Time management is how you organize and divide up your time between different activities. Good time management strategies increase your productivity and efficiency.
Effective time management is important for anyone, but it's absolutely crucial for entrepreneurs.
Because entrepreneurs are ultimately responsible for every aspect of their business, allocating the right amount of time to the right tasks is critical to keeping your business running smoothly.
Better time management isn’t just about working harder, it’s about working smarter. We asked productivity experts to share their best time management tips. Use this list of techniques to experiment and find the strategies that make the most sense for you.
Effective time management tips
1. Do a time audit
To better spend your time, start by understanding where your time is spent. There are great time management apps out there to track time, but in all honesty, I prefer to keep it lightweight—Marc Andreessen's notecard system has always worked for me.
On a simple three-by-five notecard, keep track of your main to-dos for the day. On the back of the card, you’re supposed to write things you got done that you didn't initially plan to get done the night before—the workday always likes to sneak in plenty of extras.
By looking at your three-by-five card at the end of the day, you’ll see what you prioritized (and if you got it done) and what work was added to your plate. Extra work is fine, but if you’re not clearing off your main tasks day after day, something is wrong.
—Adam Rogers, Content Manager at Shopify
2. Create a daily schedule
For me, if it doesn't get scheduled it doesn't get done! So scheduling every hour of my work day is critical to staying focused and productive. Even “free time” to pursue side interests is put on the calendar.
If it doesn’t get scheduled, it doesn’t get done! I accomplish goals by breaking them down into very small projects that I can achieve on a daily basis.
Each step should take no longer than one hour per day to accomplish. If I find it’s going to take longer than an hour to do that step, I haven’t broken it down enough.
Even if I finish that day’s steps early, I keep myself from doing the next step. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but doing so keeps me from getting burned out, and I’m more motivated for the next day’s hour of work. This strategy also keeps me from getting a step “half done,” which doesn’t feel as good as getting everything done that was planned for that day.
Managing my time means planning it in advance. The last 30 minutes of my day is always set aside to schedule the following work day.
—Tim Bourquin, Entrepreneur
3. Prioritize and delegate
Know your personal and professional priorities and plan your priorities in your calendar. Everything else needs to fit around them or be dropped.
Get a great assistant you can delegate scheduling and other routine activities to. This person can be one of your biggest productivity boosters and stress reducers.
—Elizabeth Grace Saunders, Time Management Coach
4. Group related tasks together
Rather than starting at the top of your list and working your way down, take a few minutes and review the entire list. Then batch similar tasks together. You may have categories like phone calls, finances, networking, paperwork, or creative activities.
By grouping (or batching) activities together that are similar in nature, your brain does not have to jump from one type of thinking to another. The transitions become smoother. You gain momentum as you perform related tasks, and in some instances actually speed up!
—Stephanie L.H. Calahan, founder of Calahan Solutions Inc.
5. Try not to multitask
These days, it seems like all of us have less time than we’d like to accomplish the things we want to do. The internet and social media have sped up how you get your news, how you stay in contact with people, and how you communicate with your customers. It has also caused all of us to create some bad habits—one of which is multitasking.
According to research done by the American Psychological Association, multitasking doesn’t save you time. In fact, it clogs up your workflow, increases your stress levels, and ends up hindering your overall functionality.
Stanford’s study reports that multitasking even affects your long-term and short-term memory. Chronic everyday multitasking actually affects your ability to hold and use information in your mind and your ability to retrieve information.
Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin says, “All that switching across tasks comes with a neurobiological cost. It depletes resources, so after an hour or two of attempting to multitask, if we find that we’re tired and can’t focus, it’s because those very neuro chemicals we needed to focus are now gone.”
6. Set time limits for tasks
Now take that project or that work product and break it down into smaller sub tasks and set up some time tracking, or time-block how long it will take to do each of those tasks—even if they’re five minutes apiece.
So actually scope out what you want to accomplish very, very clearly so that you know when you’re actually done—when you’re successful—and you can check that off the list and get that hit of dopamine that will keep you energized, motivated, and happy to continue doing work.
Otherwise we have a tendency to wake up and jump into work without intentionality, and then we work for hours and hours and hours without really feeling like we’ve accomplished what we set out to accomplish.
—Dr. Sahar Yousef, cognitive neuroscientist
7. Take breaks regularly
Taking breaks makes you more productive. In fact, William S. Helton, a professor of human factors and applied cognition at George Mason University, showed that short breaks can improve attention.
He and some colleagues conducted an experiment that tested two groups of university students who had to monitor a series of railway lines on a screen. One group wasn’t given a break for the entire forty-five minutes, while the other group was given a five minute break halfway through the task.
The second group was given a variety of activities they were allowed to perform during that five minutes. Regardless of the activity, the second group showed a measurable improvement in their performance.
The research also shows that the type of breaks you take are important. Psychology Today reports that it’s important to get away from the notifications, the text messages, and your devices in general. Go take a walk in nature, doodle, or work out—something that won’t strain your brain or your eyes.
If you want to continue to work at optimum levels, keep this time management tool in your toolbox and make sure to make it a priority.
8. Eliminate distractions
How you manage your time is only relevant to the extent that you also control your attention on the task at hand. This is because if you allocate time to a task, but spend that time switching among several different tasks, the end result will likely be different than what you intended. Controlling your attention means effectively managing internal and external distractions, and single-tasking for higher quality work done faster.
—Maura Thomas, Productivity Trainer
9. Stay organized
Organization is an important time management technique. Jennifer Verdolin, Ph.D., assistant professor at University of Arizona, says, “Research shows that excessive clutter and mess is distracting and inhibits our ability to concentrate and focus.” She then goes on to give examples in the animal kingdom that show how tidiness has helped animals perform at their best.
Organization doesn’t just mean physically keeping your space organized, it also means staying mentally organized. Unlike Tip 4, staying mentally organized is not about grouping similar tasks, it’s about prioritizing the things you need to do. So set goals for your day and try organizing the tasks you have into groupings like:
- Daily tasks: the tasks you know you have to complete everyday, like tracking your time, checking your email, signing into a company Slack session, etc.
- Urgent tasks: the tasks that are time sensitive and require your immediate attention.
- Important tasks: the tasks that are important, but don’t necessarily have a due date. A lot of ongoing projects would fit into this category.
- Small tasks: these are tasks that should take either little brain power and/or a small amount of time. For example, sending an email, replying to a Slack message, or updating your LinkedIn profile.
Learn more: 14 Must Watch TED Talks for Entrepreneurs
10. Pace yourself
As an entrepreneur, you're in over-performance mode a lot of time because you’re all in. Pace yourself. There will be time. You’ll need the time, energy, and attention though; and when you go full throttle right out of the gate, you’ll exhaust yourself.
Do you know what good enough is for each of the projects on your list? This is good enough for the organization and good enough for you. Overthinking, over editing and over tweaking wastes valuable time and is not necessary. Do good work, and then stop.
—Carson Tate, Author of Work Simply
11. Stop and think
The most important thing a busy entrepreneur can do is to stop everything and think.
Take at least five minutes in the morning to think about your day:
- What’s most important for you to accomplish today?
- Does your calendar reflect that priority?
Set your phone to beep every hour and, when it does, ask yourself:
- Am I doing what I most need to be doing?
- Am I being who I most want to be?
And at the end of the day, pause for five minutes and ask yourself:
- What did I learn? Is there anyone I need to thank or acknowledge?
- Is there anything I want to do differently tomorrow?
So often, we think of time management as increasing our efficiency. But some of the most efficient people I know are not effective at time management. The key is to be effective, to work on what’s most important and to leave everything else out.
—Peter Bregman, Executive Leadership Coach
12. Build unstructured time into your schedule
Build two to four hours of unstructured time into your weekly schedule. This is time set aside with no agenda beyond learning, exploring, and thinking. For many busy entrepreneurs this might seem counterintuitive or just plain unrealistic. However, research backs up the importance of having “slack” time in your schedule on two fronts:
- When you’re constantly busy and have no free time—as in every minute of every day is scheduled back to back—you max out your brain’s bandwidth: your cognitive abilities decline, you become more prone to making errors, and you’re less insightful.
- Early on at Amazon, Jeff Bezos left his Mondays and Thursdays completely unstructured so that he always had time to devote to thinking deeply about the vision of the company. Making some “unstructured time” sacred is a hallmark of successful CEOs, because without it they will always be reacting to the problems others are putting in front of them, and never proactively thinking about the future of the company.
—Jocelyn K. Glei, Work and Creativity Expert
13. Do the most important tasks in the morning
Take your time to do “right things.” Working in constant pressure is not OK. Feeling anxious and overwhelmed is not OK. Do you regret making a decision? Stop.
You shouldn’t judge your success based on outcomes by themselves. The most positive results can be from things that you don’t have to do. Do the most important things in the morning—studies show that after using your willpower later in a day people start making bad decisions.
—Kamil Rudnicki, CEO of TimeCamp
14. Do the simplest tasks first
My high school math teacher once told me that if you’re stuck on a problem, start writing down numbers and you’ll be amazed how often you figure out the solution as you write. I've found this true in all of life, not just math.
Whenever I get stuck on something, don’t know how to start a project, get anxious or start procrastinating, I force myself to do the simplest and smallest part of the task. I lower my expectations from completing the whole project to doing the simplest, most achievable component—I’ll write the first sentence, put in the first line of code, create the first line in the spreadsheet.
And what invariably happens is that you finish that first thing and it spills into the next, and then the next, and like a snowball, hours later you’re charging miles downhill and you don’t even remember why it was hard to start out in the first place.
—Mark Manson, three-time #1 New York Times bestselling author
15. Start your day earlier than everyone else
Start your day earlier than everyone else. If you read the biographies and autobiographies of successful men and women, almost all of them have one thing in common and that is the habit of going to bed at a reasonable hour and rising early.
By waking before the rest of the world, you have time to plan your day in advance and get a head start on some tasks that may be looming over your head before others are awake to interrupt you.
—Brian Tracy, motivational speaker and author
16. Use the Pomodoro Technique
My top management tip for busy entrepreneurs is the Pomodoro Technique and Unschedule Calendar. This basically means I just put a timer for 25 minutes and start doing only one task. This time pressure and single focus helps me get back on track and get into my productivity rhythm.
—Michael Sliwinski, founder of productivity app, Nozbe
17. Use the Eisenhower Matrix
Emails keep piling up, phone calls keep coming in, there are tons of to-dos: a creator’s workload is enormous. Prioritizing that work is key to staying focused. The more you’re able to prioritize, the more efficient you’ll be. This is where Eisenhower’s urgency-importance matrix comes in, forcing you to think twice before adding a task to your to-do list.
Here's the how. Select those tasks that are most urgent. Ask yourself: Are these equally as important? Postpone what is less urgent, delegate what is less important. And if it's none of the above: get rid of that to-do.
18. Create a “5 before 11” list
Make your “5 before 11” list of five things you can commit to doing before 11 a.m. tomorrow morning. Does each task move the needle forward on your purpose, priorities, and goals? It should. When you do your 5 before 11 tomorrow, you will have a blissfully peaceful sense of accomplishment, knowing you have done what is meaningful to you.
—Allyson Lewis, Founder of The Seven Minute Life
19. Declutter your brain regularly
You feel stressed because you have too many unfinished tasks. On a plain piece of paper, write them all down. Then cross out any that are not absolutely essential. Be brutal. Looking at your list, commit to completing one task a day until the list is complete. Revisit this list often!
—Allyson Lewis, Founder of The Seven Minute Life
20. Freely allocate the time needed to complete a task
Freely allocate the time you need to realistically do a piece of work to the minimum next stage of completion.
By “realistic,” I mean the actual amount of time it would take, not the amount of time you wish it would take. Once you have made that decision, then don’t think about time at all and do the work. Thinking about time management is the biggest waste of time I indulge in, ironically! While I am worrying about how long something takes, I am not using 100% of my attention on doing useful work or solving problems.
By “minimum next stage of completion,” I mean a “useful element” that contributes to your working goals in some salient way. I tend to fixate on the “end result” instead of the next stage, because I am impatient, but this just creates frustration that again burns up energy that might otherwise be used to make something.
Giving myself enough time to get something done, and also giving myself the permission to not feel rushed or guilty about the time it takes, is what works for me.
—David Seah, Productivity tool maker
21. Map out tasks the day before
At the end of each day, map out which tasks need to get done the next day and how long each one will take. Then schedule those tasks on your calendar in between the appointments that are already on there. Time management is all about mindset management. Once you realize that you’re in control of your clock and can tell your time what to do, your work life and personal life will become less stressed.
—Helene Segura, Productivity expert
Go beyond a never-ending to-do list, take control of your time
With everything you’re juggling, effectively managing your time may feel like an impossible dream right now, but it’s not impossible. There are over 20 examples in this article alone that show people who have found proven ways to improve their time management skills. You can do it too.
Stop putting all your energy into those activities that are just time wasters. Try one or two of these tips out and watch your productivity and your mental health improve.
Ready to create your online store? Start your free 14-day trial of Shopify—no credit card required.
Time management tips FAQ
What are 5 effective time management tips?
- Create time blocks to do focused work.
- Use time management tools to be more productive.
- Prioritize your most important tasks first.
- Avoiding multitasking.
- Group similar tasks together.
What are the 10 steps to time management?
- Determine how much time you can spend on work in a day.
- Set a value to your time.
- Prioritize high-value tasks.
- Make achievable to-do lists.
- Stick to one task at a time.
- Stay focused.
- Use a time-tracking tool.
- Realize if you are stressed.
- Take regular breaks.
- Finish within a set time limit.