“So little time, so much to do” is a phrase we’ve all likely said (or sung) about our lives. Although we can’t add extra hours to our days, we can use the time we do have more strategically.
Time management techniques are intended to do just that, providing guides to help us approach our lives with fewer distractions and more control. Studies show good time management is linked to enhanced job performance and well-being and lower levels of anxiety. On the other hand, poor time management is associated with high levels of stress and low productivity.
Of course, time management can’t fix everything. A color-coded calendar can’t make up for an overpacked schedule, and no technique can address every personal difficulty we face in life. But if you’re looking to amp up your productivity, the below time management hacks might be just the things to get you where you want to be.
Eat That Frog
“Eat That Frog” is the strategy of tackling an important task first thing in the morning before you do anything else. For some, this might be a major to-do item that you’re most likely to put off, or it may be one that you find tedious but have to get done (like filing taxes or cleaning the bathroom).
The concept, proposed by author Brian Tracy, is based on a quote often 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.” According to Tracy, “It doesn’t do you any good to stare at the ugly live frog in front of you, this big task. If you simply resolve to take action and get it over with, your entire life will be uninhibited by the daunting tasks that once prevented you from moving forward.”
Best for: those who tend to procrastinate (and really, who doesn’t every now and then?).
Research from the American Psychological Association suggests that we can lose up to 40% of our productivity when we shift between tasks and have to adjust to a new mental setting. Task batching — grouping similar tasks together in “batches” to complete all at once — is designed to avoid this constant switching as much as possible. That way, you spend more time in a productive zone and less time in the hazy in-between.
Best for: bringing more structure and organization to your life, according to Indeed.
As the name suggests, time blocking breaks up your day into “blocks” of time that are often grouped by specific tasks or chunks of tasks. This technique often uses a calendar to help you visualize your schedule, so you know exactly what to do throughout the day and where to direct your focus.
Best for: creating order amid a busy schedule and helping anyone who wants to do more monotasking (the opposite of multitasking).
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a specific type of time blocking. Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, the premise is to work in 25-minute increments followed by five-minute breaks. Once you’ve completed four “Pomodoros,” take a longer break, between 15 and 30 minutes. Wondering why it’s called Pomodoro? The name came to Cirillo when he was a university student and had trouble staying focused on his book. “I went to the kitchen, grabbed a timer, and came back to my table,” he explained. “The timer was red and shaped like a Pomodoro (tomato in English).”
Best for: According to Verywell Mind, this technique is especially effective for those who tend to get distracted or have trouble getting started on a task.
Similar to time blocking, timeboxing also involves using time to strategically break down your day and be more productive. However, timeboxing is focused on setting parameters around how much time you spend on one task. For example, allocating a maximum of two hours on a project or activity in an effort to avoid overworking unnecessarily. It also allows those with whom you share your calendar to see your availability.
Best for: people who identify with perfectionism and people-pleasing, as timeboxing will help you set boundaries, according to Forbes.
The 2-Minute Rule
Do you have an unending to-do list that’s intimidating just to look at? Start chipping away at bite-sized tasks with the 2-minute rule.
Per Forbes, the 2-minute rule was popularized by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done. The idea behind it is that if you can do an activity in two minutes or less, you should do it right away rather than writing it down or putting it off.
Best for: getting small tasks off your plate. This method is also an effective way to alleviate the stress and anxiety that can come with a mountain of tasks.
Unlike the other methods on this list, day theming is a little more fluid. Instead of breaking up your day into bite-sized chunks or multiple time slots, this technique is about devoting certain days to a theme (or initiative, purpose, idea, etc). For example, you might dedicate a day to taking meetings, researching, or pursuing a specific project.
Best for: If you have more flexibility and gravitate toward “big picture” thinking, day theming may strike a good balance between structure and fluidity.
The 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 Rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, is the idea that 80% of output comes from about 20% of input. When applied to time management, the principle suggests that about 20% of the efforts produce 80% of the results.
To apply this rule to your life, ask yourself when you’re most productive and then make an effort to use that time as efficiently as you can. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you avoid 80% of work. However, it can be a helpful rule to keep in mind when you’re prioritizing your schedule. “Identify the vital ingredients necessary to achieve your objective,” said time management consultant Dru Scott. “Do these things first. You will get the most results in the least amount of time.”
Best for: If you want to refine your schedule and get into a better groove, the 80/20 Rule may help you prioritize top tasks more effectively and work in a way that suits you and your lifestyle.
While some items can be executed in short bursts (i.e. the 2-minute rule), others need more creative space, time, and focus. Enter, deep work: the practice of removing distractions and giving your brain’s full attention to one thing.
The concept of deep work was coined by computer science professor Cal Newport, who describes the state as a “superpower in our current economy” and an activity that “generates a sense of meaning and fulfillment in your professional life.” Much like a deep conversation with a friend feels different from a surface-level chat, deep work fosters space for quality effort that feels good and extra satisfying.
If you’re interested in testing it out, try scheduling deep work in the morning for 90 minutes to two hours, as studies show this is the sweet spot and range for most people when it comes to productivity.
Best for: According to Newport, deep work is generally best suited for working on a “cognitively demanding task.”
Learn Your Management Method
Not sure where to go from here? Take this quiz to see how well you manage time, and then compare your results to the above methods to learn which one is best for you. When in doubt? Eat the frog.