Looking for ways to effectively manage your time? Here are 15 ideas assembled by Gordon Coleman, SFU Library.

Experiment with one or two ideas before trying out others.

1. Pomodoro

Set a 25 minute timer on your phone.

Work on the task until it rings.

Take a five minute “fun” break.


2. M.I.T.

Choose the three Most Important Things to work on today. Try to make progress on each of those three things.

The advantage of this system is that you give yourself permission NOT to work on all the other things on your to-do list. You couldn’t get them all done anyway. This promotes realism and reduces guilt.

3. First Ninety

Decide on one top priority for the day.

Spend the first 90 minutes of the day focused on your key priority BEFORE you do anything else.

4. Disconnecting

Isolate yourself away from distractions.

Turn off email. Unplug phone. Put up “do not disturb” sign or close your door. Hide away on another floor of the library where no one can find you.

5. Fixed Schedule

Set aside a particular time of week for a reoccurring chore.

E.g. if you have a meeting or class every Wednesday 1-3, you might declare that the two hours afterward are review and follow-up time.

Book this time in your calendar to protect it, as if it were a real meeting.

6. Artificial Deadlines

Create an artificial deadline by making a commitment to another person.

E.g. You tell your TA that you will submit the paper two days before it’s due.

7. Second-Most-Dreaded Task

Identify the task on your to-do list that you are dreading the most. Now identify a task you loathe slightly less than the first one.

Allow yourself to avoid the most-dreaded task by doing the second-most-dreaded. It will seem pleasant in comparison.

8. Personal Kanban

Put a large piece of paper on your wall with three columns: To Do, Doing, and Done.

Write your project names on post-its. Put them in the To Do column. When you start work on them, move them to the Doing column, and then to Done.

This creates a strong visual reminder of your priorities and that you are indeed making progress.

9. End-of-Day Planning

As your last task of the day just before you leave, write out:

(a) what you got done that day and

(b) what you need to focus on tomorrow.

At the end of a tough day, many people find they can reflect clearly on what worked and didn’t, and identify priorities for the next day while it’s all fresh in mind.

10. Fixed Time Commitment

Not so much a technique for getting started as a technique for stopping.

Each item in your to-do list should have a realistic estimate of how much time it should take. When you hit the limit, stop. It’s “good enough”.

This is a great technique for perfectionists who can never decide that a task, report, project, etc. is done.

11. Weekly Review

Set aside a time each week to review your project list.

Is everything on track? Do you know what action you need to take to move each project forward? Are you distracted by the trees and going the wrong way in the forest?

12. Time Estimates

What good is a to-do list for the day with 32 hours of work on it??

Put a time estimate (in minutes) on each activity you plan to do, then give yourself a realistic to-do list for the day. Allow time for lunch, interruptions, etc.

13. Don’t Break the Chain

For a loathed task you have to do regularly (e.g. exercise), post a calendar next to your computer.

If you do the task, put a large X on that date.

The longer the chain of X’s, the more motivated you’ll be not to break the streak.

14. Eisenhower Matrix

  Urgent Not urgent
Important 1 2
Not important 3 4

Classify all your projects and to-do’s according to this matrix of urgent/not urgent and important/not important.

We tend to spend our time doing the tasks in quadrants 1 and 3, but it’s better to focus on what’s in quadrant 2.

And just don’t do anything that’s in 4.

15. Not-To-Do List

Identify patterns of time-wasting and unnecessary activities which are preventing you from getting to your priorities.

Write yourself a prominent Not-To-Do list of these activities.