How to Streamline Your Time Management System


We all want to get more done, better, and quicker. But procrastination, inconsistency, and that daunting feeling of having “a lot to do” get in the way. So what do you do to get past that?

You manage and use your time more effectively with five steps.

The following steps start off traditional, even bordering on obvious. But then they start swerving into more unconventional territory. 

Here’s how to streamline your time management system:

1. Prioritize Your Tasks

This first step will seem especially forehead-slapping obvious to you, but bear with this. Some people still treat all of their tasks as equal priority — but all tasks are not created equal.

In reality, you only really need to do a small handful of tasks to accomplish your big goal. Maybe even only one or two. The rest might be useful at some point, but they’re not essential.

For effective time management, start by prioritizing your to-do items.

By knowing what specifically you should complete in order to most quickly get your desired results, you’ll be managing and using your time more effectively.

You can start off by dividing your tasks into, say, three levels:

  1. Essential/big picture
  2. Supporting to the big picture
  3. Useful but not critical

This way, your to-dos will seem more manageable. Instead of having way too many tasks all equally listed, you’ll see that you only need to focus on those small handful of essential tasks.

Then, when you come to a point that you can’t finish without doing a supporting task, you dip into that second level. But only with the goal of competing that task to further along that essential, big picture one.

And then when you have some spare time, or you want to productively procrastinate, you can knock out some of those useful but not critical tasks (such as organizing files, plowing through your email inbox, maintenance tasks, and whatnot).

2. Break Your To-Do Items Into Small Chunks

A huge killer of effective time management is the procrastination devil. And we usually procrastinate when the tasks at hand seem too daunting. Thus, a simple way to get around that is to make your tasks is to avoid making them daunting at all.

You do that by breaking your to-do items into as digestible chunks as possible — to where it seems super-easy to get done and out of the way.

It seems silly but it works. It’s all a psychological perception thing — when you see the same tasks in small doses, they look more manageable. It’s like thinking of running a mile as four 400-meter laps rather than one single 1600-meter run.

Let’s get to it then. Now that you’ve prioritized your to-dos, it’s time to segment them even further to make it even more manageable. Break your to-dos into small chunks — such as “stuff for this morning” or “afternoon task” or whatever.

It doesn’t (and shouldn’t) be fancy. Just literally add some spaces between your to-do list lines, maybe add a line above the one or two tasks saying “Friday morning website stuff” and that’s it.

The smaller the chunks, the better.

3. Give Yourself a Time Limit per Task

If you have all day to do something, that’s how long it’ll take.

Not very effective time management, is it?

In order to streamline so you have more time in the day to do other stuff, live your life, and relax, you need to give yourself a time limit per task.

Again, no need to be fancy. You don’t need a timer or some time-tracking app or whatever – just simple stuff like looking at the clock and telling yourself, “I need to get this done by the end of the hour.”

You remember school assignment deadlines? We tended to procrastinate until the last day or something, but somehow we’d manage to get the paper in on time. Why is that? Because if we have a cutting-it-close deadline, we somehow manage to find a way to get it done.

Again, a psychological thing. When we know we need to get it done by “deadline o’clock”, we hone in on the task subconsciously and just get it done.

Imagine if the teacher told us that the paper was due that day it was assigned. We’d get it done that day rather than waiting, and then we’d go on with our lives.

So do that here with your tasks: just tell yourself you need to get it done by the nearest hour or whatever, and just do it. Then you’ll get it out of the way and get on with your life.

4. Limit How Many Tasks You Complete

This is where the article starts to move into the fun stuff, the unconventional territory.

“Wait, you want me to limit how many tasks I complete? Shouldn’t I get more done?”

The general consensus would say so. But the best time management system is to actually limit how many tasks you complete per day.

Say, keep it to no more than two or three essential ones.

“But why would I intentionally limit my output? I can easily do much more than that!”

Here’s the thing: you’re not consistent. You’re not a machine, a robot that pumps out an equal amount of work with an equal level of quality. Some days you’re on fire, other days you suck. Happens to the best of us – we’re only human.

To really streamline things, you need to be consistent. Like brushing your teeth, you turn your workflow into a easily-repeatable habit.

It’s easy to knock out two or three essential tasks a day. Five, Six, Ten…not so much.

So when you get those small handful of essential tasks done, stop. Even if you feel you can keep going, save that creative energy for tomorrow. You’ll get more consistent each day with your output. And consistency is key to a tight system.

(By the way, don’t get hung up on the numbers: use whatever number of tasks per day that are easily doable for you, whether it’s just one, or more than three.)

5. Leave Plenty of Time for the “Sexy” Task

This is where you really get to have fun.

When something is play and a game, you naturally do it much more passionately, deliberately, and effectively. Sort of how playing a sport for hours makes you work out more than if you forced yourself to trudge to the gym for 30 minutes.

Leave plenty of time for that “sexy” task – the one you’re really looking forward to doing.

Knock out the small handful of essential tasks, then leave your most favorite task as the last one for your day. With your schedule cleared and the other important stuff done, you can really enjoy and take your time with this fun task of yours – whether it’s writing, making music for something, designing the graphics, or whatever.

You won’t have other tasks breathing down your neck, so you can be really deliberate with this fun task.

You’ve finished everything else you needed to do, and the other tasks you’ll do tomorrow (as we talked about in the previous step), so you can take your time with the fun task.

Why is this important? A huge part of keeping a strong workflow habit is, like with anything, you being happy. You know, actually wanting to do it…rather than dreading it. So when you’re able to effectively get important stuff done and have plenty of time to really enjoy that fun task you were looking forward to, you’ll want to keep working this way.

 


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Oleg Mokhov is an electronic music artist and design enthusiast. He makes electronic music that's a cross between Four Tet and Boards of Canada.

Discussion

  1. Lizzie Smithson on the 16th November

    I LOVE number 5 and couldn’t agree with the list more. The “sexy” task definitely needs more time and dedication to keep you refreshed while you’re still getting work done. Great post.

  2. Matt Clark on the 16th November

    Great tips, thanks for sharing. One of the other things I do as well is keep my to do list to only 6 things. The 6 Most Important Things… This way you always get things done. No more than 6 and you get the feeling that you are always accomplishing the things you set out for yourself. This is also a great way to keep yourself motivated.

  3. Bryce Christiansen on the 16th November

    Awesome list.

    Another thing I do is to sprinkle the enjoyable tasks throughout the day. I tend to have more motivation when I know that if I finish an hour on the more tedious work, I can then spend more time on the tasks I enjoy more.

    Once the batteries are recharged I can finish more mundane work, etc.

  4. Danijel Šivinjski on the 16th November

    Nice tips. Time suppose to be our friend, good friend.

  5. Wayne on the 16th November

    This is great list. Good tips and a good reminder to see it all written out. I try to do a Photoshop tutorial a day just to keep pushing and learn something new that can help to further my design skills. Thanks for the post!

  6. Stijn Janssen on the 16th November

    Great list!

    I already do some of the tips for better time management but your insights were more then welcome! I really enjoyed reading it.

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. Sven Graham on the 16th November

    In college I used to actually an ABC-Analysis on my ToDos after I made a long list capturing all the tasks for a week (I made like 30 item lists each day).

    Turned out, easier is usually also better 😉

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