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5 Core Principles of Time Management and Productivity


“You may delay, but time will not.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

Time management is an essential skills in the professional world. However, many people struggle to stay organized and productive throughout the day. If you’re looking to improve your time management skills, there are five core principles that you should adhere to. These principles will help you stay organized enabling you to finish more work in less time. The five main principles of effective time management are as follows: 

    1. Determine Priorities
    2. Learn to say “No.”
    3. Set Goals
    4. Establish realistic Deadlines
    5. Make it a Routine & habit

Managing time often becomes an issue when there is a lack of structure in our work lives. This can leave us feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated, leading us to do everything at the last minute. For this reason, incorporating these five time management principles into your daily work routine will give you a sense of control. In Addition, these principles will improve your focus, organization, and productivity. 

Determine Priorities

Prioritization is essential as it lets us focus on the most urgent tasks and leave lower-priority items to do at a later time or date (WeWork, 2021). Here are some guidelines to follow that will help you establish priorities and create a simple work plan:

    1. Make a list of important tasks that need to be completed.
    2. Identify tasks in order of urgency
    3. Highlight time-sensitive tasks and rank them numerically
    4. Estimate the time necessary to complete each task
    5. Develop a work plan by rewriting a new list in order of priority
    6. Cross each item off your “to-do list” as they are completed

Note: the basic principles of flexibility and common sense are important t. For example, if you have large tasks that are time-consuming, it make sense to do 2-3 smaller tasks first before doing time consuming tasks. Delegating tasks is another time management sill.

Learn to Say No

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”-Warren Buffet

Saying “no” is an overlooked time management skill. Say “no” is another tool that lets you to take control of your work schedule and focus on your own priorities. Moreover, many people believe that saying “no” indicates a rude or lazy attitude toward work; it doesn’t.

Professional Examples of how to say “no.”

  • “Unfortunately, I have too much on my plate (today).”
  • “I’m not comfortable doing that task.”
  • “It isn’t a good time for me.”
  • “I have other commitments.”

Learning to set healthy boundaries at work by saying “no” to tasks you don’t have time for will free up your time for other tasks and gain respect amongst colleagues.

Note: practice saying no in non-work situations as part of your professional and personal development.

Set Goals

Setting goals triggers motivational behaviors that guide, focus, and sustain work momentum. Furthermore, goal setting improves time management by promoting an internal sense of urgency while doing work and gratification once a job is completed.

Setting SMART goals is an excellent way to manage time while keeping yourself accountable for completing work:

  • Specific: Well-defined, clear, and unambiguous
  • Measurable: With specific criteria that measure your progress toward the accomplishment of the goal
  • Achievable: Attainable and not impossible to achieve
  • Relevant: Within reach, realistic, and relevant to your life purpose
  • Time-Bound: With a clearly defined timeline, including a starting date and a target date. The purpose is to create urgency.

Goals are a critical component of time management. Once goals are set, it is easier to envision the path to achieving the goal and allocate the necessary resources and time to keep it.

Establish Realistic Deadlines

Deadlines hold us accountable for completing our work within the allotted timeframe. Without voluntary or involuntary deadlines, work could potentially go indefinitely. What’s more, failure to meet work deadlines usually comes with consequences in the form of damaged reputation, monetary penalties, loss of customer confidence, career damage, etc. In short, there is an accountability incentive to get the work done. Additionally, deadlines help us use time effectively by:

  • providing direction for our work
  • helping us prioritize tasks
  • recognizing progress
  • reminding us when a job complete
  • creating a sense of urgency
  • reducing possible obstacles

Setting mini-deadlines by breaking up large tasks into smaller manageable tasks is another way to help increase productivity and time management. We are far more productive when we work toward completing a time-sensitive task versus an open-ended one.

Develop Routines and Habits

Routines help us create positive daily habits and add structure to our workday. For example, routines help to organize our time around tasks we deem necessary, and we often go about our routines in the same way as habits.

For example, we do multiple tasks each morning: we change, brush our teeth, prepare and eat breakfast and drive our children to school; without putting much thought into the process. Take a moment to detach yourself from your daily morning routine and as you go through the motions, notice how effectively you manage time without even realizing it.

In the case of time management, our goal should be to change some or all of our work routines into good habits. Habits are things we do regularly without a lot of conscious thought.

Habits allow us to do things without expending excessive mental effort. Thus, converting routines into habits can help improve our time management skills and workplace productivity.

How to build a habit in 5 steps, according to science (CNN, 2021)

    1. Set a specific goal (define the habit)
    2. Create a cue-based plan (Set alarms, sticky notes)
    3. Make it enjoyable to repeat
    4. Allow for some flexibility
    5. Find a way to reward yourself

According to the European Journal of Psychology, “on average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances.”

These are the five biggest time wasters in the workplace

    1. Procrastination
    2. Mobile Phone Use/Social media
    3. Doing other person’s work
    4. Clutter and disorganization
    5. Entertaining toxic people

Time management and productivity are essential skills in the professional world. If you’re looking to improve your time management skills, there are five important principles that you should adhere to. These principles will help you stay organized and on track so that you can finish more work in less time.

The Benefits of Good Time Management

  • Increase productivity 
  • Improve health & reduce stress
  • Improve professional reputation
  • Support career advancement potential
  • Enhance work-life balance
  • Eliminate wasted time

Integrating these principles into your daily life will take time and perserverence. But with practice, they will become second nature. Start by determining your priorities and then work on gradually incorporating the other four principles into your daily routine. Soon enough, you’ll be able to accomplish more than ever before!

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