One of the most difficult skills to master at the beginning of your career is time management.
You can waste a tremendous amount of time by trying to multitask or focusing too much on unimportant details.
Montreal-based designer and author Étienne Garbugli has struggled with all of that. As he’s gotten older, he’s learned how to manage his time and workload more effectively and has analyzed what’s worked for him and fellow entrepreneurs.
In 2013, his viral presentation on the subject, “26 Time Management Hacks I Wish I’d Known at 20,” was named the “Most Liked Presentation” of the year by SlideShare. He followed that up earlier this year with “25 Time Management Hacks to Kickstart the New Year.”
We’ve collected the best insights from both presentations with additional context. You’d be wise to establish these habits when you’re young, because they’re as relevant to a 22-year-old intern as they are to a 50-year-old executive.
1. There is always time.
You never “run out of time.” If you didn’t finish something by the time it was due, it’s because you didn’t consider it urgent or enjoyable enough to prioritize ahead of whatever else you were doing.
2. Days always fill up faster than you’d expect.
Build in some buffer time. Avoid over-scheduling by refraining from getting too precise with plans. “The more precise a task or objective is, the easier it is to miss,” Garbugli writes.
3. You get more done when you’re in the zone.
Some days you’ll be off your game, and other times you’ll be able to maintain your focus for 12 hours straight. Take advantage of those days.
4. You should pursue activities that benefit both your professional and personal lives.
“Align your professional and personal goals for maximum efficiency,” author Chris Guillebeau says. For example, if you have no intention of moving to Japan or doing business there, you’d be better off spending a few months taking a course that enhances your job experience rather than taking Japanese language classes.
5. There’s a difference between pushing yourself and burning out.
Hard work sometimes entails stretches of little sleep and relentless productivity. But even if you’re incredibly driven, you need to make time for relaxation or else your exhaustion will catch up to you and make you less productive than you otherwise would be.
6. Multitasking kills your focus.
Studies have found the brain expends energy as it readjusts its focus from one item to the next. If you’re spending your day multitasking, you’re exhausting your brain.
The Pomodoro Technique gets its name from the Italian word for “tomato.” Its inventor originally used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to come up with the idea.
7. Distractions can be controlled.
Consider trying the Pomodoro Technique of splitting up work into uninterrupted periods of 25 minutes with three- to five-minute breaks in between, or use software like SelfControl that prevents you from using sites like Facebook or Twitter for stretches of time.
8. Accomplishing something small is the best way to get working.
A presentation you need to finish may be intimidating at 8 in the morning. Get your mind on the right path with an easy and quick task, like answering important work emails.
9. Being a perfectionist can be a major crutch for day-to-day activities.
Gen. George S. Patton once said, “A good plan executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
10. More work hours don’t always result in more productivity.
Don’t kid yourself into thinking that sitting at your desk will somehow extract work from you. Do whatever you can to finish your current task by the end of regular work hours instead of working into the night.
11. Work that requires focused thinking and work that doesn’t should be separated.
If you’re constantly stopping your flow of work to rethink something, you’re slowing yourself down.
12. Menial tasks should be blocked off.
You’ll disrupt your flow if you’re sending emails or updating your schedule all day. Set aside a block of time for these tasks.
13. It’s best to reply to someone as soon as you read their correspondence if it will take you a couple minutes or less.
Apply “Getting Things Done” author David Allen’s “Two-Minute Rule” to your written correspondence: If an email can be answered in that time, then respond immediately rather than setting it aside.
14. Massive tasks are easier to manage when seen as increments.
Alabama football coach Nick Saban follows a similar philosophy he calls the Process. Instead of having his players focus on winning the championship, he trains them to focus only on what is directly in front of them — each block, pass, and field goal.
15. If it takes more than 20 minutes to get started, you should change tasks.
If you’re not making progress for whatever reason, move onto something else to get back into a productive groove.
16. No two tasks ever hold the same importance.
Daily to-do lists are effective ways of scheduling your day, but it’s important to priortize them. Start your day with the top-priority tasks, and leave the filing for when you’re mentally drained.
17. Always know the one thing you really need to get done during the day.
To help prioritize, determine what task in front of you is most important, and focus your energy into getting that done as soon as possible.
18. It’s necessary to delegate some work to other people.
To be truly efficient, get over the fear of handing work off to someone else. “If something can be done 80% as well by someone else, delegate!” says John C. Maxwell, author of “How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life.”
19. Focusing on the past will hinder progress.
Don’t distract yourself with either the successes or failures of the past. Focus instead on what’s in front of you.
20. Take notes.
Don’t assume you’ll remember every good idea that comes into your head during the day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a notebook, whiteboard, or an app like Evernote — write stuff down.
21. Keeping larger objectives in mind will help get you through your days.
“Keep your eyes on the real prize,” Garbugli writes. “Focus on the objectives, not the tasks. Keep them in sight.”