What constitutes a working week for most people? Does the old Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, norm still stand? Well, if the results of the world’s biggest four-day workweek trial are anything to go by: probably not. In fact, it’s likely safe to say that the working week revolution is underway. Now more than ever, businesses are using smart time management tips that can help professionals live more productive balanced lives.

The old nine-to-five workweek structure goes back over 200 years. So, it’s been due for a revamp for quite some time. Part of dismantling this system and implementing a new solution, however, has involved understanding how to manage time effectively.

Freelancers and professionals who need to bill time accurately have always understood the importance of effective time management strategies. The pandemic fuelled interest in this issue among broader business groups. We balanced our professional endeavors with our domestic commitments in increasingly blurred ways during the early 2020s. And as we did, we started to ask ourselves: are there time management tips that could help us do more and work less?

The answer is yes. Let’s dive in.

Table of Contents

What is Time Management?

It’s probably best to start with the basics: what is time management?

Time management refers to how you organize and plan your time between different tasks and activities. If you manage your time well, you should be able to accomplish the tasks you set out for yourself within a given time period. If your expectations are unrealistic, if you get distracted or procrastinate easily, or if you have other poor time management habits, you might find that your to-do list grows rather than shrinks.

Managing your time effectively doesn’t just apply to your working life. It can also affect your personal life, and how you balance the two. If you’ve got the right prioritization strategies in place, your life should feel pretty harmonious and in sync. You should have enough time to do the work you need to do, rest, and enjoy time with friends and family. Unfortunately, without the right time-saving techniques, the opposite is probably true.

Image: Antenna

What are the Benefits of Improved Time Management?

If you’ve found the right time management tips for you, and have put them in place, you should be reaping some great rewards. Better time management helps to:

  • Improve your productivity
  • Make you more efficient
  • Lower your levels of stress
  • Boost your confidence
  • Improve your professional reputation
  • Increase your chances of business success

It also opens up the mental and emotional capacity to push some professional boundaries. If you’re not constantly worrying about deadlines that you’re battling to meet, you’re more likely to be able to think creatively. Are there new business ideas you’ve been meaning to work on? What about a new product launch? Or introducing a different process that could make your working life more efficient?

Effective time management practices can help you enjoy more productive hours in a workday, find greater work-life balance, and innovate along the way.

Before we take a closer look at the time management tips that can help you enjoy these benefits, it’s worth interrogating how the eight-hour workday came into being. Let’s also explore the results of the four-day work trial we mentioned earlier.

The Origins of the Eight-hour Workday

The five-day, 40-hour workweek is often attributed to Henry Ford, who adopted it in his factories in 1926. Its true origins, however, can be found over a century prior.

The eight-hour workday was first conceived by a Welsh labor activist, Robert Owen, in 1817. He was responding to the grueling lack of limitations on the average workday, which often resulted in 16-hour days for factory workers. Owen proposed that proper work-life balance could be achieved by eight hours of work, eight hours of recreation, and eight hours of sleep.

And with that, the modern workweek was born. Over time, theories started to develop that the 40-hour week would decrease eventually, thanks to innovation and automation. In 1930, in an essay titled “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren”, economist John Keynes guessed we would only be working 15 hours a week by 2030. (The working week might be dropping in some spaces, but it’s still nowhere close to this prediction.)

Today, the average office worker in the U.S. spends 8.8 hours per day at work, but is only productive for less than three hours of that time.

As more professionals have turned to freelancing as a full-time or part-time source of income (freelancers made up 36% of the U.S. workforce in 2022), however, the eight-hour workday has increasingly come into question. And of course, the pandemic has had a lingering effect, too.

Is eight hours a day an adequate approach for focusing on the task at hand, we’ve been asking ourselves? Or could it be preventing us from doing our best work?

The Four-day Workweek Trial

The biggest four-day workweek trial to date took place in the UK between June and December 2022, involving 61 companies. In terms of the experiment, employees received 100% of their pay for working 80% of their previous hours. The expectation was that they would maintain 100% productivity.

The trial was hailed as a resounding success. Since completion, 92% of the businesses that took part are continuing with a four-day week. And 30% have made the shift permanently. Companies report that productivity levels were maintained, while staff retention and employee well-being improved. Fewer people suffered from burnout, and staff were happier and more focused.

The four-day workweek isn’t without its problems. It doesn’t suit all industries or workers, and can be more expensive. But it’s clearly signaling that it’s time to rethink how we structure our time.

Image: Jud Mackrill

Time Management Strategies: The Experts Weigh In

Alright, so we’re starting to dismantle the idea that eight hours of work, five days a week, might not be ideal or necessary for accomplishing our daily tasks. What do the productivity experts have to say on the matter?

The Secret of Deep Work

Cal Newport is a professor of computer science and the author of several books, including Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Newport claims that three to four hours of deeply focused, uninterrupted time will help us maximize our productivity. What’s more, it will change our lives at work by making us more skilled, efficient, and ultimately, competitive.

Consider the statistic above. The average professional in the U.S. spends over eight hours a day at the office, but is unfocused for well under half that time. They probably still accomplish what they need to, but they effectively waste the rest of their time getting lost in unproductive time sinks and doing half-hearted multitasking.

Newport’s idea of deep work proposes that by applying intense concentration and discipline for specific periods of time, we could get more done quicker.

The Power of Valuable Work

Daiga Kamerāde is a work and employment sociologist who believes that we should shy away from focusing on quantity when we think about work.

Rather than focus on how many hours we’re working, she argues, we should think about how valuable the work actually is. Kamerāde has found that when we’re engaged in meaningful work, we’re far more likely to achieve a better state of overall well-being. And ultimately, improved well-being and mental health contribute to a higher level of job satisfaction, increased productivity, and greater innovation. Win, win, win.

The Top 10 Time Management Tips to Help You Be More Productive

So, how does effective time management work in practice? What are the time management tips that can help you do your best work?

  1. Track your time: Time management tip number one: you can’t improve your time management processes if you don’t know where your time is going in the first place. Using an automatic time tracking tool (like Timing) can help you to identify what you’re working on when. It can also tell you whether you’re spending more time being distracted or procrastinating than you should.
  2. Try the Pomodoro Technique: The Pomodoro Technique is one of several handy time management strategies that divides your time into 25-minute increments. Work until the timer expires, take a five-minute break, and then repeat. Many people find these short sprints help them to stay focused and avoid mental fatigue. We outline the technique in full under time management tip number two here.
  3. Identify your most important tasks and tackle them first: The Eisenhower Matrix is a useful tool for identifying which task is the most important one on your to-do list. It helps you divide tasks into those that are urgent and important (do those), not urgent but important (plan for those), urgent but not important (delegate those), and not urgent and not important (eliminate those).
  4. Know when you’re most productive: Everyone works differently. While some people are super productive first thing in the morning, others have a surge of energy and inspiration late at night. Know your own rhythms and routines, and optimize them. The Stats screen in Timing can help you to spot your most active working hours.
  5. Set clear and realistic goals: You’re only setting yourself up for failure if you convince yourself that you’re going to accomplish an endless and overambitious list of jobs every day. Instead, improve your goal-setting techniques by identifying small, meaningful and achievable tasks that you’re likely to complete in a given time period. Setting goals is an important part of better time management and can help you build your income.
  6. Eliminate distractions: What are your greatest distractions? Is it an electronic device, like your phone or the TV? Do you feel the need to read and respond to every email immediately? Or do you find it difficult to work when your children are around? Identify what gets in the way of you managing your time effectively and try to think of ways that limit your distractions.
  7. Try not to multitask: When you have a lot on your plate, it can be easy to switch between projects whenever your brain gives you unwelcome reminders that one task or another has fallen off your radar. When it comes to multitasking vs. single-tasking, however, try to opt for the latter. As research by the American Psychological Association points out, doing multiple tasks can negatively affect your productivity.
  8. Stay organized: A clean workspace — both physical and digital — can help you to stay focused. Neuroimaging has revealed how much calmer people feel when their environments are organized and orderly. Knowing exactly where all your documents can be found on your computer can also ensure that you don’t lose time or mental momentum to poor workflow processes. Don’t underestimate how important workflow and process optimization can be for time management.
  9. Set aside some unstructured time: Blocking off a few hours in your diary every week where you don’t schedule meetings or have any professional commitments can help you to find a sense of balance. You could use this time to strategize about your next business move, to innovate, or even to relax, depending on your needs.
  10. Learn to say no: This isn’t an easy time management trick, especially if you’re a freelancer or small business owner who never wants to refuse work. But saying no is important. Sometimes, you simply can’t add yet another project to your to-do list: you just don’t have the time. Ask your client if the deadline is flexible and, if it isn’t, politely turn them down. Chances are, they’ll understand, and will still come back to you the next time they need your services.

More on Time Management Tip Number One: Using Timing to Create a Workday That Works for You

Our first time management tip is so important that we’re going to expand on it a bit.

Ultimately, a work day shouldn’t necessarily include a prescriptive recommendation. Whether you need to work four, six, or eight hours (or occasionally more) will depend on work and your current commitments. What’s most important is that you design a work day that works for you. One that maximizes your productivity and efficiency, ideally without forfeiting your work-life balance.

Here’s how to use Timing to improve your time management skills, schedule your workdays, and get the most out of your working hours:

Assess Your Current Work Schedule

Timing offers valuable insight into your current time usage by providing a detailed breakdown of both quantity and quality of your working hours. How many hours are you actually spending on work? And what are you doing during those hours and minutes?

Timing’s Stats screen allows you to see a helpful breakdown of your working hours and minutes. Also find more in-depth details on the Activities screen. Taking an honest look at how you’re actually spending your time should help you get a start on improving your schedule. Are you, like the average office worker, spending only a few productive hours per day in front of your screen, despite feeling like you’ve spent all day at work? Timing can help you gain this insight and then make positive changes.

Perform a Personal Experiment

If you typically spend eight or nine hours a day sitting at your computer, why not try cutting that time in half and seeing if you can achieve the same amount of work? Not easy, but worth a shot!

Timing should help you stick to this goal and monitor how you’ve used your time to knock out tasks and meet deadlines. For example, if you have a project that involves writing up a draft in Microsoft Word or Google Docs, how long did the assignment actually take you when you were on a tighter deadline? Timing will help you to see exactly how much time you spent editing that document, and where you may have been distracted.

Maximize Your Productivity

By creating a more organized, strategic system for time management, you could create a more efficient (and potentially shorter) workday. Timing allows you to organize your work by project, client, or account, and then assign keywords to those categories to automate detailed time tracking. You can also use Timing to generate reporting on your work and invoice clients to reduce your administrative burden. And it can help you create more space in your schedule.

Time Management: The Bottom Line

Time management isn’t an exact science. It involves being sensitive to the tasks you have to accomplish, the demands that exist in other areas of your life, and how you’re feeling physically, mentally and emotionally. All of these things can vary from day to day, and from week to week.

Equipping yourself with the right technology tools for time management can set you on the path to making important and valuable changes. And to leading a more productive and more balanced life.

The important thing is to figure out what works for you — and Timing can help you get there. Try Timing for free for 30 days and see how it transforms how you manage your time.

Image: Emma Dau

Time Management Tips: Top FAQs

Want to get a snapshot of all the useful info we’ve provided above? We’ve got you covered with these FAQs:

What is Time Management?

Time management is all about how you organize and plan your time between different tasks and activities. If you manage your time well, you should be able to accomplish your tasks and find a good work-life balance.

What are some common time-wasting activities to avoid?

Social media, online shopping, and gaming are obvious culprits when it comes to time-wasting activities (also known as time sinks). But even tasks that look like work — such as endlessly checking your emails, sitting in badly organized meetings, or getting lost in clunky and ineffective tools and processes — can rob you of valuable hours.

What are some effective tips for managing my time?

Here are five of our top time management tips: 1) track your time using an automatic time tracking tool; 2) try the Pomodoro Technique; 3) identify your most important tasks; 4) know when you’re most productive; and 5) set clear and realistic goals.

How can I make the most of my time during my most productive hours of the day?

Firstly, using a tool like Timing, look into when you’re most productive. Everyone’s different, and even your own schedule might vary a little. Once you’ve established that mornings are better for you, or maybe early evenings, schedule your most demanding tasks for that time. You’ll be much more likely to complete them, and complete them well.