If you type 'Time Management Techniques' into Google you'll get more than 26 million hits.
That's a lot of advice!
So there’s clearly no shortage of suggestions about what you should do to manage your time more effectively.
But is any of the advice about time management techniques based on research that proves it works?
Interestingly, there's lots of evidence about the harms that poor time management techniques can cause.
Long-term stress (which poor time management can contribute to) can lead to:
- Illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
- Mental Health illnesses including anxiety and stroke.
But is there any evidence that shows which time management techniques you should use?
5 Research-Backed Time Management Techniques
Here are five time management techniques — that are based on research. You can use these methods and be confident that there is real, scientific evidence that they work.
1. Get Enough Sleep
Maybe this doesn’t seem like one of the most obvious time management techniques.
The truth is however that you pay a big price for a single night’s lost sleep. According to a report from Harvard Medicine Get Sleep:
" Just one sleepless night can impair performance as much as a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent, beyond the legal limit to drive.
Like alcohol, sleep deprivation also affects judgment, making it harder to assess how impaired you are when you're tired."
You can test how awake you are today by doing the test available here. It's fun, but you might be alarmed at what you discover.
There’s a ton of research which reveals just how damaging a lack of sleep can be. Scare yourself witless by reading the summary of the problems it can cause here.
Insomnia — the chronic end of the scale — is a massive productivity problem. According to this report, insomnia is costing the U.S. $63 Billion in lost productivity.
The evidence about sleep is clear.
If you want to make the best decisions — including how you use your available time, make sure you are getting enough sleep.
2. Set Goals Which Are Specific and Challenging.
If you want to get more done, you need to set specific, challenging goals.
In a study reported by the American Psychology Association, goals which were specific and challenging led to higher performance.
This was true in nine out of ten studies the researchers looked at.
As an additional benefit, researchers at Michigan State University showed that just the act of writing down your goal raises the prospect of success by a third.
There are lots of ways to get really specific and challenging, including using SMART goals.
Smart Goals are:
- Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
- Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
- Achievable (agreed, attainable).
- Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
- Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).
So, to boost your productivity it pays to set goals which are ambitious and detailed enough to get your engine running.
It’s one of the best-known ways of improving your time management techniques.
Having unravelled the puzzle of why we find it so difficult to get stuck in and get going, he suggests there are five ways to overcome your resistance (summary with thanks to Sam T. Davies).
- Categorize which delays in your life are procrastination.
- Make pre-decisions using implementation intentions.
- Just get started.
- When working online, block distracting websites like Facebook (I recommend StayFocused for Google Chrome)
- Use willpower strategically.
If you want to read a bit more about procrastination, Chris Bailey does a good job of rounding up the subject in this article in the Harvard Business Review.
4. Create Accountability — Tell Someone What You’re Doing To Set An Expectation
Humans are social animals. We evolved in groups and our brains have been tuned to be highly influenced by how the group responds to us.
They were looking to confirm something you’ve almost certainly noticed. No-one likes to be taken for a ride.
In a group situation, if you feel like you’re putting in all the effort, while other people are free-riding — you’re going to get annoyed.
As the researchers put it, no-one wants to be a sucker.
Without the possibility of punishment, effort goes down so that eventually you’re likely to be free-riding.
With the possibility of punishment, efforts rise by up to 300%.
Punishment, of course, can take many forms, including the feeling of embarrassment or humiliation that being forced to own up to not doing something creates.
This research clearly backs the idea that building accountability (with the possibility of a penalty) works.
Many people find that choosing an accountability partner works well.
A familiar example is getting a gym buddy. Not showing up for an agreed session means you’ve got to tell your buddy you’re wimping out.
You can use the same method to make yourself accountable to someone else for something you're trying to do.
By adding accountability to your range of time management techniques, you’ll make it more likely that you’ll finish what you start.
5. If You’re A Leader, Set Group Rather Than Individual Goals
Building on the last technique, there’s also clear evidence that setting goals for groups rather than individuals will raise overall performance.
One study reported that:
“…egocentric goals (aimed at maximizing individual performance) undermine group performance, where group-centric goals (aimed at maximizing the individual contribution to the group) enhance group performance.”
As a leader, you’re going to get the best results — and the most productive use of your time (and everyone else’s — by setting goals that the group can get behind.
As Brett L. Simmons has written:
“Challenge your teams to set high standards for their shared performance, and reward the members that do the most to help the team succeed. Think very carefully about the message you send by rewarding individual performance when the team fails.”
I hope you've found something here you can use. Maybe it chimes in with what you're already doing.
I'm interested in evidence based practices — I work in healthcare afterall.
So if you know about research which shows why other time management techniques should be considered, please put something in the comments below.