3 Time Management Techniques to Improve Your Focus
Time is a finite resource. While time can help heal wounds and afford us perspective and growth, alas, we can’t create more time. Or can we? We may not be able to technically add more hours to the day, but we can learn how to use our time more productively and effectively, so that we can get more out of each hour. How? Through learning better time-management skills.
Time-management is ultimately about learning to manage one’s priorities better. It’s the process through which we organize our thoughts, decisions, and tasks一and if it’s done well, it can offer us a whole host of benefits, from giving us a better work-life balance, less stress and anxiety, a greater sense of control over our goals and our future, and last but certainly not least, the feeling that we’re somehow earning ourselves more hours throughout the day, that can be used on other things that make us feel happy and fulfilled.
There are plenty of ways to better manage one’s time, and each individual may have their own preferred ways of organizing their priorities - but if you’re not sure where to start (or are just looking to try something new), these three productivity methods are known for their highly-versatile use in both personal and work-related contexts, and their tried-and-tested results.
The Eisenhower Matrix
Former US president Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” This is the principle that allegedly helped him organize his workload and priorities, and it’s also the basis of The Eisenhower Matrix: a decision-making method that helps people prioritize their tasks based on urgency and importance.
Whether you suffer from procrastination, often find yourself busy putting out fires rather than focusing on the tasks that you really should or want to do, or if you feel like you spend a lot of time being busy yet still lack impactful results to show for your work, this method could help you sort out your to-do list in a way that gives you clarity, greater focus, and more effective results.
It involves separating your tasks into one of four quadrants. Each section is labeled either Urgent or Not Urgent, and Important or Not Important. From the quadrants that arise, the tasks in each of these “buckets” will be marked to “Do”, “Schedule”, “Delegate”, or “Delete.” Here’s how you break it down:
Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent - Do.
This section is for emergencies, items with pressing deadlines, or last-minute obligations that must be a priority. Some examples include answering a phone call or email that requires an urgent response, submitting a work project that’s due today, or immediately picking up your sick child from school.
Quadrant 2: Important but Not Urgent - Schedule.
This section is for career goals and personal goals that matter to you, or long-term health commitments. Since they don’t have a specific or pressing deadline, they can wait a little, but you can schedule in a time to do them later, to ensure they get done. This is one of the most important sections for satisfaction, success, and overall productivity, since it ensures that we can stay focused on the present without sacrificing or worrying about the bigger picture. Some examples include keeping a journal for health (be that a nutritional journal or a gratitude journal), planning some upcoming rest or vacation time, and making time to catch up with friends or have important conversations with your partner.
Quadrant 3: Not Important and Urgent - Delegate.
This section is for the minor issues or household obligations that will affect your life, but don’t necessarily require you to do them yourself. This also includes tasks where you help others meet their goals. If you can delegate them, then do一and if you can’t, then spend as little time on them as possible just to get them done, rather than investing too much time striving for sheer perfection while you do them. For example, paying bills, making appointments, doing the dishes, and approving requests.
Quadrant 4: Not Important and Not Urgent - Delete.
This section is for the tasks that don’t help you now, and don’t help you later: they don’t really do anything for your long-term goals, nor do they provide you with anything other than a distraction in the short-term. These are classic distractions that you can and should do away with when you’re pressed for time. For example, scrolling idly through social media, or changing your computer desktop background. This could also include helping people with tasks that you not only aren’t obligated to do in any way, but don’t want to do whether that’s because they don’t make you feel rewarded or satisfied, and may only be doing because you’re people-pleasing, for instance.
You may need to physically write down your tasks into these different quadrants to begin with, but over time, you’ll learn to automatically separate tasks into one of these four buckets as and when they come up, helping you more quickly and easily only focus on the tasks that are important to you, that can make a positive difference in your life.
The Pareto Principle
Also known as the 80/20 Rule, The Law of the Vital Few, and The Principle of Factor Sparsity, The Pareto Principle may have a fancy name, but the idea behind it is very simple: that 80% of effects arise from 20% of the causes.
Still not quite sure what that means? To put it simply, typically speaking, 80% of the achievements, results, or issues that you experience are caused by just 20% of your actions. Think of this example: 20% of your closet is made up of clothes that you wear often, while 80% is made up of clothes that you hardly wear. Perhaps it’s made up of 20% comfortable clothes, and 80% uncomfortable outfits. Or perhaps 20% is the clothing that suits and flatters you, while the other 80% of your wardrobe is made up of things that don’t quite fit, items that you can only use during specific seasons or events, and special-occasion pieces. Here’s another example: only 20% of the people you know take up 80% of your time. The Pareto Technique involves prioritizing your work and needs based on that 20% first, and the 80% afterwards.
So how does this knowledge matter to us, and how can it affect our productivity? It helps us to identify what’s a priority and what isn’t一or what to focus on, since it can have a greater impact on that all-important 20%. But if you’re not even sure what makes up that 20%, how do you figure it out? Don’t worry, there’s a method for that too.
Begin by listing all of the issues, challenges, or tasks that you’re looking to tackle or solve. Then reorder these, beginning with the ones that will have a direct and immediate impact on your life and moving down the list accordingly. If you’re struggling to do this, you can start by assigning a score to each one, with 1/10 being the least-impactful, and 10/10 being the most. Use the numbers to then reorder your list. Ask yourself if you can organize any of these items into groups of tasks that can affect or coincide with each other. Once you have this list, you can develop and implement an action plan for each item or group, in order of priority.
This method helps us better-organize our thoughts and needs, while gaining insight into the most impactful changes we can make, to prioritize our tasks for greater productivity.
The Pomodoro Technique
This short-burst productivity technique is so tied to time-bound work that it was literally named after a type of timer. Named after the Pomodoro timer ー a tomato-shaped kitchen timer (“pomodoro” means “tomato” in Italian) ー this method was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. At the time, Cirillo was a university student struggling to complete his assignments on time. He decided to deal with his overwhelm by committing to focus for a short pre-designated period, after which he would be rewarded with a little break.
While some say the first iterations of this method began with 10-minute periods of focus, now, the most commonly-used form of The Pomodoro Technique involves working on a task uninterrupted for 25 minutes, before taking a five-minute break. This process is repeated four times, after which if you need to continue working, you can take a longer break of 15-30 minutes before beginning a new one-to-four-period set.
You must set a physical timer before each section, and be disciplined about sticking to it. By allowing the timer to focus on the minutes, you allow yourself more mental space through which to focus on the task at hand (no idle or frequent clock-checking here!). In addition to gamifying the process of focusing, it also helps us break more complex tasks down into smaller and more feasible ones, making a large body of work seem less intimidating.
You can try gamifying this further by setting yourself a certain number of “pomodoros” to work through each day: begin with one or two if more feels like too much, then work your way up to completing more segments each time you try. Before you know it, sitting down for bursts of deeply focused work will feel like second nature to you.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: Time Management Strategies For Research Productivity; Exploring Relationship Of Time Management With Teachers’ Performance; Time Management Is About More Than Life Hacks; 10 Tips On Time Management For Researchers And Students; It’s About Time: New Perspectives And Insights On Time Management.
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