4 Tried-and-True Time Management Techniques

Methods guaranteed to help you work smarter.

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Ritika Trikha
If your current time-management system involves 5-hour ENERGY drinks or three to four cups of coffee per day, it's time for a change. But cutting back on your work is likely not an option: In this competitive job market, taking on more responsibility and exceeding expectations is a given if you want to advance in your career.

"Usually, self-care, such as sleep and exercise, suffers as people prioritize work and other responsibilities, but this can have a negative effect on health and productivity over time," says Joyce Marter, co-owner of counseling service Urban Balance, LLC. "That's why it is important to have some systems in place to prioritize goals, overcome procrastination by focusing on payoff, set a schedule or routines with boundaries and manage time effectively."

Working longer and harder might seem like the logical way to get more done, but there are better methods for coping with work overload.

Productivity experts have come up with effective ways to accomplish more in less time. Check out these four, great time-management techniques that many have sworn by:

1. The Pomodoro Technique. The idea is to break down work periods into 25-minute intervals, because that's how long our minds focus effectively. The creator of this method, entrepreneur and mentor Francesco Cirillo, calls these intervals "pomodoros."

The technique gets more complicated as you delve into it, but you begin it by first deciding which tasks you need to accomplish. Next, set the timer to 25 minutes and work free of distractions until it rings. Then, take a five-minute break. Every four intervals, take a longer break (15-20 minutes).

2. 18 Minutes. This technique is the brainchild of Peter Bregman, chief executive officer of the global management consulting firm Bregman Partners and author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done:

  • Five minutes in the morning: Sit down and think about what you need to do today to make it successful. "What can you realistically accomplish that will further your focus for the year and allow you to leave at the end of the day feeling that you've been productive and successful?" Bregman writes in his book. "Then take those things off your to-do list and schedule them into your calendar."
  • One minute per hour: Refocus. Set an alarm every hour and when it beeps, "take a deep breath and ask yourself if you spent your last hour productively," he writes. "Manage your day hour by hour. Don't let the hours manage you."
  • Five minutes in the evening: Turn off your computer and review how the day went. Ask yourself questions like: How did the day go? What did I learn?
  • 3. COPE. Personal productivity expert Peggy Duncan suggests the Clear-Organized-Productive-Efficient technique. "My system incorporates getting to the root cause of why you don't have enough time and what you can do about it," Duncan says. "You have to totally revamp how you work." Start by analyzing how you're spending the day by logging your activities and eliminating time wasters. Then, organize everything around you and then prioritize your tasks and get the main things done without multitasking.

    Duncan also suggests systemizing all of your repetitive tasks. For instance, email templates are great for reaching out to many different people for a common purpose.

    4. ABC & Pareto Analyses Combo. Marter recommends this classic business-management combination of the ABC and Pareto analyses techniques. For this combo to work you have to categorize each of your tasks by either A, B, or C:

    A: Tasks that are perceived as being urgent and important.

    B: Tasks that are important but not urgent.

    C: Tasks that are neither urgent nor important.

    Starting with the A column, apply Pareto Analysis by highlighting the work that will take the least time in this group. "Pareto Analysis suggests that 80 percent of tasks can be completed in 20 percent of disposable time and the remaining 20 percent will take up 80 percent of time," Marter says.  "Productivity will be higher if the tasks that take less time are completed first."

    In other words, get the easy stuff out of the way first for maximum productivity. Then, move on to group B.

    Ritika Trikha is a writer for CareerBliss, an online career community dedicated to helping people find happiness in the workplace. Check out CareerBliss for millions of job listings, company reviews, salary information, and a free career happiness assessment.