Every person gets the same 24 hours each day.
But if we’re all working with the same fixed amount of time, why is it that some people seem to have more than enough of it to pursue their professional and personal goals—while others run around feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by an ever-growing (and never-ending) to-do list?
The answer is time management.
How you manage your time can mean the difference between feeling like you’re busy every minute of the day (but not actually getting anything done) and accomplishing everything you want in your job and your life—and still feeling like you have time to spare.
But how can you make sure you’re managing your time effectively—and in a way that not only increases productivity, but allows you to devote time and energy to the areas of your work and life that bring you meaning, purpose, and joy? The thought of it all seems overwhelming, but luckily there are a few strategies you can implement into your day-to-day routine to bring more structure to your schedule and to-do list.
We talked to productivity expert Tonya Dalton, founder of inkWELL Press Productivity Co., host of the Productivity Paradox podcast, and author of the upcoming book The Joy of Missing Out, on all things time management—including tangible strategies you can use to excel at work (and in life!), and squeeze the most out of every 24 hours.
What Is Time Management—Really?
The term “time management” is a major productivity buzzword. But before we jump into how to use time management hacks to hit your goals, it’s important to clearly understand how time management should be defined.
Time management isn’t just about getting more done—it’s about taking back control of your time so you can focus on what matters most.
“[Time management] is about living in the moment instead of rushing from task to task, checking a thousand things off your list,” says Dalton. “It's stopping and asking yourself, ‘Is this even a task I need to do? Is this truly important?’ [It’s] really carving out that space for yourself so you're not cramming your day full and instead allowing that space so you can actually enjoy working.”
So, to define it, time management is being in control of your tasks on a day-to-day basis so you know what you have to do (and, just as importantly, what you don’t have to do), when to do it, and how long it will take. And when you have that sense of control, you have the time to pursue what’s meaningful to you—both inside and outside of work.
And in order to get that sense of control? All you need are the right strategies.
Time management hacks are small, sustainable actions to take control of your schedule—and to make sure that your time is spent on the projects that feel the most meaningful, valuable, and rewarding.
Let’s take a look at a few time management hacks you can use to start taking back control of your time (and, as a result, your life).
Take A Time Inventory
Raise your hand if you’ve ever gone to sleep at night and thought “I have no idea where my time went today?” 🙌🙌🙌
“There's so many times that we just allow the day to take us wherever it may go...a lot of times, in the hecticness of our every day, we lose track of where we are spending our time,” says Dalton.
But you can’t take back control of your time if you don’t know where it’s going, which is why taking inventory of your time is so important.
The time inventory hack will give you a clear picture of how you’re spending your time—and, more importantly, how you’re wasting it.
So how, exactly, does a time inventory work?
For example, let’s say you were busy with work tasks from 11am to 12pm. Instead of just labeling that hour “work,” get really specific on what, exactly, you were doing with that time. Did you spend 15 minutes trying to fix a bug on your website? 30 minutes answering emails? 12 minutes scrolling through your social media accounts? However you spent your time, log it—down to the minute.
Once you’ve tracked your time for a week, it’s time to map out the data (both Toggl and Harvest offer reporting functions that make it easy to visualize your schedule) and take a good, hard look at where your time is going—because chances are, no matter how busy you are, there are opportunities to take some time back.
“If you take the time and really zoom out and you take a bird's-eye view of what your week looks like, you can really begin to see some of those spaces that maybe you're not really utilizing to your full ability,” says Dalton.
The key is to look for any “time sucks;” things that you don’t like doing, things that take up too much of your time, or things that are monopolizing your time and keeping you from your most meaningful work.
Now, keep in mind, time sucks will be different for everyone—and what’s a clear time waster for someone else might actually be a valuable use of your time. Take social media, for example. If you’re spending hours a day scrolling through your social feeds when you’d rather spend that time working on your novel, that’s a time suck—but if you’re using social media to develop ideas for ad campaigns and network and get the word out about your new side hustle, that’s time well spent.
Once you’ve identified these black holes, get them off your calendar and reclaim that time for other things. If the time sucks are unnecessary, eliminate them. If you’re stuck spending time on tasks in your business you don’t like, outsource them. If cleaning and chores are keeping you from launching your dream business, hire help around the house or move those actions to hours where you’re not in the headspace to be creative.
Accountability is key. When you use a time inventory system, you won’t be able to waste time without it showing up later when you review how you spent your week.
Look For Things To Automate—Both On- And Offline
One of the best time management hacks in your arsenal is, without a doubt, automation. And automation extends beyond the work tasks you do on your computer. “I talk about automation in terms of not just software, but also things that you do offline, things that you do on a regular basis,” says Dalton.
Automation is a great way to minimize the amount of time you spend on tedious, time-consuming tasks—and take that time back for more meaningful, purposeful work.
Look for opportunities to automate tasks in your schedule—both on and offline. For example, does battling other Saturday shoppers at the grocery store eat up your weekend? See if your grocery store offers delivery—or use a delivery service like Instacart and have someone do your grocery shopping for you. Do you find yourself answering the same customer emails multiple times a day? Instead of starting from scratch every time one of those emails hits your inbox, create a template.
The point is, the more time-demanding, yet repetitive, tasks you automate, the more time you free up in your schedule—and the more time you have to spend on the tasks that really matter.
Carve Out Time For A Productivity-Boosting Morning Routine
The way you start the day is the way you continue the day. So, if you start the day feeling rushed and overwhelmed, you’ll spend the rest of your day feeling rushed and overwhelmed. But the opposite is also true. If you start your morning by being purposeful with your time, you’ll carry that with you throughout the day.
“A morning routine...really allows you to have a big win right off the bat,” says Dalton. “Before your day has truly begun—and maybe before anyone else is out of bed—you're able to really make some giant strides forward.”
Instead of rolling out of bed and immediately jumping into emails or rushing to get to the office, set your alarm for a little earlier and carve out time for yourself. You can spend your morning routine doing anything you’d like—as long as it’s something that makes you feel calm, energized, and ready to take on the day.
Even with Dalton’s hectic schedule, making time for herself each morning—before waking up her children, before jumping into business tasks—is a non-negotiable. And as a direct result of her morning routine, not only was she able to increase her productivity, but she was able to accomplish a huge goal—writing her first book.
“I have a weekly podcast. I run a business...I have a family. I do a thousand different things and yet I was able to write a book,” says Dalton. “And the reason why I was able to write a book in just a few months is because I made it a very intentional part of my morning routine.”
If you’re not sure how to develop a productivity-boosting morning routine, you might want to try the SAVERS routine from Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed To Transform Your Life (Before 8am). SAVERS stands for silence, affirmations, visualizations, exercise, reading, and scribing (also known as journaling). These six practices will help you set yourself up for a successful day—and because you’re starting your day off with intention, it will be easier to be more intentional with your time as the day goes on.
Learn To Say ‘No’ When It Counts
In today’s culture, we praise those who hustle and grind non-stop. . But filling every minute of your schedule isn’t helping you get more done. In fact, busy can come a “hurry sickness” that causes burnout and other productivity problems.
“We think that if we are not busy, that we are somehow failing,” says Dalton. “In today's society, we glorify busy. We glorify the hustle…[but] being busy doesn't mean that you're productive. It doesn’t mean you’re happy. It simply means you're spinning in circles all day long, chasing your tail.”
If you want to take back control of your time, you need to get comfortable saying “no.” If you find that saying no feels uncomfortable, it might help to reframe it.
For example, let’s say you have an opportunity to work with a new client—but you just don’t have the bandwidth to take on the project. Instead of thinking about it as saying “no” to a new client, think about it as saying “yes” to spending time with your kids or doing your best work for the clients you’re already working with.
“We feel guilty saying no when opportunities come up because we feel like opportunity only knocks once...but the thing is, every time we say yes to those opportunities, we're saying no to time with our families. We're saying no to the goals that really will make us happy. We're saying no to our passion projects,” says Dalton. “So it is so important to really not just say no, but to say ‘yes’ to your yeses.”
Saying no can be uncomfortable at first—but the better you get at saying no to things that aren’t the right fit, the more time you’ll have for the things that feel like a yes.
Invest Time With The Right Tools
There are plenty of things you can do to take back control of your time—but there are also plenty of tools out there (many of them free) that can do it for you.
Are you spending too much time watching funny videos on YouTube? (We’ve all been there.) Try Freedom, which blocks access to time-sucking websites. Are you spending a lot of time posting your content on different social media sites? Try a social media management tool to post to multiple social networks at once. Do you have a hard time keeping track of projects and to-dos (and waste a ton of time as a result)? Hop on Trello, create your boards, and manage all of your projects from one easy-to-use platform—even on the go.
The point is, using the right tools is one of the most powerful time management hacks at your disposal so invest some time into setting up your (free) productivity stack.
Spend Your Time Wisely
There are only so many hours in the day—and without the right time management strategy, you can end up wasting them. “What ends up happening is in an effort to try to do everything, we end up doing nothing,” says Dalton.
But with these time management hacks, you can take back control of your schedule and spend your time on purpose—and while you might not have time for everything, you will have time for everything that matters. What will you achieve with these additional hours in your day?