Would you like to improve your time management? What are the best Time Management Strategies for a productive day? And why do you actually need them? It is important to have a good answer to this question because many people try for the wrong reasons for better time management and shoot themselves in the knee with it. Shall we begin? ๐Ÿ™‚

Best Time Management Strategies for a High Perfoming Mindset - giphy

TL;DR How to change the habit that makes you feel bad is not witchcraft. It’s all about routine and consistency.

Why time management?

  • Good time management will make you more efficient in all areas of life.
  • You will be able to complete your tasks and projects faster. You will reach your goal earlier.
  • You will have less stress. The burnout will have to find another victim.
  • Besides higher productivity, you will also be able to register an increase in satisfaction and quality of life.

Acquiring good time management is one of the most lucrative investments ever!

That sounds good at first. But it only makes sense if you aim for the right goal. Who runs in the wrong direction, will run with better time management only still faster in the wrong direction. Those who use time management for the wrong goals will suffer even more stress and become even more dissatisfied.

Another pitfall is that most known time management methods date back to the last century and are based on an image of man that is no longer up to date. More about this later.

Definition of time management

Before we get to the concrete methods, we should talk about what is actually managed in time management. The term “time management” is misleading.

With the exception of a few places in the universe where human life would not be possible, time always and everywhere passes equally fast. Time management, therefore, does not manage time, but usable energy.

Time management only has something to do with time to the extent that the amount of usable energy in humans depends on time. It depends on the time of day and on how much energy we have already used in the last minutes and hours.

The purpose of time management is not to distribute all the tasks assigned to us – similar to the video game Tetris – over the entire working day!

The purpose of time management is rather to use the available energy as effectively as possible!

Good time management should not enable us to do (even) more work on an eight-hour working day, but to do the work of eight hours in just five hours in order to spend the rest of the day on meaningful activities!

The 6 opponents of time management

Before we get to the concrete methods, we should talk about what is actually managed in time management. The term “time management” is misleading.

With the exception of a few places in the universe where human life would not be possible, time always and everywhere passes equally fast. Time management, therefore, does not manage time, but usable energy.

Time management only has something to do with time to the extent that the amount of usable energy in humans depends on time. It depends on the time of day and on how much energy we have already used in the last minutes and hours.

The purpose of time management is not to distribute all the tasks assigned to us – similar to the video game Tetris – over the entire working day!

The purpose of time management is rather to use the available energy as effectively as possible!

Good time management should not enable us to do (even) more work on an eight-hour working day, but to do the work of eight hours in just five hours in order to spend the rest of the day on meaningful activities!

Opponent #1 | The Focus Illusion

If a task is currently in our focus, then we think it is more important than it actually is. And we consider a task that is not in our focus to be less important than it actually is. The result is that we spend too much time on our tasks. We tend towards perfectionism, which is often unnecessary.

Many people make the mistake of simply working on it in order to decide spontaneously which tasks they want to do next.

Good time management ensures that each task only receives as much energy as it deserves!

Opponent #2 | Urgent things suppresses important things

This opponent results directly from the focus illusion. Urgent but unimportant tasks get into our focus more easily than important but non-urgent tasks.

The following story of the Sรคger shows where this leads:

A walker passes a man who is cutting up a tree. The saw is sawing and sawing and sawing. The walker immediately sees that the saw is blunt. He speaks to the saw:

“Your saw is totally swampy!

Then the saw:

“Yes, I know, but I have to finish and so I don’t have time to sharpen the saw!

Pretty stupid, isn’t it?

I am convinced that we are all more often these sawyers than we are aware of.

Good time management ensures that we complete the important but non-urgent tasks on time!

Opponent #3 | Uncertainty

Before each action, the brain performs a simulation of the corresponding behavior to determine how we would feel if we actually performed the action. If the feelings are positive, motivation for the action is generated, and if the feelings are negative, the action is blocked.

If an action is unspecific or abstract, it cannot be simulated, which means that the motivation is exhausted.

My brain can motivate me to buy flowers for my girlfriend, but it will not motivate me to buy her a gift. “Buying a gift” is not concrete enough. Strictly speaking, you can’t buy a gift anywhere, you can only buy flowers, books, chocolates, etc.

If a task is not specifically on my to-do list, it will be delayed until I have formulated it more specifically.

Good time management ensures clarity about the tasks to be completed in advance!

Opponent #4 | Wrong understanding of how humans work.

We humans unconsciously tend to infer from the functioning of the technical devices with which we regularly work the functioning of humans. In simple terms, people used to be confused with a steam engine, whereas today they are confused with a computer.

In the past it was assumed that people could work almost continuously in factories and mines, whereas today it is still often assumed that people are able to store information permanently and carry out algorithms exactly according to specifications.

In fact, there is much to suggest that people are not even able to work efficiently and concentrated for more than five hours a day.

Good time management takes people as they really are instead of as they would like them to be!

Opponent #5 | A misunderstanding of complexity

The fact that we don’t understand anything about complexity can be seen from the fact that we are constantly surprised that major projects such as Stuttgart 21, BER and the Elbphilharmonie devour more time and money than was estimated by those responsible.

This fact should not surprise us. What should surprise us is that we wonder about it again and again. Not those projects that become “surprisingly” more expensive and consume more time are anomalies, but the projects that run exactly according to plan. We are all constantly becoming victims of the so-called planning error. Why should things be any different for public projects?

Whatever we do, unforeseen things can (and will) always happen. Unforeseen things have the property that they cannot be foreseen.

(To those who think that you should plan for the unforeseen: “Would you pay 20% extra from the outset for building a house without knowing exactly what the money is for? Would you want politicians to handle “your” taxpayers’ money that way? It seems to me that it makes sense for unforeseen things to be settled afterward. But you should expect the unforeseen.)

Good time management ensures that the unforeseen cannot break our necks!

Opponent #6 | We're confusing work with bustle

Many people know this: We would rather do something than give the impression that we have nothing to do. We can only speculate about the reasons. I like the idea that we learned this behavior at school. In school, we were punished less if we did the homework wrong than if we didn’t do it at all.

Good time management prevents wasting time through meaningless activity!

These six opponents can be defeated by time management. However, there is one opponent that time management will grit its teeth at: Some people draw their self-esteem from the fact that they are always busy. These people do not work to achieve a certain goal but to work. Time management probably won’t be able to do anything about this, because these people never want to be able to cope with their work. Their subconscious will find ways to sabotage time management.

The methods of time management

In the following, I would like to introduce the most popular principles and methods of time management. This can be overwhelming at first. We will then look at how to implement them stress-free.

#1 | The Pareto Principle

The Pareto principle is a solution to the problem that we tend towards perfectionism. It is not a method in the strict sense, but a principle that should always be kept in mind when working.

The Pareto principle illustrates the non-linearity of the benefits of work (see diagram). It should encourage us to ask ourselves at what point the cost-benefit optimum has been reached.

The Pareto Principle

The Pareto principle | Perfectionism is often not worthwhile, because in many tasks the use of time is not linear. With only 20% of the effort, 80% of the results can be achieved. (Warning: Sometimes perfectionism is important!)

Let’s assume that it takes me ten hours to complete a task perfectly, for example, to write an error-free blog article. According to the Pareto principle, my article was relatively good after about two hours, so it might have been better if I had written five relatively good articles in the ten hours instead of one perfect article. (In fact, I think perfection in blog articles is not a bad idea. So the example is not perfect.)

There is certainly more to the Pareto principle than a grain of truth, but it is difficult to really apply the principle in everyday life since one often does not know what the 20 decisive percentages are.

Also, the Pareto principle is rather an abstract time management method, which helps you to question yourself from time to time.

#2 | The ABC Analysis

The ABC analysis ensures that important tasks are not neglected in favor of unimportant tasks.

ABC analysis distinguishes between three types of tasks:

  • Very important tasks (A-tasks).
  • Important tasks (B tasks).
  • Less important tasks (C-tasks).

The goal should be to be busy with A-tasks most and best of the working day, while consciously taking little time for C-tasks and completing them at a less productive time. If you don’t manage to accomplish all the tasks, then at least the most important tasks are done.

Priorities of this kind make sense to me when it comes to time planning, namely the question “what is important today? Otherwise, such prioritization does not bring much benefit.

The ABC method is a desperate attempt to sort the to-do list somehow. It works in a closed world, where no new tasks can be added. Like packing a suitcase: What has to be packed at all, what comes down in the suitcase, etc.?

#3 | The Eisenhower Principle

We humans tend to give priority to urgent but not important tasks over important but not urgent tasks. The Eisenhower principle helps us to avoid this common mistake. This ensures that we do not make the same mistake as the sawyer in the story above.

According to the Eisenhower principle (named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the USA), all tasks are assigned to one of four quadrants of the so-called Eisenhower matrix (see picture):

The Eisenhower principle

The Eisenhower Matrix | All tasks can be assigned to one of four categories: (1) important and urgent (2) important but not urgent (3) not important but urgent (4) not important and not urgent. Good time management is characterized by the fact that one is occupied as often as possible with tasks of the second quadrant and as little as possible with tasks of the third quadrant.

  • Important and urgent
  • Important, but not urgent
  • Not important, but urgent
  • Not important and also not urgent

The aim is to spend as much time as possible on tasks of the second quadrant (important, but not urgent) and as little time as possible on tasks of the third quadrant (not important, but urgent). (It goes without saying that the fourth quadrant should be taboo – at least during working hours.)

In the second quadrant, we work on our own well-being, while in the third quadrant we deal with the problems of other people.

Attention: This is not about selfish behavior. Rather, it is about being able to serve other people better when we are in control of our own lives. In the airplane, we put on the oxygen mask ourselves first before we help other people to put on their masks!

The Eisenhower matrix is a good way to identify which tasks you should definitely plan for. It also helps you to pause every now and then and to question your way of working.

It is rather an abstract time management method that you can keep in mind in order to question yourself and your work again and again.

#4 | The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique attempts a similar alternation between work and relaxation as the 60-60-30 rhythm. With Pomodoro, however, the time units are shorter. This is how it works:

  1. Write down all the tasks you want to do in the next block.
  2. Set a timer to exactly 25 minutes.
  3. Work focused on the task during these 25 minutes.
  4. When the timer rings, make a cross next to the task.
  5. Then take exactly five minutes off.
  6. Take a 20-30 minute break after four pomodori.

Of course, a combination of both rhythms is also possible, e.g. a 60-60-30 block in the morning, then Pomodoro in the afternoon.

The Pomodoro technique is particularly suitable if you have small tasks or if you can’t withdraw completely for a 60-60-30 block.

Pomodoro technology also helps you set up blocks of highly focused work alternating with smart pauses. This keeps your energy level high throughout the day.

#5 | 10-10-10

The 10-10-10 method is a method of making decisions. Since decisions are the basis of good time management, they still fit in very well here.

This method goes back to Suzy Welch (the wife of the infamous manager Jack Welch) and says:

If you want to make a decision, ask yourself three questions:

  • What are the consequences of my decision in 10 minutes?
  • In 10 months?
  • In 10 years?

These three periods of time help you to get distance from the decision, i.e. to look at the decision also on a kind of meta-level.

That’s exactly what you can do with your tasks – and 10-10-10 becomes a concrete time management method.

If you plan your day, then take on tasks that have a big and positive effect in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years.

OK, 10 years may be exaggerated, but you see the sense of the method.

Conversely, you can, of course, decide against a task or activity, because it may bring you something in 10 minutes, but after that, the effect has fizzled out.

For example, aimlessly surfing the Internet. That brings you a little fun now, but nothing more. So it would be better to read a few articles on this site because they can still have an effect in 10 months or 10 years. ๐Ÿ™‚

By the way, Suzy Welch has written a book about her 10-10-10 method. You can find it here. (*)

The 10-10-10 method is not an actual time management method but is particularly suitable for making decisions more easily. It offers you criteria for assessing and weighing up the consequences of a decision. But you can also use them to assess tasks.

It is more suitable for rational people who have a good imagination.

#6 | 25'000 Dollar Method

This method goes back to a story that is said to have happened between the entrepreneur Charles Schwab and the consultant Ivy Lee.

It belongs to the classic and simple time management methods. Lee offered Schwab to show him how to better manage his time. For this, he wanted exactly the fee that Schwab seemed appropriate.

To make a long story short: One tip from Lee was worth 25,000 dollars to Schwab – a fortune at the time the story was supposed to have happened (at the beginning of the 20th century).

Actually, this story is more exciting than the time management method itself. Because the method only says this:

Many of us already do this unconsciously. This time management method is all about consistency and above all consciously looking again and again at what is going on and what really has priority.

  1. Write down all your tasks for the coming day.
  2. Sort them by priority.
  3. Start immediately the next day with the most important task.
  4. Once it’s done, check your priorities. Maybe new tasks have been added or the order has changed.
  5. Then continue with the new most important task.
  6. Repeat the process until the list is finished or the end of the day.

You may not be able to complete the whole list, but you have been working on the most important task all day. That’s all.

#7 | The Jerry Seinfeld Method

Now I have another method for you that is not strictly speaking a time management method. But it doesn’t matter, it is still very helpful. ๐Ÿ™‚

Jerry Seinfeld is a famous comedian in the USA. He says he writes a joke every day.

With a very simple and visual method, he makes sure that he actually does.

He has a normal annual calendar hanging on his wall. If he writes a joke, he crosses off the day. Over time, a chain of crosses emerges.

The trick: If he doesn’t feel like writing a joke, he looks at the chain and wonders whether he really wants to break his chain of crosses.

The longer the chain is, the sooner he jumps over his shadow and writes a joke, even if he doesn’t like it at all.

By the way, many apps for your smartphone take up this idea (e.g. one for the iPhone or some for Android), but the effect is stronger if you always see your chain in front of you on the wall.

This method works for everything we want or should do regularly. Be it sports, drinking enough, writing a book or emptying your inbox every day. It provides an additional boost of motivation when we actually don’t feel like it.

The Jerry Seinfeld Method may not be a time management method in the true sense of the word, but it is still a helpful and very visual method.

#8 | The Not-to-do list

Every time management training is also about the to-do list. To decide for something means to decide against many other things. The not-to-do list starts on the other side, namely with the things and tasks you don’t want to do (anymore).

Successful and highly productive people often decide not only for the things they want but just as consciously against many things they no longer want. They analyze what they can do, where their strengths lie and what they prefer to leave behind.

In practice, they always have a clear idea of where they want to go and what goals they want to achieve. Anything that could prevent them from doing so will then be deliberately deleted and avoided. This applies not only to tasks but often also to habits that distract us from the goals.

Exactly these belong on the not-to-do list. Write down what you no longer want to do.

Of course, these are often bad habits, but a not-to-do list can also help you to recognize what you want to delegate or outsource.

The not-to-do list helps you to find clarity in your work and to consciously do some things no longer. It works on a general level and especially against bad habits.

# 9 | 60-60-30

60-60-30 is a working rhythm that corresponds well to our natural biorhythm. It is the alternation of tension and relaxation, of highly focused work and relaxation.

  • The first 60 stands for 55 minutes of highly-focused work and 5 minutes of rest. Here you can do a High-Value Activity. Think about what you want to do in the 55 minutes, turn off all interruptions and distractions and then get going. After exactly 55 minutes, take a real break of 5 minutes (get up, stretch or stretch, drink a glass of water, etc.).
  • The second 60 stands again for highly focused work. Also here: Think before what you want to do and switch off all interruptions.
  • The 30 then stands for a pause. The same applies here as before: Think about what you could do during the break and what will bring you maximum recovery. Examples: a nap, a short sport or movement session, playing the piano, etc.

If you manage to accommodate one or two of these 60-60-30 blocks in your day, you will advance with mile boots. The real challenge is to allow a 30-minute break after “just” two hours. But the break is essential with this method!

A good time management method doesn’t just take care of your to-do list. 60-60-30 is a good example and can help you to increase your productivity massively.

60-60-30 is suitable for people who have a lot of room for maneuver and can divide their time more or less freely. If you have more small tasks or are frequently interrupted, the Pomodoro technique is more suitable for you.

#10 | The energy curve

You must know the sleep rhythms. Every night we go through several 90-minute cycles from light to deep sleep, then into the REM phase and back.

Also during the day, we are subjected to the same rhythm. We are repeatedly subjected to energy highs and lows as well as intermediate highs and lows.

You already notice this rhythm intuitively. For example, you take care of difficult tasks in the morning (if you are a morning person), because then you have more power. Or maybe later in the afternoon, if you are a night person. You can tie in with that.

Ask yourself during 2-3 days on the hour how much power you currently have on a scale of 1 to 10 and record the value.

You can then draw your energy curve from it. This is, of course, a completely subjective measurement, but it is sufficient for our purposes.

If you know how your energy distribution is throughout the day, you can plan your tasks accordingly:

  • Use your highs: Use your energy highs for important tasks that are rather difficult for you.
  • Protect your lows: If you have no more power, this is a clear sign from your body that you absolutely need a break now. Don’t try to artificially drive out the low with coffee or other stimulants, but give your body what it needs now: a break.

By respecting our natural rhythm in the division of our work (as far as possible), we can reach entirely new levels of productivity. I believe there is a huge potential hidden here that we rarely really exploit.

If you pay attention to your energy curve, use your highs and protect your lows, you can achieve much more and still have enough energy in the evening for family, friends, and hobbies.

#11 | Personal Kanban

Kanban is originally a method in the production process. In the meantime, it has been applied to many other areas where an agile approach (i.e. high flexibility and adaptability) makes sense.

Thus, the basic idea is also suitable as a simple time management method. The simplest form works with a whiteboard that is divided into three columns.

  • The first column is titled “To do”,
  • the second with “Doing” (or “in progress”) and
  • the third with “Done“.

Now just write all your tasks on Post-its and add them to the appropriate column. So you always have the perfect overview of your work.

Of course, you can also implement Personal Kanban digitally. Especially suitable for this are Meistertask, the well-known Trello or Asana.

Personal Kanban helps you to keep the overview in the truest sense of the word. This way you can see all tasks sorted by status at a glance.

#12 | The One Minute To-do List

Michael Linenberger took up the idea of Personal Kanban and developed it into a real-time management method. He explains it summarized in his free e-book or a very readable “real” book. (*)

Michael Linenberger orients himself on Personal Kanban, but names the columns differently:

  • 1st column: Critical Now (or “Today”): Here are the tasks you have to do at all costs today – even if you have to stay in the office until 10 pm.
  • 2nd column: Opportunity Now (or “Soon”): Here are the tasks you need or want to do in the next 7-10 days. This column may contain a maximum of 20 tasks.
  • 3rd column: Over the Horizon (or “Later”): All other tasks end up here.

This is the basic framework of the method. Michael Linenberger has added some subtleties (e.g. how often you look through the columns or which other columns might be useful), but already with this basic framework you have a perfect overview of your tasks and at the same time a simple form of schedule.

The One Minute To-do List is rightly named. It is explained very quickly and can be implemented without effort. It helps you to keep the overview and to plan your time roughly. It gives you the flexibility you need.

This time management method is particularly suitable for visual people who work in a dynamic, agile environment.

#13 | Getting Things Done (GTD)

No listing of known time management methods without Getting Things Done (GTD). David Allen’s GTD (*) is one of the most sophisticated methods available.

At the same time, it is not very easy to communicate, because you have to know the whole system in order to understand the individual steps.

GTD is a method in five steps, which are all strictly divided from each other:

  1. Capture: It’s about getting everything unfinished out of your head and capturing it.
  2. Work through: In a separate step, you then work through the collected unfinished business according to a defined process. To work through does not necessarily mean to complete, but rather to sort into the right place.
  3. Organize: All unfinished business is then nicely organized into task lists with various categories. GTD talks about contexts, i.e. in which context I have to be in order to complete a task. The task lists also do not contain tasks in the conventional sense, but always the next necessary action step (i.e. not “fill in tax return”, but “collect receipts”, “download tax form” etc.).
  4. Review and maintenance: If you set up a system as comprehensive as GTD, you need to review it regularly so that the system runs smoothly. This is ensured by the weekly review.
  5. Do it: Not quite insignificant.ย  GTD doesn’t plan but decides spontaneously what you should take care of now. For this, there are four criteria with which you can find the optimal task for now in the exclusion procedure. The criteria are (in this order!): context, available time, available energy, importance.

The attempt to rewrite GTD on a few lines certainly doesn’t do justice to the method and is even a little daring. GTD is an elaborate, very structured time management method, but it can guarantee that you won’t forget anything if you strictly adhere to the five steps and the processes.

If you are a very logical thinking and structured person (a “left brainer”), it may be worthwhile for you to take a closer look at GTD.

#14 | Eat the frog

This time management method is based on a quotation attributed to Mark Twain:

Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day. - Mark TwainClick To Tweet

In other words:

Take care of the worst as early as possible, then you’ve got it behind you and things can only get better.

The method was then taken up and published by the great Brian Tracy in his book. (*)

In fact, the method is nothing more than what my mother used to tell me: “Do your homework first, then you can play”. Or: “First the work, then the pleasure”.

“Eat the frog” is a more formalized version of this wisdom of our parents. It’s best to choose the frog you want to eat first the next day the evening before, so what unpleasant task you want to tackle. The next morning, this decision will no longer be questioned, but it will be a question of really doing it.

Don’t get distracted, concentrate on the frog and kill it. Then you can be proud of yourself and take this feeling with you into the rest of the day.

“Eat the frog” is a way to tackle unpleasant or postponed tasks. In the morning we usually still have enough strength and discipline to really tackle them. In the afternoon or evening, you won’t be able to do that unless the deadline is very, very close.

So this time management method is suitable if you don’t get into action or have to tackle unloved tasks at last.

#15 | Parkinson's Law

You know this “law of nature” from your own observation: We always need exactly the time we have at our disposal. Or: We always meet deadlines precisely, so we make full use of them.

It’s very nice to observe that during meetings: Why are meetings always set at 60 minutes? Because that’s what the calendar says? In any case, these 60 minutes are also needed, even if all the desired results are already on the table after 22 minutes.

You can take advantage of this regularity. Set yourself sporty (but not unrealistic) time limits.

Only take 40 minutes for a task if you normally need 60 minutes, or set a meeting to 25 minutes. Break off consistently when time is up, so you get into the habit of working more efficiently and effectively (without rushing!).

Parkinson’s Law probably originated from observations. It should help us to work more efficiently without rushing. Nowadays, however, we are often far too optimistic about the time needed because we have so much to do that we can no longer take our time. But especially for meetings, it can be useful to keep the law in mind.

Parkinson’s Law is, therefore, more of an abstract time management method that helps to save time.

Conclusion

This was a brief overview of many well-known time management methods. In all these ideas you will surely find some inspirations for your personal time management.

Which is the right time management method for you? Unfortunately, I can’t answer this question…

Just as there is not the optimal tool for everyone, there is also not the one, ultimate time management method (even if some methods claim this of themselves…).

In this article, you have learned many possibilities. Just go through all the time management methods, see what appeals to you and what ultimately works for you. This is an investment that pays for itself in the end.

All these time management methods have one thing in common: they let you look beyond your own nose. Because many of the methods presented are not detailed time management methods, but allow you to look at the larger questions or perhaps have you question something. That alone is already a gain!

(*) The links marked are so-called affiliate links. If you click on an affiliate link and then shop at Amazon, I get a small commission that covers part of my server costs. Of course, the price does not change for you. Don't worry, this is not a sales page. I only recommend books that I have really read and that have taken me further.

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If the article has given you new food for thought, many other interested readers would surely know about your thoughts. Let me know how you liked it. Have a blessed day ๐Ÿ˜‡

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