4 Time Management Tools You Can Start Using Today

Nader Alexan
Feb 18 · 5 min read

If you ever looked up research on time management, or searched for tools to help, then you have definitely come across some -or potentially all- of the following principles and tools.

The following is neither opinion-based topics, nor tools that I have built (or endorse), but rather scientifically proven principles for time management and tools built upon them.


Microbreaks

— Tool: TimeOut (Mac) / Work Rave (Linux, Windows)

Photo by Houcine Ncib

Definition: A very short break (e.g. 15 seconds) every short block of work (e.g. 15 minutes), where one does not switch focus to another task, but just stops the current task, e.g. looking away from the screen and stretching.

Microbreaks are regular, small, biologically meaningful breaks from being stuck in one position at work [2].

Benefits/Science: Study done by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign [1] shows that microbreaks dramatically improves one’s focus on prolonged tasks, adding to that, studies done by Baylor [3] and Standford [4] universities show that employees exercising microbreaks experience less headaches, lower back pain, and eyestrain compared to those who do not.

Action: Experiment with 15–30 minutes blocks of work with 15–20 second microbreaks to find what is suitable for you. Ideally, use a tool (TimeOut or Work Rave) to automate this process for you


Time Analysis

— Tool: Qbserve (Mac) / Manic Time (Linux, Mac, Windows) / Rescue Time (Browser)

Photo by Emily Morter

Definition: Measure and analyse what you spend your time on.

Benefits/Science: Measuring how you spend your working hours can be very eye opening, specifically when you compare the time spent on tasks with the tasks’ priorities. For instance, are you spending multiple hours per day checking your email and responding to slack messages? Are you constantly context switching between working on a long-term feature and bug fixes? Favouring non-important-urgent tasks over important-non-urgent tasks is a far too common mistake, leaving one with important task not fulfilled until they become urgent. Furthermore, it helps figuring out when a task is going off track [5].

Action: Measure the time spent on tasks (preferably using an automated tool such as Qbserve or Manic Time) and before starting work everyday, analyse how you used your time the day before.


Concentration Sessions

— Tool: Tomato Timer (Browser)

Photo by Form

Definition: Per block of time, work on a single task, this would be the opposite of multitasking.

Benefits/Science: Multitasking kills productivity, this has been proven by multiple studies [10][11][12][13], avoid it at all costs and you might be able to achieve a state of Flow.

Action: Decide on what task you will focus on for the next block of time, start a timer (preferably using an automated tool such as Tomato Time), put your phone on silent and turn it face down, disable other sources of notifications (e.g. browser, mail, chat apps -even work related ones such as Slack-). The only notification your computer should be able to show, is the one from your timer. Bonus points: remove anything that shows time from your sight so you do not get distracted by how much of the current session is left, instead, purely focus on the task at hand.


Concentration on a few topics

— Tool: Your own choices

Photo by Jametlene Reskp

Definition: Concentrating on a few topics at any given time.

Benefits/Science: Extensive research done by the psychologist George Miller attempted to measure the “channel capacity” of the mind, with the conclusion that the mind can associate about seven different labels with continuous stimuli. Read more at [7][8][9].

Action: Are you doing feature development, bug fixes, and participating in the roadmap of your company’s product? Sounds great, make sure that the total number of different tasks is less than or equal to seven (each feature/bug is counted separately). Write them down on a small paper, and put it somewhere visible on your workspace. Bonus: helps with explanation to others when you say “No” to other tasks, “sorry boss-man, I cannot take on this task at the moment as I have another seven that I am focusing on and I would not want to deliver lower quality work by taking on more than I can handle.”


Closing notes

This is a high level view of the principles and tools, there is much much more to explore, if you are interested in the topic, checkout the source below, and checkout this literature review [6] on the topic

Give me Feedback, please

Do you have feedback for me? Regardless if it is positive or negative, let me know (comments, LinkedIn, email: alexan.nader@gmail.com). See photo below for relevance.

Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet

Sources

  1. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Brief diversions vastly improve focus, researchers find.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110208131529.htm>.
  2. Ingraham, Paul, “Microbreaking”, painscience, 12 May 2018. <https://www.painscience.com/articles/microbreaking.php>
  3. Hunter, E. M., & Wu, C. (2016). Give me a better break: Choosing workday break activities to maximize resource recovery. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(2), 302–311. <https://doi.org/10.1037/apl0000045>
  4. Waltz, P. R. (2016). Experiencing recovery at work: Energetic benefits of social media micro-breaks. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 38(1), 28–44.
  5. Mackenzie, R. Alec. The time trap : the classic book on time management / Alec Mackenzie and Pat Nickerson. — 4th ed. Amacom, 2009.
  6. Claessens, B., van Eerde, W., Rutte, C. and Roe, R. (2007), “A review of the time management literature”, Personnel Review, Vol. 36 №2, pp. 255–276. <https://doi.org/10.1108/00483480710726136>
  7. Hébert, R. (2006). The Miller’s tale: A genealogy of the father of the cognitive revolution. APS Observer 19(6).
  8. Cohen-Cole, J. (2007). Instituting the science of mind: intellectual economies and disciplinary exchange at Harvard’s Center for Cognitive Studies. British Journal of the History of Science 40(4), pp. 567–597.
  9. Eminent psychologists of the 20th century. (July/August, 2002). Monitor on Psychology, 33(7), p.29.
  10. MANHART, KLAUS. “The Limits of Multitasking.” Scientific American Mind, vol. 14, no. 5, 2004, pp. 62–67., <www.jstor.org/stable/24997557. Accessed 18 Feb. 2020.>
  11. Odmar Neumann and Andries F. Sanders, 1996, “Attention. Series 3: Handbook of Perception and Action.” Harcourt.
  12. John R. Anderson. W. H. Freeman and Company, 1999, “Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications. Fifth edition.”
  13. Joshua S. Rubinstein, David E. Meyer and Jeffrey E. Evans, August 2001, “Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching”, Journal of Experimental Psychology — Human Perception and Performance, Vol. 27, №4, pages 763–797., <www.apa.org/journals/xhp/ press_releases/august_2001/xhp274763.html>

You looked at the sources! or just randomly scrolled down, either way, here is a photo of my Pug for the great job you did by looking at sources!

Photo by Nader Alexan of Kimchi, the best pug in the world, well, at least in my apartment.

Nader Alexan

Written by

Software Engineer passionate about Psychology, understanding fellow Homo sapiens, and dogs

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