Time Management: Skills, Strategies, Tools And Research

Time management research reveals if it really helps people achieve life satisfaction and career success.

time management

Time management research reveals if it really helps people achieve life satisfaction and career success.

Time management is the process of planning activities to increase productivity.

Over the past decade or so it has almost become a cult, with websites, books and gurus all claiming to have the answer to your professional advancement and, naturally, lack of time.

Now, new research looks at 158 separate studies including over 50,000 people around the world to find out whether time management works.

Can it really help you achieve life satisfaction and career success?

Before we get to that, though, here are the basic time management strategies skills and tools.

Time management strategies

There are a seemingly endless number of time management strategies, but most involve three basic components:

1. Structuring time

Encourages the use of daily routines so that work fits together in a structured way.

Time management strategies are generally trying to combat the unsystematic way that most people work.

In practice, this involves simply prioritising tasks and using to-do lists.

2. Protecting time

Protecting time is mostly about stopping other people interrupting you from working.

This could involve saying ‘no’ when asked to do something else, delegating tasks to others or keeping other people away during certain periods.

The idea being, we cannot get the work done with continuous interruptions.

3. Adapting time

Involves looking at your overall schedule and seeing what time can be adapted for different purposes.

For example, sometimes you know a period will be waiting time — what could be achieved in that space?

Adapting time is about time reclamation: seeing what currently ‘useless’ time can be swept up and put to good use.

Examples of time management strategies

Central to many different time management strategies is setting goals and priorities.

In the ABCD analysis, for example, long used in business management, tasks are prioritised on this basis:

  • A – Tasks that are perceived as being urgent and important,
  • B – Tasks that are important but not urgent,
  • C – Tasks that are unimportant but urgent,
  • D – Tasks that are unimportant and not urgent.

Another, the ‘Pareto principle’, states that 80 percent of tasks can be done in 20 percent of the time, so do those ones first.

Does time management work?

Time management does work, but not wholly in the way people imagine, the new study reveals.

It improves performance at work somewhat, but its main benefit is to happiness, through a boost to life satisfaction.

After reviewing 158 separate studies on time management, Mr Brad Aeon, the study’s first author, said:

“We found that it does have a moderate impact on work performance.

But we found that the relationship between time management and job performance actually increased over the years, and significantly so.”

Time management has become more important in recent years as work has become more autonomous.

Mr Aeon said:

“People have more leeway in deciding how to structure their own time, so it is up to them to manage their own time as well.

If they are good at it, presumably they will have a better performance.

And if they are not, they will have an even worse performance than they would have had 30 years ago, when they had more of their time managed for them.”

The researchers found that time management had the most effect on work, less on academic success and little on standard test taking.

Critically, though, time management improves people’s life satisfaction — makes them happier.

Mr Aeon said:

“Time management helps people feel better about their lives because it helps them schedule their day-to-day around their values and beliefs, giving them a feeling of self-accomplishment.”

Personality and time management

The researchers found three main factors that predicted who is better at time management.

First, they found that women are slightly better at time management than men.

Second, personality had some influence, with the trait of conscientiousness tied to better time management.

Conscientious people tend to have a strong sense of responsibility and are competent, dutiful and self-disciplined.

Mr Aeon said:

“The only trait that did correlate strongly with time management was conscientiousness.

That involves people’s attention to details, their desire for organization, to be reliable and systematic.

That is understandable, because there is a lot of overlap there.”

Third, people with an internal locus of control were better at time management.

An internal locus of control is high when people feel they have control and can change their lives.

It makes people more likely to reach their goals, because they feel they are attainable.

Time management envy

People like to show off their time management skills to each other, but it is best not to get involved in this game, said Mr Aeon:

“You see these social media posts saying, ‘Yes, there’s a pandemic, but I learned a new language or I woke up at 5 a.m. and accomplished more in a few hours than you will all day.

It makes the rest of us feel bad and creates unrealistic standards as to what we can and cannot do with our time.”

The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE (Aeon et al., 2021).

Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

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