Good time management is essential to productivity.
Not only will it help you study more effectively, it will also save you hours - even days! - which you can then spend however you like.
Amazingly, 82% of people don’t have any time management system at all.
If you’re one of them, you’ve come to the right place.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
- What time management skills are
- Why they are important
- 6 essential time management skills
- Tips and tricks for each one
- How to demonstrate them
...and much more.
So, no time to waste! Let’s get started.
What are Time Management Skills?
Time management is an important employability skill that shouldn’t be overlooked.
But what exactly does it mean?
Essentially, time management refers to the ability to use your time efficiently to get all your work done.
There are six essential time management skills that we’ll cover here:
- Stress management
- Setting boundaries
Time management is actually a broader area than you might think. You can practise effective time management in all sorts of ways, from concrete methods like the Eisenhower matrix to the emotional techniques that come with managing stress and setting boundaries.
Why are they important?
Making small changes in your time management routine can be game-changing, allowing you to work more efficiently, meet deadlines with ease, have more free time and feel less stressed.
And the benefits don’t stop there.
Cultivating good time management skills will also help make you more attractive to future employers, as they demonstrate that you can:
- Work well under pressure
- Meet deadlines
- Adapt quickly
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to just say that you can manage your time well - you have to prove it. More on this later.
For now, let’s look at the 6 skills you need to achieve world-class time management, plus some useful tips and tricks on how to improve them.
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
It all starts with a goal.
Whatever your goal may be, you need to define it. The SMART method is really useful for this.
Every goal should be:
Chances are, if a goal isn’t SMART, it probably won’t be achieved.
Once your goal is well-defined, you need to plan how you will accomplish it.
There’s no one way to plan; in fact, there are hundreds. Below are a few tips and tricks to get you started:
- Work backwards, starting with the result you want and reverse engineering until you know how to start
- Boil your plan down to a page or less
- Brainstorm any potential obstacles and plan how to deal with them
- Break up your plan into smaller pieces (e.g. split it into days or specific tasks)
- Don’t worry if planning feels frustratingly slow, it will save you so much time down the line
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” - Abraham Lincoln.
This next skill makes planning a piece of cake.
Prioritisation - the ability to decide which tasks are the most important - is such an underrated skill. If you can prioritise quickly and correctly, you will avoid a lot of potential pitfalls.
Every job requires prioritisation of one kind or another, but it’s particularly important in high-pressure jobs like investment banking, law and management consulting.
So, how exactly do you prioritise?
First, you need to ask two questions about everything you need to do:
- How urgent is the task?
- How important is the task?
Once you have the answers, try using The Eisenhower Matrix to decide how to deal with each task
(We’ll talk about how to delegate later in this guide.)
A concrete method like this can be invaluable when it comes to making study or revision plans.
Once you’ve planned and prioritised, it’s time to get focused.
Focus is the art of shutting out distractions so that you can concentrate on what you need to get done.
Out of the 6 time management skills in this guide, this is the one most people struggle with. After all, the world we live in is full of distractions: Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, staring out the window...
An ability to focus will really set you apart from the crowd when it comes to applying for jobs.
Here are some of our favourite techniques, tips and tricks for staying focused.
The Pomodoro Technique
There have been many variations of the Pomodoro method since it was coined in the 80s. But the core technique is as follows:
- Set a timer for 25 minutes
- Work on one task until the timer rings
- Set the timer for 5 minutes
- Take a break until the timer rings
- Repeat this 4 or 5 times, then take a more substantial 30-minute break
This might sound like a lot of breaks, especially if you haven’t got much time. But this method is a great way to prevent burnout. There’s no point working solidly for 4 hours and then crashing and not doing any more!
Other tips for focussing
- Get enough sleep
- Use a focus app like Forest
- Minimise multitasking
- Exercise regularly
- Take screen breaks using the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something roughly 20 feet away for 20 seconds
Keeping calm is also important for focus, but this can be challenging when feeling stressed. Practising stress management is therefore essential when it comes to making the most of your time.
We all experience stress sometimes.
There are lots of potential causes: exams, essays, pressure at home, UCAS, job interviews, climate change - you name it!
Thankfully, your body is designed to experience stress and react to it. But there is a limit. Excessive stress levels can lead to headaches, irritability, sleep deprivation, loss of appetite and even panic attacks.
But there are lots of techniques you can use to manage your emotions and limit stress.
The Four A’s
- Avoid: sometimes, we can stop stress before it even starts. This could be by learning how to say “no”, avoiding stressful environments or focussing on one task at a time.
- Alter: take control of your stress by talking about it with a friend or family member, or try creating a balanced schedule to help alleviate feelings of panic.
- Adapt: sometimes, changing your situation or avoiding stress is impossible. In this case, try to look at the bigger picture. Focus on your achievements and how far you’ve come, practice gratitude and reframe problems as opportunities.
- Accept: occasional stress is an inevitable part of life and it’s important to come to terms with it. It’s normal to feel anxious or overwhelmed sometimes, in an interview, for example, or the day before an exam.
Stress management and time management each feed into each other. If you manage your time better, you will likely be less stressed. If you are less stressed, it’s much easier to manage your time well.
This makes stress management one of the most important skills on this list. Planning, prioritisation and focus tend to crumble away if you are too stressed.
A big cause of stress is saying yes to everything: let’s look now at how to set boundaries.
“I set boundaries not to offend you, but to respect myself.” - Anon
Without boundaries, it becomes easy to lose control of your workload, making time management impossible.
How do you set boundaries?
It all starts with one word: “no”.
Of course, you can’t say no to your teachers whilst you’re still at school, but you can take simple steps in your personal life that will leave you more time to tackle your workload.
If a friend wants to hang out after school, for example, don’t feel afraid to tell them you can’t meet up until you’ve finished an assignment.
If a sibling needs help with a piece of homework, it’s okay to explain that you have an impending deadline, and to suggest another family member they could ask for help.
After you leave school, the ability to politely communicate your boundaries will become even more important.
Let’s say you’re working on four projects which take up all your time. Your boss or colleagues, not knowing how much you’ve got on, then give you an extra piece of work. If you take on that 5th project, you risk not getting everything done. And 4 finished projects are a lot better than 5 nearly finished ones.
That’s when phrases like these come in useful:
- “I’m really sorry, I just have too much on my plate right now.”
- “I’m not sure I’m qualified for that task, is there anyone else you could ask?”
- “I don't think I'll be able to fit that in this week, would next week be okay?”
- “I can’t help this time, but I have some resources I can forward you if that’s helpful?”
- “I’m sorry, I just don’t have the time for that at the moment, is there something else I could help you with?”
- “I think that sits with [colleague name]” or “[colleague name] might have time to help.”
That last point is what’s commonly called delegation. Let’s look at that in a bit more detail.
Have you ever worked on a group project and ended up doing the whole thing? Or found yourself drowning in small tasks that prevent you getting to the assignments that are really important?
The solution is delegation.
Essentially, delegation is entrusting a task to someone else that’s qualified to do it. In the workplace, this will typically be someone less experienced than you, and it’s a particularly important skill if you manage a team or a big project. You can’t do everything yourself!
Here are some top tips to help you delegate like a pro:
- Make sure you choose the right person for the job
- Give a proper explanation of why you want them to do the task
- Provide all the information, resources and training they will need to complete the task
- Trust them, but check the task has been done correctly
- Say thank you
Delegation is a subtle art but it’s one you can master. Once you have, it will save you so much time in the long run.
How to demonstrate your time management skills
So, we’ve been through some of the key time management skills you’ll need to take you from school into the workplace, and looked at how you can get them up to scratch.
Now let’s explore how you can demonstrate these skills to universities and employers.
Once you’ve chosen a uni, it’s time to start working on your personal statement.
Time management skills aren’t a top priority for universities. But showing them that you can manage the course load is always a good idea.
Just remember, describing the skills you have isn’t enough. You need to prove it.
Here are some examples:
- “While taking my GCSEs I also managed the junior football club. This meant balancing my time between revision and organising matches.”
- “Volunteering at Sanctuary Care involved planning activities for the residents. Creating timetables and filling them with bingo, exercise classes and book clubs helped me to hone my organisation and time management skills.”
- “Writing my EPQ over summer while also working at the local newspaper taught me how to keep focused and plan well so I could meet my deadlines.”
If you’re having trouble writing your personal statement, you might find this UCAS worksheet helpful.
Time management skills become much more important once you start looking for work.
No matter what job you are applying for, you need to show you can manage your time well.
Once again, the best way is to use examples. Here, they should sit within the “employment history” section. If you haven’t had a job yet, you can use the hobbies and interests section to demonstrate your time management skills; just make sure to give evidence.
Here are some examples:
- “When working as an admin assistant, I often had to juggle multiple tasks. By planning my day with Google calendar and asking my boss if I could have 2 hours a day for undisturbed work I was able to manage my time effectively.”
- “In my final year of sixth form I was elected to the school council. This meant I had to put aside time every week to attend meetings, plan initiatives and liaise with teachers. Balancing these duties with my studies taught me the importance of good time management and excellent organisation.”
- “During my time at Boots, I set myself the goal of becoming a supervisor. After just three months I achieved this by taking on extra shifts, pitching new ideas and improving my leadership skills.”
- “I researched and implemented a project management system and created workflows for each member of the team. This improved team-wide productivity by 40%.”
Unsure what to include on your first CV? Take a look at our employability skills guide!
If you are asked a situational question about your time management, try using the STAR method to plan your answer:
It’s a great way to make sure your answers are balanced and thorough.
Let’s look at some example questions and STAR answers.
Tell me about a time when you dealt with an urgent problem.
“At my last job, there was an urgent issue with a customer. I had quite a lot on my plate that day, so I decided to move some of my less urgent tasks to the next day, and asked for a hand with the less important ones from one of my colleagues. This allowed me to resolve the customer’s problem quickly without disrupting my other work. The customer went on to leave an excellent review.”
How do you manage stress at work?
“When I started my first job, I felt stressed quite often. This had the potential to negatively affect my work, so I started a stress journal. Now, each time I feel stressed, I jot it down. Then, at the end of each week, I review the events that made me feel stressed and come up with preventative measures for each. This has massively reduced my stress levels and improved my focus.”
How do you ensure deadlines are met?
“To ensure I meet my deadlines, I put all my tasks, deadlines and the time I think it will take to complete them on a spreadsheet. This allows me to quickly prioritise work and plan my day rigorously. I always upload my day plan to my calendar to make sure I stick to it, but can move things around if something urgent comes up. I haven’t missed a single deadline since implementing this system.”
The important thing here is to give concrete, specific examples. This also demonstrates excellent planning to your potential employer.