Handling time management can be a struggle for even the most organized employees. Distractions and diversions lurk all around both at the office and at home, and time can slip away until you’re left wondering how 5 p.m. came so quickly.
Using a tried and true technique for staying on task and categorizing your time can stop your day from slipping away from you, so we rounded up and tested five of the best time management techniques for productivity. Here are our findings:
The Technique: Time blocking is the technique of breaking your workday into smaller chunks. During these time chunks, work on certain pre-planned tasks. For example, you might create a chunk of time to check emails, or to work on a particular project. Your chunks may be more structured (working on a specific task) or loose (working on a category of tasks).
Tips for Time Blocking:
- Block your time out visually, whether in a notebook or in an app like Google Calendar.
- Schedule buffer time between tasks, as well as regular breaks.
- Adjust and edit your time blocks as you go if something unexpected comes up.
- Try this technique combined with another technique, such as Pomodoro (described below).
- You can also use this technique outside of the office to structure productivity in your morning and evening routine.
First-hand review: I found time blocking to be most useful during the first half of my day, before ad-hoc tasks and requests began to trickle into my workload. This technique also taught me that it’s important to pause and estimate how long a task will take to complete! With practice and use over time I think time blocking could become a more useful tool for me, especially as a rough “sketch” of what the day might look like before beginning.
The Technique: The Pomodoro Technique is a time management technique created by a 1980s university student named Francesco Cirillo. Using a tomato-shaped kitchen timer (pomodoro means tomato in Italian), he set short, timed study sessions for himself with breaks in between. The classic Pomodoro is made up of four 25-minute work sessions with 5-minute breaks in between, and a longer 15- to 30-minute break at the end.
Tips for Pomodoro:
- Plan your tasks out before you start your session.
- Combine short tasks into a single Pomodoro section.
- Break down larger projects into smaller chunks that will take fewer Pomodoro sessions.
- Wait until the timer is up to check emails or respond to requests. Don’t get distracted!
- Commit to taking your full breaks to refresh your mind and breathe.
- While a physical timer is recommended, there are many Youtube videos you can use to time out your sessions and breaks as well.
First-hand review: As someone who admittedly gets distracted easily, I found the Pomodoro Technique extremely helpful. Focusing without distractions for 25 minutes becomes much more manageable when you know you have a 5-minute break coming up to check email and messages. I did find that my messages would pile up during the sessions, though, so for jobs that require frequent communication with coworkers, you may need to work some flexibility into your sessions.
Pickle Jar Theory
The Technique: The Pickle Jar Theory asks us to imagine our day like a pickle jar filled with rocks, pebbles, and sand. The rocks represent large, important things we need to get done. The pebbles are tasks of average importance. The sand are small tasks that are less important — such as phone calls, emails, chats with coworkers, and the like.
For this technique, write out all of your “rocks.” Those will take up the largest chunks of your day. Then fit the “pebbles” in where you can. If you can’t, you may need to leave them for tomorrow or delegate to someone else. Finally, the “sand” will slip into the cracks throughout the day.
Tips for Pickle Jar Theory:
- Don’t be afraid to let some pebbles go until tomorrow. If it’s not a rock, it can wait.
- Embrace your “sand,” but don’t let it become your whole day.
- Prioritize your rocks in order from most to least important and work in order.
First-hand review: Visualizing the day in terms of tasks by priority and importance was very useful, especially as someone who struggles to prioritize at times. I realized, writing it all down, just how many tasks I considered “rocks” and how much I was trying to fit into each day. Reprioritizing and letting go of some of the “pebbles” for another time helped make my to-do list much more manageable.
Eat the Frog
"If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first." - Mark Twain
The Technique: Note: no frogs were harmed in the making of this technique! The Eat the Frog Technique encourages you to eat your “frogs” — the most important, difficult, or unfun tasks on your to-do list — first every day. Break your “frogs” out into smaller tasks and prioritize them as soon as you sit down in the morning.
Tips for Eat the Frog:
- If you have multiple frogs, break your frogs into tasks and then handle the most important individual tasks first.
- Don’t let yourself work on other tasks before you finish your frogs (unless you’re forced to pivot)!
- Break your frogs into small, achievable tasks to build a sense of momentum.
- Set goals and timers for yourself so you don’t spend all day on your frogs.
First-hand review: This technique taught me how much of a procrastinator I am! Starting with the “worst” thing in the morning was definitely a demotivator. Everything else seemed more important: emails, messages, any other task. I found myself taking longer with the “frog” than I probably should have. However, the relief felt after finishing the task and getting on with the rest of my day was priceless!
The Technique: Developed by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Eisenhower Technique, or Eisenhower Matrix, prioritizes tasks into four categories:
- “Do First” - Important and urgent tasks that require immediate attention.
- “Schedule” - Important but less urgent tasks that can be rescheduled to later.
- “Delegate” - Urgent but less important tasks that can be delegated to others.
- “Don’t Do” - Tasks that are neither important nor urgent. Don’t do them!
Tips for Eisenhower Technique:
- Take a small, set amount of time each morning to plan and organize your categories before getting started.
- Limit your tasks per quadrant to eight or fewer. Before adding a new task, complete an existing one.
- Identify your bad work habits, such as web surfing, and put them in the “Don’t Do” category.
- Reduce your procrastination by combining this technique with the Eat the Frog Technique. Get your frogs done first!
First-hand review: I struggled a little with this one, as I don’t like to delegate tasks when I feel I’m able to do them myself. But, much like with the Pickle Jar Technique, realizing just how many “important and urgent” items I was trying to shove into each day made it easier to let go of some tasks. Sometimes it’s more important that the job gets done, and not necessarily that your name is on it!