Time Management Strategies for Maximum Productivity

Industry Resources
A time blocked calendar on a mobile phone for time management

It’s a safe assumption that many of us wish there were more hours in a day to get things done. Between work, family responsibilities, and personal fulfillment, it can sometimes feel impossible in our nonstop world to check everything off our to-do list and still have time to relax. However, when it comes to time management, many would also readily admit that their strategies aren’t very effective.

A recent study by the American Psychological Association suggests that approximately 20% of people are classified as “chronic procrastinators,” while another study indicates that 88% of working people procrastinate daily. From these samples, just 20% feel that their workload is under control. This number suggests that task paralysis is at least partially to blame for ineffective time management. It makes sense—if you’re stressed, overwhelmed, or just don’t know where to start, it can be tempting to waste time on low-impact tasks instead of tackling the large project you need to accomplish.

So, how do you take control of your time, curb procrastination, and increase your productivity? Here’s our roundup of the top time management strategies that can help you organize your day and finally clear your to-do list.

Time Blocking is the Answer to Time Management

Time blocking is just what it sounds like… a strategy in which you carve out measured chunks of your day and dedicate them to accomplishing just one specific task. Also known as monotasking or time chunking, time blocking comes in several variations that you can experiment with to find which one works best for you. We’ll cover the other styles further in this list, but here’s how you can utilize classic time blocking to organize your day.

Start with your calendar app of choice and think about how long it takes you to accomplish individual tasks. For maximum productivity and to ensure that tasks are completed, try to keep your blocks small and focused on one singular task. For example, you might want to block off five minutes first thing in the morning to review your emails. Next, if you’re working on a project with multiple steps, you could block out the next 15 minutes to gather your materials and create a ‘plan of attack’ for the entire project. Continue throughout your day, blocking out time for specific tasks or perhaps a longer block for ‘deep work.’ During deep work times, silence your notifications and set your online status to ‘do not disturb’ for maximum focus. It might surprise you how much you accomplish in a dedicated focus session.

While the general concept of time blocking is the same, the specifics of each adaptation are different enough that some methods may be more appealing to your work style. The following list includes the most popular variations of time blocking that you can utilize to improve your productivity.

Time Boxing

While time blocking and timeboxing sound interchangeable at first, timeboxing is a more goal-oriented version that utilizes an artificial ‘deadline’ to boost productivity. Instead of setting aside a block of time to do open-ended work on a particular task until the time is up, with timeboxing, you choose a goal and focus on completing that goal within the time allotted.

For example, with time blocking, you might set aside an hour after lunch to work on a project proposal. In the timeboxing method, that hour becomes the deadline by which you aim to finish the first draft of the project proposal. The difference is subtle, but having a concrete goal to complete within a set time can help you stay focused, instead of getting distracted or only accomplishing the bare minimum during a time block. You can also use this strategy to gamify your work, giving you a boost of dopamine when you accomplish your goal before the timer goes off. Just be sure to check your work after the timebox is complete; if you have a tendency to rush to meet deadlines, you might produce a sloppier first draft during a timebox session.

Task Batching

Do you find yourself trying to multitask at work, only to wind up with several half-finished tasks? If you have lots to do during the day and many of your tasks are similar, you may want to give task batching a try.

In short, task batching involves grouping similar tasks and assigning them a dedicated time block in which to complete them one at a time. Staying focused on similar tasks for a set period of time can cut down on the productivity loss involved with multitasking known as context switching, improving overall productivity and reducing mental fatigue.

Let’s say you have an event to plan for your organization with lots of small components, on top of your other work tasks. Block out a period of two hours to dedicate to the individual tasks involved with planning the event, from booking the venue and catering to deciding on decorations and travel accommodations. By the end of your two hours, you might be surprised how many event-related tasks you checked off your to-do list, freeing up your brain to spend the rest of your day focusing on your other responsibilities.

Time/Day Theming

A cousin to task batching, time or day theming involves dedicating longer periods of time, even entire days, to a particular task or group of tasks. Take the event planning example—If your event is a large professional gathering, such as a conference, there is likely more work to do over a longer timeframe leading up to the event. Set aside a particular day each week to dedicate to conference planning tasks, or perhaps you can chunk off a period of three to four hours twice a week. However you want to break it up, the goal is to only work on tasks related to the overarching project during the day you’ve set aside for it. This method can also work well for professions that juggle multiple clients; you can do Client A’s work on Monday, Client B’s on Tuesday, and so on.

Pomodoro Technique

How long do you think you can realistically focus on a singular task? Half an hour? An hour? The reality may be even less than that. In most cases, the normal adult attention span is somewhere between 15-20 minutes, which in the context of an 8-hour workday, seems to be an incredibly short amount of time when you have a full plate. If you have to keep redirecting your focus in a world of distractions (which takes on average approximately 23 minutes to re-focus your attention after an interruption), you may wonder if any strategies can increase your attention to stay productive all day long.

The answer: The Pomodoro Technique.

Developed in the late 1980s by a university student named Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique is a simple way to chunk your time and take advantage of the natural human attention span. The idea behind it is to set a timer to focus on a particular task for a short amount of time, usually between 10-25 minutes. When the timer goes off, log what you have accomplished and then take a five-minute break. Each cycle of work followed by a short break is called a Pomodoro. After four Pomodoros, you then take a longer, more rejuvenating break, usually between 15-30 minutes.

You can combine the Pomodoro Technique with other time blocking methods, such as task batching, to get even more out of your focus periods.

Which Strategy Will You Choose?

Whichever time management strategy you choose, adopting one or more of these methods can help you feel less overwhelmed by your workload. Once you’ve found your ideal strategy, you can continue to tweak it until it’s just right for you. Before you know it, you’ll be working through your to-do list effectively and with less stress, leaving you more time to relax by the time your weekend rolls around.