Deadlines. They seem to loom at the end of each day, eliciting a complex mix of emotions: giddiness that whatever it is you’re working on will soon be over and dread that each minute draws ever nearer and yet your work is nowhere near done!
But over the years, and after several eye-opening conversations with people wiser in years and with more life experiences than me, I learned that the best way to deal with deadlines is to embrace them. We shouldn’t look at them as the enemy in the room, but rather as achievable goals that we can cross off of our checklist at the end of the day.
Having said that, it’s also a fact that while some people can do this without breaking a sweat, others have to give time management some extra effort. Luckily, here are 5 time management techniques that can boost productivity and encourage people to achieve more in a shorter time.
1. The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro technique is a popular time management method that helps people become productive in minimum time while minimizing the potential for burnout. First designed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, the Pomodoro (Italian for tomato) is named after those 25-minute tomato-shaped kitchen timers. This technique is ideal for writers, teachers, students, managers, and media professionals.
The process is simple:
- Decide on a task that you want to finish.
- Set a timer to 25 minutes.
- Focus on nothing but the task at hand. Ignore any and all distractions (ex: phone calls, chat messages from your colleagues, your dog who’s pawing at you to play fetch, bathroom breaks).
- When the timer goes off, stand up and take a five-minute break (then you may go to the bathroom).
If you’re not yet done with your task, simply repeat the cycle. If you have other tasks for the day, list them down in order of priority or classification. After completing four pomodoros, take a 20 to 30-minute break. Use the time to relax your mind, stretch, and let loose until your next round of four pomodoros.
The Pomodoro technique encourages people to be productive as much as they can in a short period of time. Regular breaks in between give your mind a break, allowing you to take a breather and avoid burnout.
The biggest challenge here is learning to ignore distractions and interruptions. You must resist the urge to check in on Facebook, read a text message, refill your coffee mug, or assemble your playlist the moment the timer begins. You can do all that during your 5-minute and 30-minute breaks.
By focusing solely on the task at hand, you can eliminate productivity traps and get the job done fast.
2. Getting Things Done or GTD System
A productivity method and a best-selling book of the same title by David Allen, Getting Things Done is all about knowing all your to-do’s and identifying in which order should you work on them. This time management method is ideal for people who get numerous appointments and tasks days, weeks, and even months in advance.
Here are the steps of Getting Things Done:
- Capture or list ALL your tasks. If there are segments that make up a task, list them as separate items on your list.
- Clarify what you have to do. Filter out what you can trash, delegate, or set aside for another day. If it won’t take more than two minutes to do, and you have time, do it now.
- Organize your task list by category and in order of priority. Set deadlines and use apps to create reminders.
- Reflect on your task list. Which task do you have the time and energy to do now? Which task can you finish first thing in the morning? Constantly review your list and modify sequences if your priorities change.
- Engage. Basically, start getting things done.
It’s best that you start the GTD method to organize your schedule for the following days. Doing the GTD for the first time may seem counterproductive since you may spend some time just making lists. But don’t worry; that’s only in the beginning. You’ll get the hang of it later on.
With GTD, you’re less likely to forget a task. You can quickly trim down your daily to-do list because, in Step 2, you’re already eliminating quick and mundane tasks like watering your desk plant, emptying your wastebasket, refilling your exercise bottle, or responding to a RSVP.
Laying out your tasks by category and priority will show which tasks you can immediately get out of the way and which tasks you can devote more time and attention to.
3. Eating Live Frog
This time management strategy is all about prioritization. It’s very straightforward: when you arrive at the office, get started on your most important tasks first. Whether you’re excited about it or dread it so much, tackle it first.
According to Brian Tracy, the originator of this strategy, this is what “eating the frog,” means. Knowing you’ve gone through the biggest hurdle of the day makes it easier to face the rest of it. This is the perfect solution to procrastinators who keep putting major tasks for later.
4. The Stoplight Process
Also, a time management strategy that helps you set priorities, this involves creating three lists:
- Red List – urgent tasks
- Yellow List – tasks to finish in two days
- Green List – less urgent tasks
Start working on the red list, followed by yellow, then green. Only move on to the next if you’ve already finished everything in the preceding list (although you may transfer tasks if necessary).
5. Writing a Journal
Some people just work better when they have an actual list of tasks which they can tick off as the day progresses. Keeping a productivity journal is a good technique for them. It gives them a sense of satisfaction every time they cross out an item from their list. As a result, they become motivated to achieve more each day.
Real Life Application: How do People Succeed at Time Management?
While researching time management techniques, I thought of people I know who seem to have their act together; people who have demanding jobs and roles in the family, but can still manage to look composed, be cheerful, and even motivated to face the next day.
So, I thought I’d get additional tips from some of them. It turns out that whether consciously or not, their time management techniques are in line with the ones featured above.
“One of the best things I learned about time management is learning how to “eat that frog”. It’s knowing what my priorities are and acting first on the most important/difficult task for the day. The rest will be easy after that. When it comes to finding time for my loved ones, I make sure to reach out in between hours of each day or allot a day where I could talk to them longer. Basically, it’s discovering what/who are important to you and focus on them. All others are just add-ons.”
- Katrina Ravanera, Profit and Loss Controller
“When it comes to balancing your time, it’s crucial to know yourself (strengths, values, and limitations) and the difference between what is important and what can wait. This varies at different periods of our career and/or our lives, so the permutation can vary for each. Know why you do what you do, put that as your no. 1 priority. When you feel other factors (work, family, me-time, etc.) affect your no. 1 priority in a negative way, then you should park it aside for later. Unnecessary stress over what we don’t value is pointless. Reflect. Prioritize. Let go as needed.”
- Raphael Louis Falcon, Consumer Marketing Manager
“In time management, the first thing you need to set [are] your priorities. As mentioned in the Bible, there is a time for everything. As of the moment, my most important role is being a mom. As a daughter, since I live away from my family, I spend several minutes a week having a video call with them; and with the extended family I’m living with, we usually spend breakfast updating each other. I also make time for friends. Of course, if they are very dear to us, we free up our schedule to spend time with them. Sunday morning is automatically church time. Then every night, before bed, I spend 10-15 mins reading the Bible while letting my daughter read her own Bible too. Then we pray together… maybe time management really depends on the importance of the people in your life.”
- Jereign Medel, mother, Admin Consultant
“I think I don’t have a formula because every day is a struggle. But the thing is I have known and read that when you are ready to give up…just think that all you need is to go through 10 minutes; and then after ten minutes, go [on] another 10 minutes. So [do things] 10 minutes at a time. It is [also] very helpful when you know your priorities. [On the other hand], I am not sure I manage my time efficiently since I give less time for ME, which is wrong.”
- Ryla Lim, wife and mother, business owner, Chief Production Officer
After learning all about the techniques above and hearing the inputs of other people who are successful at time management, I had three realizations.
First, all the strategies in the world will be useless if you don’t have the right attitude to begin with. If you’re not motivated to do your work or are easily discouraged at the first sign of difficulty, work on your defeatist attitude first before anything else. It’s important to get the job done; and when you have your mind on that goal, you can work on how to reduce the time you spent getting there.
Second, it will be difficult to perform any of these strategies without nourishing your mind and body! Get enough rest, do some exercises to get your blood flowing, and eat refreshing and nourishing food to help you stay focused.
And third, the strategies above are well-known because they worked for many people. There are no guarantees, however. What works for some might not be as effective for others. It’s all about finding the perfect method that jives with your working style.
But for now, try a time management method you haven’t done yet and see if it makes you a more productive modern Filipina. In fact, I’m planning to apply the Pomodoro technique myself.
I hope one of these techniques will work out for you. Let’s go beat those deadlines!