It's late and you're working on a project that's due soon.
You feel overwhelmed by your tasks and aren't quite sure how you got here. You make a self-promise to resolve this issue but you don't know how, so the cycle continues.
Consider this your WebMD diagnosis: You're likely struggling with bad time management.
The good news is, time management is a learned skill. By following the tips below, written with cross-functional teams in mind, you can be on your way to getting back control of your time and working efficiently.
What are time management skills?
Time management is the process of planning out your time to complete your tasks and work efficiently. This skill allows you to prioritize your work, produce high-quality work, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
What can time management skills help a person do?
Time management is necessary for a successful personal and professional life.
When you manage your time well, you can be more productive and efficient. You have a solid understanding of what each task requires and you can plan accordingly.
It allows you to maximize your time and perform better.
Managing your time well also helps you produce high-quality work. When we struggle with this skill, we often rush to complete our tasks and can easily feel overwhelmed.
How to Improve Your Time Management Skills
- Learn your pattern of productivity.
- Prioritize your tasks.
- Track your activities.
- Make collaborating easier.
- Take regular breaks.
- Be flexible.
- Protect your time.
- Use project management software.
- Establish a routine and stick to it.
- Lean on your team.
- Stack your meetings.
- Limit distractions.
- Declutter your space.
- Take accountability.
- Review past performance.
1. Learn your pattern of productivity.
Everyone has a different productivity pattern.
We've long separated people into two categories: Morning people and night people. However, there are many more facets to productivity.
Perhaps you're more efficient during short sprints of focus, following the Pomodoro technique. Or you might prefer knocking out your top priorities in one stretch.
Find out what makes you most productive and use that to your advantage. If you notice you're most productive in the early morning, use that time to cross your focus-heavy, high-priority tasks off your to-do list.
Building your work schedule around your natural patterns will make it easier for you to focus and be more efficient in your workflow.
2. Prioritize your tasks.
Name a better feeling than crossing something off a to-do list.
There's something about completing a task that fills you with a sense of accomplishment and builds momentum.
My colleague and marketing manager for Channel Promotions at HubSpot, Jennifer Kim, calls written to-do lists her holy grail.
"At the beginning of each day, I like to take the time to manually write out what tasks I need to complete for the day," she says. "It's key for me to write out tasks manually versus typing them out because I'm able to get a better sense of what tasks will take the most time and what I need to prioritize as well as mentally get myself in the headspace to take each one on."
She then cross-references this list with her Google Calendar to plan out her day.
Now that you have every task written out, how do you decide what to tackle first? Meg Prater, senior manager of the Marketing, Sales, and Service blogs at HubSpot, has some advice.
"I prioritize based on impact to the business. Is there a planning meeting with our VP? The prep work for that should probably come first in my week when I'm freshest," she says. "When I prioritize based on impact, I end the day knowing that I handled the tasks that were most valuable to the business and our goals – it's my North Star."
Ranking your tasks ensures that you tackle the most important work first and can keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
3. Track your activities.
One issue many people face when managing their time is correctly assessing how long a task will take to complete.
It can be hard to stick to a schedule if you over- or underestimated certain tasks. The task that was supposed to take 30 minutes took two hours and that can throw off your entire day.
To avoid this slippery slope, take a week to track your activities.
Write down your most common tasks. For example, as a writer, my tasks include research, media creation, and sourcing, writing, editing, uploading. I also have administrative tasks to complete throughout the week.
"Timing myself helps me to concretely see where I'm spending my time. Where are the time sucks? Am I giving myself enough time to recharge between tasks?" says Prater. "This allows me to be more efficient with my time allocation, and set time boundaries for tasks I'm spending too much time on."
Once you know exactly what each task requires, you can make an accurate schedule and make adjustments to create a more efficient process.
4. Make collaborating easier.
If you work on a cross-functional team or project, it's vital that you set up tools that will make it easier for you to work together.
Senior Audience Growth Manager at HubSpot Pamela Bump, who often works with several teams, has a few recommendations.
"If you're in a role where you must do projects for different teams, like creating ad campaigns or email promotions, set up a form that cross-functional colleagues can fill out so your requests will all go to one place and can be reviewed at the same time."
Consolidating your requests to one place makes it easier to review and ensures nothing gets lost somewhere.
Bump adds that you should notify your cross-functional teams once you've launched the form and how you would like them to use it. You can inform them via email, Slack, or even an internal blog post that can be easily bookmarked or referenced.
5. Take regular breaks.
You've created your schedule for the day. You've been working since 8 a.m., it's now 1 p.m. and you can't seem to focus.
Next thing you know, it's one hour later and nothing has been accomplished.
Sometimes, we try to push through slumps when all we need is a break to decompress and get re-energized.
Whether it's taking a walk, watching an hour of TV, or catching up with a colleague, it's important to take some time away from your work.
6. Be flexible.
Not every day will work out exactly as planned, and that's OK.
Managing your time efficiently also means leaving some room for the unplanned. Perhaps, you planned on working on task A and that's not panning out.
If that's the case, don't be afraid to swap it out with another task. As long as you keep the momentum going, you can still be successful.
When Bump hits a roadblock in a task, she pivots.
"I look at my to-do list and see if there are any super-quick items I can tackle before getting started on the bigger item," she says. "For example, if I pause to return an email or quickly schedule a piece of content to go live, I feel energized by knocking something off my to-do list and will be more motivated to work on the bigger task."
Having structure is important, but leave room for tasks to move around.
7. Protect your time.
Protecting your time is one of the most important ways to manage your time well. It can look like saying no, delegating, and deprioritizing a task.
Saying "no" at work always feels like a risk, like it's sending a signal that you're not a team player. But that couldn't be further from the truth.
"Not every ask that comes your way is a fire that needs immediate extinguishing. Many things in our professional lives can wait," Prater says. "Prioritizing those asks as they come in, saying 'no' when an ask isn't in scope, and realizing when something is OK to wait until tomorrow to work on has been key for me."
Prater adds that learning to delegate has been huge for her growth.
"I used to feel like I needed to control as much as possible in my sphere – to prove myself, or some nonsense like that," she says. "Now, I trust the folks around me and view delegation as an opportunity for someone else to grow and develop. It frees up more of my time and has energized folks on my team with new skills."
Don't be afraid to redirect your colleagues when your plate is already full and lean on your colleagues for help.
8. Use project management software.
Are you bad at managing your time or do you just not have the right tools to support your workflow?
It can also be a valuable resource when you feel overwhelmed by your tasks.
"Asana has been a huge help in organizing out my tasks. My team has an ongoing sprint board where we write out our top 3-4 priorities for the week," Kim says. "In the case that if I ever find myself overwhelmed with all that's going on, I can fall back to that sprint board and center myself on where I need to spend my time."
The great thing about these tools is that they work well for individual and group projects.
9. Establish a routine and stick to it.
Imagine taking a different route to work every day. It would be hard to be consistent about when you'd arrive at work. I also imagine this constant change would create some unease and stress.
Humans are creatures of habits and we crave consistency. At work, having a routine helps you maintain productivity.
Whether you're going to the office every day or working from home, set a routine for your day. Be consistent about the time you wake up and your pre-work tasks.
This process will help you get in the headspace to work once you're finally at your desk. If you find that your current routine has some kinks in it, try something different.
10. Lean on your team.
While you decide how you manage your time, you can also get support from your team.
"I really lean on my manager to talk through situations when I do feel that there's a lot going on," says Kim. "It really helps to have her bigger picture perspective on what projects are most in line with my team's goals. We're also able to talk through whether there are areas that we can support each other's load."
Your manager can help you prioritize your tasks in alignment with your team's broader goals. They can also help you protect your time when it comes to cross-functional projects.
Bump encourages honesty with your colleagues and your manager about your bandwidth.
"When working with cross-functional teams, it can be easy to agree to too many tasks and not have time to complete them all," she says. "If you foresee a time crunch, reach out to your colleagues or manager and see what can be moved or adjusted if needed due to your changing priorities."
The work doesn't get done alone. So, make sure you're leaning on your team to help you manage your time and achieve your goals.
11. Stack your meetings.
Ever have meetings spread out throughout the day? Doing work in between those can seem impossible.
It can feel like just when you're getting in your groove, you have to stop to jump into another meeting.
"I find that when my meetings are scattered throughout the day without any significant chunks of free time I can devote to my own tasks, I'm unable to focus and do what I need to do," says Kim."
One way to prevent this is by stacking your meetings back-to-back, whenever possible. Have multiple one-on-ones this week? Try to knock them all out on the same day in a block of time.
Kim says this tactic helps her get into focus mode.
"I'm able to do my best work when I can get into the right headspace – whether that's meeting mode or working mode – so this has been really effective for me."
Bump suggests scheduling plan-oriented meetings on specific days of the week.
"This will leave you some wide-open time at the end of the week for larger projects like creating content or brainstorming new strategies," she says.
12. Limit distractions.
You're trying to get work done but your email inbox is pilling up and you keep getting pinged.
Distractions like these make it impossible to focus on your tasks and manage your time well. Thankfully, many of these communication platforms offer features to limit your distractions.
For instance, productivity software Boomerang offers a "pause inbox" feature that temporarily stops new emails from populating in your Gmail or Outlook account.
You can also use the "do not disturb" feature on your messaging software to prevent notifications.
You can also put a status like "Heads down - slow to respond" to let your colleagues know you may be unavailable for the next few hours.
13. Declutter your space.
Your space is a reflection of your mind.
If your space is messy, it can make it harder to focus and manage your time effectively. It can also contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed.
With this in mind, make sure your work environment reflects the state you want to be in. Remove non-essentials from your desk, add affirmations like "You can do it!" and "Breathe" to motivate you throughout the day.
You can even add essential oils to create a calming environment and play some soothing music in the background.
14. Take accountability.
You may be responsible for keeping track of your progress toward achieving your goal, and holding yourself accountable to the timelines and benchmarks you've established will help you stay motivated and positive at work.
Personal accountability leads to increased feelings of workplace satisfaction, creativity, and innovation, and there are a few ways to promote that while working on your long-term project, including:
- Sharing progress toward goals with others
- Setting up a personal reward system for each benchmark you achieve on the path to project completion.
- Tracking your progress so you can visualize what portion of your project you've successfully completed.
15. Review past performance.
Analyze and report on successes and challenges of projects for future goal-setting.
Once you've successfully completed a long-term project, don't move on to the next one without first reflecting on your strategies for project management. What went well, and perhaps more importantly, what didn't?
If your work is primarily comprised of long-term projects, you will need to continually refine and improve your approach to be as efficient as possible.
Document your processes and share them with your team so they can learn from your triumphs and struggles for their projects as well.
Managing your time is a learned skill that requires a lot of discipline and flexibility. It's also something that requires support from your team, as those interactions impact your ability to complete your tasks.
While you may be an expert time manager tomorrow, following these tips will definitely help you improve your current process.