Time Management Tools to Help You Succeed

July 11, 2019

As a student, due dates are set and unchanged and you're expected to complete every project and assignment. Your life responsibilities are minimal, depending on your situation, and your balance of work and life may fall into a single dimension.

Once you start a career, the needs of work and life change to add dimensions of complexity. Home-life needs quickly multiply and take on an ever-increasing importance. At the same time, career deadlines are constantly shifting in timing and priority. You no longer have the luxury of accomplishing every task assigned. It’s not always clear what you should work on and when. To succeed, you have to organize the chaos and use tools to help you navigate.

Change Your Mindset

You can't accomplish everything. You have to prioritize and choose which tasks are the most important, and which tasks aren't worth pursuing. Be ruthless.

Use the Right Tools

Time-management tools range from simplistic to comprehensive and even downright complex. Choosing the right tools can help you achieve your goals at work and home. As in every tool box, each tool serves a unique purpose. And like every mechanic, you'll likely need more than just one tool to serve your needs. Here are a few of the basics you should consider when getting started:

The "To-do" List

Tried and true, it doesn't get any more basic or more widely utilized. The simplest form is on paper, but electronic versions have some real advantages (ability to sort, sync across devices, add images). Be careful though: electronic versions that are hard to use can really bog down the process. The key with To-Do lists is to keep it simple. These are best for quick notes, reminders and bite-sized tasks.

Priority Matrix

One of my personal favorites; I use this one daily. Fold a piece of paper into 4 quadrants and label them as follows: "Critical and Urgent," "Urgent," "Critical," and "Unimportant." By listing priorities in the correct quadrant, you accomplish two things at once: thoughtful intention about prioritizing each task and remaining focused. To keep from feeling overwhelmed, I recommend folding the sheet to display only one quadrant at a time.

Gantt Chart

A favorite among project managers, this system is perfect for complex, multistep, and multi-person projects. Most commonly, it is created electronically and usually requires specific software to do it. It takes some time and training to get the hang of how to make these, but once you do, there is no tool more powerful for project planning. Caution: these take time and effort to maintain.

Time-Management Apps

There are apps you can use on your phone or PC to keep you on track. I'm grouping these together because there are unlimited offerings, but they all seem to work on similar principles. Most use variations of the formats mentioned above to sort tasks and projects. Many add the functionality of timers, alarms, or calendar functions as well. This is a really nice feature if you like structured scheduling. One of the great things about apps is the multitude of features and options. They can operate across platforms and tie into other software saving you from duplicating work. Be careful though: sometimes all the bells and whistles can lead to distraction rather than focus.

Keep Trying New Formats

I've used, adapted, and abandoned plenty of different time-management tools over the years. Each time I try something new, I learn a little more about what it takes to keep my life organized and in balance. The key to choosing what's right is to never use anything more complicated than you need. Complicated tools lead to time wasted working on the tool rather than the work at hand.

Remember to adapt and combine tools to fit your specific needs. Sometimes finding the right tool is as simple as modifying or changing one that's not quite right.

Author: Justin Tettenborn

Justin Tettenborn
Justin Tettenborn is a microbiologist with broad experience in medical device manufacturing throughout the product life cycle; including product invention, initial and ongoing quality testing and sterilization.