Time is a valuable and finite resource, and wasted time can never really be replaced. While we may not have the ability to manipulate time itself (if only we all had Dr. Strange’s powers…), we do have the ability to take control of what we do with the time we have.

So, since time is so valuable, how do we make the most of it? I’m so glad you’ve asked! It’s all about time management. 

What is Time Management?

When you boil it down, time management is simply the ability to manage your time efficiently to be more productive. By properly managing your time, you’ll find you can do more with less, which leads to accomplishing more goals and maybe even having some additional free time to relax and recharge. 

If you’ve never really thought about how to manage your time before, it can be difficult to get started. And while there’s no “one size fits all” approach to improving your time management, here are some strategies and tips that can help you get on the right track.

1. Figure Out Where Your Time is Going

Before you learn how to manage your time, it’s important to know where it’s actually going. There are plenty of ways to do this, but the easiest way is to complete a time audit. 

All you need to run a time audit is a timer, a pen, and some paper (there are plenty of apps that can help out too). You’ll set your timer to go off every hour during the day, and when it goes off you’ll jot down what you’re doing at that exact moment. Ideally, you want to repeat this process over the course of several days. 

Black and white cut out of hand holding a clock over three colored slots.
A time audit can help you see patterns of where your time is going.

When you start gathering your data, you’ll see patterns of where your time is going. You might even see that you waste more time on unproductive things than you’d like (hello YouTube rabbit holes). This data will give you the insight needed to prioritize the tasks you should spend more time on to accomplish your goals. 

2. Set goals

Speaking of goals, they’re pretty important. According to PositivePsychology.com, creating them isn’t as hard as you might think. Goals provide you with a sense of direction and purpose. That sense of direction is important when managing your time, because without it you won’t know which tasks really deserve your time and attention. 

You don’t need to overthink it. Your “goal” can be something important, like passing an exam, or it may be something more minor, like reading that book that’s been collecting dust on your shelf for a while. Whatever your goal might be, just make sure it’s SMART, which will help you evaluate and structure your goals to set yourself up for success (sorry for being so cliché, but it’s really important).

3. Create a To-do List and Add Structure to Your Day

Personally, I LOVE to-do lists. In fact, sometimes my to-do lists even have their own to-do lists. A nice list gives you direction and a sense of accomplishment, which leads to more productivity and can even help reduce anxiety.

Time limits ensure you don’t derail your daily schedule by spending more time than necessary on a single task. 

Start small with a short to-do list, but feel free to get as granular as you’d like. After you’ve created your list, structure your day around it. Estimate how long each task will take and slot them into your schedule based on the priority of each. 

It’s always better to overestimate how long something will take rather than underestimate. Underestimating can lead to a broken schedule, whereas overestimating can lead to some free-time when you complete your task early.

4. Start Crossing Things Off of Your List

After you create that to-do list, start crossing things off. Personally, I like to start my day with some small menial tasks just to get the ball rolling. Maybe I have several small things that should only take ~10 minutes each, I knock those out as soon as I can so I get that sense of accomplishment early. 

This also makes room for some of the larger tasks on your list and allows you to clear your mind to be at your best while working on them. But remember, what works best for me may not be the best for you. So play around with how you organize your day, maybe it’s better for you to start the day with some larger, higher priority tasks. 

5. Embrace Imperfection

Things rarely go exactly as planned and nothing is ever “perfect”. To become a time management master, you need to embrace this. 

Start setting time limits for the tasks you work on throughout the day. Time limits ensure you don’t derail your daily schedule by spending more time than necessary on a single task. 

Once you hit that limit, move on and come back later if needed. Spending time overthinking can be a waste when you could be using that time to work on other things.

You’ll also need to account for the unexpected before it even happens. Make sure your schedule isn’t so tight that you don’t have a minute to spare without throwing it all out of whack. Build in some daily time that isn’t used for any specific task. If you end up not needing it, you just found yourself some free time to relax.

6. Say “No” Every Once in a While

Being a “yes person” is counterproductive. There simply isn’t enough time in the day to do everything you or someone else wants you to do. By saying “yes” to things you won’t be able to handle, unnecessary stress can start to crop up. You’ll also be pushing your other priorities away to make room for these new tasks.

Sometimes it feels bad to say “no” to someone, but it shouldn’t have to. Here are some tips that will help you confidently say no without feeling too guilty about it. It’s really in everyone’s best interest to say “no” when you need to. 

7. Eliminate distractions

Distractions come in all forms, and they’re rarely helpful. If you have a truly important task you’re working on, stick to it and ignore any distractions that come your way. If you’ve structured your day properly, you’ll have time set aside to engage with distractions like social media, texting a buddy, or reading the latest breaking Twitter headlines. 

While you’re eliminating distractions, also try not to multitask, it doesn’t actually make you more productive.

As you improve your ability to manage time, you’ll go from saying “I don’t have time for that” to “how can I make time for that?”. Time management is a learned skill, so don’t go overboard and try to make a bunch of changes all at once, just pick a few strategies to implement at first. Even just actively thinking about how you’re using your time will make a big difference in the long run.