Time Management
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10 top time management activities: what you should focus on

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At the end of every work day, you can’t help but get the feeling you’re not getting as much done as you could. You get distracted often, put off high-priority tasks, and you get the sense you’ll likely do the same all over again tomorrow.

So, how do you break this vicious cycle that threatens to dictate how much progress you can make?

The answer is to acknowledge the importance of time and how you manage it. This guide is all about better appreciating the use of time so that you can improve your work performance.

Why is time management important?

If you don’t actively think about how you spend your time, you risk letting it slip through your fingers every day.

Illustration of time management tools like checklists and hourglasses

To be more productive and get more done, you can’t hold onto the hope that more time will magically appear — you have to learn to stay focused during the time you currently have.

There’s an idea many of us have that “if only we had more time,” we’d be able to finish that book we’ve been writing, finally get around to fixing the garage, and take up that new sport we’ve been excited about for months.

But this time never shows up, of course.

Time is a finite resource you can’t drum up more of; you can only spend it better. With the right activities and strategies, though, you can work smarter, not harder.

10 ways to reshape your relationship with time

One of the best ways to develop a healthier relationship with time in your life is to see it for what it is: fleeting. When you see just how easy it is to let minutes and hours pass by, it’s much easier to make a productive decision more times than not.

Below, we go through 10 time management activities you can do to improve not just how you see time, but how you spend it.

1. Time squared

Time squared is an activity in which each person in the group is given three pages, each with 24 squares. Every square on the page indicates a single hour, which represents the 24 hours in a day.

The goal of the activity is for each person to fill out the three pages with the following items:

Page 1: Routine activities

The first page is for the activities you do every day. If you’re doing the activity with coworkers, this would be activities such as logging onto your computer, checking your messages, lunch breaks, and regular meetings. If it’s for your personal life, it could include time spent sleeping, meal times, etc.

Page 2: Idle time activities

The second page is for idle time activities. At work, this could be coffee breaks and coworker chats. At home, this might be stopping to talk to family or taking a breather outside.

Page 3: Both habitual and idle time activities

Now, your job is to list out all the activities from the previous two pages onto the last page. Here’s the interesting part: all the time you have left after filling out this final page is time you have to spend on productive activities.

This may be a sobering exercise, but what it does is help you identify what you can spend less time on to make space for productivity.

2. The mayo jar

The mayo jar activity is all about prioritization.

Place an empty jar on a table, along with an assortment of beach materials such as big and small rocks, sand, and water.

Illustration of mayo jar time management activity

What’s next — you guessed it — is a game of logic.

Do your best to arrange the materials so that you can fit as many as possible in the jar. After struggling for several minutes, you’ll arrive at the conclusion that the big rocks (your biggest priorities) are the best place to start.

All the other smaller items (your lower priorities) will squeeze around the big rocks, once you’ve fitted those in appropriately.

3. Ace of spades

If you want to teach coworkers, friends, or family the value of organization, the ace of spades is a fantastic activity.

You’ll need two willing participants and two standard playing card decks to get started. Before you give one deck of cards to both participants, you’ll want to arrange the first so that it’s in perfect order from ace to king.

But for the second, have some fun and mix up the pack of cards so that you have some facing forwards, others facing backwards, and no palpable sense of order whatsoever.

The goal of the game is to find the ace first. As you can imagine, the unlucky participant that receives the second deck is likely to get frustrated as they rifle through the mixed-up decks of cards, struggling to find the ace.

This is where the lesson of the activity becomes clear: having an organization system always prevails for time management.

4. The ribbon of life

The ribbon of life activity is similar to the time squared activity in that it provides a stark reminder of how little productive time we actually give ourselves.

Get your hands on a 1-meter-long ribbon and a pair of scissors.

Now begin to ask participants a series of questions that reduces the time they have to spend. For instance, if every cm represented a year of life, then the ribbon would represent a lifespan of 100 years.

Given that this is an unlikely age for many to reach, you can cut 25cm off the ribbon to start. Then you could ask the average age of the group, and cut that amount of ribbon off too as it’s time already spent.

Continue to ask questions like this, such as how much of our lives will be spent sleeping, eating, commuting, etc.

What’s left of the ribbon is a sobering indication of how much time we currently have to make the most of. We have limited time on this planet, a lot more limited than most of us realize.

5. $86,400

Give each participant 86,400 imaginary dollars to spend, and a time limit constraint within which they should plot out how they would spend it. There’s only one rule — you can’t save any of it.

Illustration of 86,000 dollar time management activity

After the exercise is complete, inform the participants that there are 86,400 seconds in a day. This should bring a new perspective about just how much time there is in every day, which means there can be no excuses for not having enough time to get things done.

The activity also shows that you can’t bank time for later, so you have to spend it wisely each and every day. After this activity, you’ll be a lot less likely to give up half your day on time wasters (like social media or TV).

6. How long is a minute?

This activity is as simple as it gets, which is partly why it’s so effective for drilling home the point about how we all view time differently.

Simply tell all participants to close their eyes and to raise their hands once they feel like a minute has elapsed. Start a stopwatch, and then record the time each participant raises their hand.

After the last person has raised their hand, stop the stopwatch and read out all the times you recorded. Now you can explain the importance of how we can all shift our perspectives about time, and make more of it.

7. The big picture

For this activity, you’ll need a couple of puzzles to give to participants. The trick is, you’re not going to give them the picture of the finished jigsaw puzzle.

After several minutes of fumbling for jigsaw puzzle pieces and struggling to imagine what the image is they’re trying to reproduce, put the participants out of their misery by asking what they might be missing.

The answer is, of course, the big picture.

Illustration of big picture time management activity

This activity is a classic in that it teaches the value of zooming out every now and then and planning ahead. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day minutiae that we can lose sight of what’s to come.

8. The blind polygon

For the blind polygon activity, you’ll need several lengths of rope, some blindfolds, and some willing participants in different teams.

Blindfold each participant and hand a length of rope to each team. The leader of the team will then decide what shape the team should make, and assign a certain amount of time to pull it off.

With each participant holding the rope at all times, the teams must work together to form the shapes in the allotted time. Once their time is up, let them know so they can remove their blindfolds and see what they’ve come up with.

Usually, what you’ll find is that the team leader assigned too little time. This is where you can explain the importance of allowing a buffer since it’s easy to overestimate how quickly we can get things done.

9. Circadian rhythm

Circadian rhythm is an activity for showing participants how they could optimize the time they spend throughout the day.

Simply provide each participant with a piece of paper that’s divided up into hourly blocks. For each block, such as 1 pm, they should note how they typically feel around that time of day.

For some, it might be ‘tired,’ whereas, for others, it could be ‘energetic.’

Looking at this information once it’s all filled in can reveal how the participants can manage their time so that they tackle their high-priority daily tasks when they have the highest energy levels.

10. What I did yesterday

What I did yesterday is an activity in which each participant must write a list of tasks they completed the day before at work.

Give each participant a piece of paper and ask them to write down ten items they completed the day before.

Example of filled out what I did yesterday exercise

Then, give them a new sheet of paper and ask them to write down five topics that they would anticipate being on the agenda at their next performance review.

The eye-opening insight from the activity will often come as participants compare the two sheets of paper and realize there are few activities they did the day before that would count positively towards their performance review. It’s also clear how many daily tasks distract you from your planned schedule.

Conclusion

Fun activities like these can teach valuable time management skills. They help you and your team understand how much more you can get done by evaluating the time you spend.

With the right productivity tools and appreciation of time, you won’t succumb to procrastination as often, and you can accomplish much more during the working day and beyond.

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