’t worry if you fail in some areas, failure is part of the process.
Learn from your mistakes and use them to improve.
PILLAR #7: OPTIMIZATION
There’s another trait that characterizes highly productive people: the constant search for optimization. Optimization on all the processes and systems that regulate their lives, and optimization for themselves as human beings.
In consequence, productive people know that they need to:
- Avoid time-wasting activities.
- Be efficient in their communications.
- Work smarter, not longer.
- Be organized, at work and at home.
- Set up automated systems.
- Delegate or outsource as much as they can.
- Focus exclusively on their goals.
- Only work with competent people and organizations.
- Remove clutter from all areas of their lives.
- Strive for continuous self-improvement.
If we take a closer look at ourselves, we’ll always find something that can be optimized. Maybe we can outsource a task to uncover new and precious time. Maybe we can execute another task more efficiently to increase our productivity. Or maybe we can learn a new skill that will get us closer to our goals.
There are countless tricks to optimize your time and productivity (and you can create your custom ones too), like:
- Using verification checklists before important tasks or events.
- Adopting an efficient filing system for your documents.
- Using online services to save time (e.g. food delivery).
- Reducing material possessions to reduce maintenance time.
- Organizing your workplace for maximum performance.
- Eliminating decision fatigue.
- Taking advantage of wasteful time and use it to work on your goals (e.g. waiting times, commutes, travels…).
- Reducing information overload.
PILLAR #8: ACTION
None of the previous pillars would hold up without the last one: Action. Defining goals and making plans is nice, but if we don’t have the will to act nothing will happen.
Generally, productivity experts recommend:
- Avoiding procrastination. You need to be decisive and act.
- Avoiding perfectionism. Focus on completing the task, don’t waste your time perfecting unimportant details.
- Avoiding paralysis by analysis.
- Taking a step towards your goals every day.
- Not waiting until feeling inspired to start, just start. This will set you in motion and put you in the mood, initiating a positive cycle.
- Having the will to finish what you start. Finishing one thing will give you energy to start another.
- Not being afraid to leave your comfort zone. After all, most of your goals will require it.
For some people, the simple fact of writing their goals down on paper is motivation enough to get started. But others may need a little push.
Some tricks to help you get in motion are, for example:
- Cutting a goal in half. Reaching the middle of your goal is easier and gives motivation to continue and do much more.
- Setting a personal reward for completing a task.
- Thinking about your future self. If you procrastinate, your future self will be stressed. But if you take action now, your future self will be happy and motivated to achieve even more.
There are many systems and methods for time management and productivity. But all of them are based on the same basic principles.
These principles are the main areas you need to put your effort into if you want to be efficient with your time. Knowing the principles will help you detect areas where you need to improve and which methods will work best for you.
Alternately, you can use the principles to create a custom system that leverages your unique traits, strengths and personality.
In any case, we hope this research helped you with your quest for better time management and productivity. For us, it certainly did.
Thanks a lot for reading!
The following list contains all the books involved in our research. If you want to know more about time management and productivity in general, they are great and recommended sources:
- Akash Karia – 7 Things Resilient People Do Differently
- Alan Burdick – Why Time Flies
- Alec MacKenzie – The Time Trap
- Ari Meisel – Less Doing, More Living
- B. Eugene Griessman – Time Tactics of Very Successful People
- Brian Tracy – Eat That Frog
- Brian Tracy – Focal Point
- Brian Tracy – Time Power
- Cal Newport – Deep Work
- Charles Duhigg – The Power of Habit
- Chris Bailey – The Productivity Project
- Damon Zahariades – The Time Chunking Method
- Daniel H. Pink – When
- David Allen – Getting Things Done
- David Allen – Ready for Anything
- Devora Zack – Singletasking
- Edward G. Brown – The Time Bandit Solution
- Frances Kay – Kickstart Your Time Management
- Gary Keller & Jay Papasan – The One Thing
- George Stalk Jr. & Thomas M. Hout – Competing Against Time
- Helene Segura – The Inefficiency Assassin
- Hyrum W. Smith – The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management
- Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky – Make Time
- Jason W. Womack – Your Best Just Got Better
- Jocelyn K. Glei – Manage Your Day-to-Day
- John de Graaf – Take Back Your Time
- Jon Acuff – Finish
- Kerry Gleeson – The Personal Efficiency Program
- Kevin Kruse – 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management
- Kory Kogon & Others – The 5 Choices
- Laura Stack – Doing the Right Things Right
- Laura Stack – Find More Time
- Lothar J. Seiwert – Slow Down to Speed Up
- Marc Wittmann – Felt Time
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Flow
- Peg Pickering – How to Make the Most of Your Workday
- Peter Bregman – 18 Minutes
- Peter F. Drucker – The Effective Executive
- Richard Koch – The 80/20 Principle
- Robert C. Pozen – Extreme Productivity
- Robert W. Bly – 101 Ways to Make Every Second Count
- Robert W. Bly – Make Every Second Count
- Roberta Roesch – Time Management for Busy People
- Rory Vaden – Procrastinate on Purpose
- Ruth Klein – Time Management Secrets for Working Women
- Stephen R. Covey – First Things First
- Stephen R. Covey – The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People
- Timothy Ferriss – The 4-Hour Workweek
- Todd Duncan – Time Traps