How to Improve Your Time Management Skills

Fourth, the evidence was crystal clear that people are not at all accurate in self-evaluating their time management proficiency

Third, the results ran counter to popular admonitions of either the virtues or the detriments of multitasking. A survey after the simulation asked how respondents felt about multitasking. The evidence revealed that their preferences for multitasking (what academics call “polychronicity”) were actually unrelated to time management skills. How well or poorly people managed their time had nothing to do with their preferences to multitask. Thus, the extensive attention so often given to multitasking by those offering time management tricks is unlikely to yield any real success.

Although this sounds obvious, the key point here is to avoid self-improvement that is an “inch deep, but a mile wide,” where efforts are spread too thin across too many needs

For example, less than 1% of people’s self-ratings overlapped with their objective skill scores. Moreover, self-ratings only accounted for about 2% of differences in actual time management skills. These results echo previous work on people’s lack of accurate self-awareness regarding their competencies and how this impedes change and leadership development.

So how might people best prepare themselves to become better time managers? Doing so first requires figuring out where to focus. Taking a deeper dive into your current skill levels is the only genuine way to answer this question. There are three steps you can take to prime your improvement efforts.

Build accurate self-awareness of your time management skills. This can be accomplished by using objective assessments like a microsimulation, seeking feedback from others like one’s peers or boss, or establishing a baseline of behaviors against which gauge improvements.

Recognize that preferences matter, but not how you think. Self-awareness of one’s preferences or personality related to time management, such as multitasking or being proactive, can deepen an understanding of where you might struggle as your change efforts go against existing habits. But remember that skills, not personality, are the most malleable personal attributes and provide the greatest ROI on self-improvement efforts.

Identify and prioritize the skill you need to improve. It is best to prioritize your skill development, focusing on the most pressing skill need first and then moving on to the next.

There are a number of evidence-based tactics for enhancing time management skills. Below are some examples. Again, it is critical to understand that tactics are for developing your underlying skills, which will ultimately improve your time management. Simply implementing these tactics is not the end-goal.

Developing awareness skills. Effectiveness is different than efficiency, with effectiveness being about doing things well and efficiency being about doing things fast. Both are critical. Pursuing efficiency for its own sake is counter-productive.

  • Find your peak performance time. Break your typical day into three to four time slots and, over the course of a week, rank-order these slots from your most to least productive (most productive is peak be naughty website performance).
  • Treat your time like it’s money. Create a time budget that details how you spend your hours during a typical week. Categorize time into fixed time (“must do’s”) and discretionary time (“want to do’s”).
  • Try timing-up. Record how long you’ve spent on tasks with very clear deadlines, rather than how much time you have left.
  • Evaluate how realistically you assess time. After finishing a project, evaluate how long you thought it would take and how long it actually took.
  • Take a “future time perspective.” Think about how the tasks you are doing right now will help or hurt you in the future (e.g., how do today’s project tasks impact next week’s tasks?).