6 Time Management Tips to Boost Your Productivity

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Manage your time to reduce stress, raise productivity, and increase well-being with these tips.

[Featured image] A black woman and white man stand in front of several calendars discussing time management.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim,” wrote Annie Dillard in her book The Writing Life [1]. 

This quote summarises how humans conceptualise time and how we can develop skills and schedules to maximise productivity and achieve our goals. 

In university, work, and daily life, we may encounter people who seem to have it all together. They are productive, stress-free, high achievers. But chances are, they were not born that way. Managing, organising, and distributing time are skills that we can learn. Doing so can help you control your time and promote overall satisfaction.

Here are some tips and methods to help you harness your time for better well-being.

What is time management?

Time management is consciously planning and controlling time spent on specific tasks to increase efficiency. You may be familiar with setting deadlines, writing to-do lists, and giving yourself small rewards for accomplishing certain activities. Motivating ourselves to do what we have to do to do what we want to do is a part of life. 

Developing good routines and habits for managing your time starts with knowing what strategies are out there and testing them in your life. Good time management can lead to a healthy, balanced lifestyle that may manifest as:

  • Reducing stress

  • Increasing energy

  • Achieving goals more efficiently

  • Prioritising what's important

  • Accomplishing more in less time

  • Reducing procrastination

  • Boosting confidence

  • Getting further in your career or education

At the core of time management methods are the basic skills of awareness, arrangement, and adaptation, according to Harvard Business Review [2]. This means being mindful of your time, structuring it, and adjusting it as you go, which is the secret to effective time management. Executives now point to behavioural skills as the most important for the 21st-century workforce, with “time management skills and the ability to prioritise” ranking second in IBM’s skills gap survey [3].

6 time management tips

If you’re looking to take control of your time, here are six tips and strategies to get you started:

1. Conduct a time audit.

Start by assessing where you spend your time. Create a visual map of the approximate hours you spend on work, coursework, housework and chores, commuting, social media, and leisure activities. Then, you can drill in on your studies or work, dividing your previous week into days, then hours. How much time did it take to finish that paper? Did a work project take longer because you were scrolling through Facebook while working from home? Take the time to reflect and quantify how you spend your time.

Set goals based on this outcome. Planning and setting time limits on your tasks and priorities can free up time for what’s most important to you, like spending more time with friends and family. Start by dedicating a half hour every Sunday to intentionally planning your week and setting daily goals.

2. Use the Eisenhower Matrix to set your priorities.

The Eisenhower Matrix is a popular tool that helps you distinguish between important, unimportant, and not urgent tasks. The quadrant has four boxes where you can split your tasks to prioritise what you should focus on first. They also correspond with the 4 D’s of execution: do, defer, delegate, and delete.

  • Quadrant 1: Important and urgent. Do these tasks first. These are the priorities that are most relevant to your goals.

  • Quadrant 2: Important but not urgent. Defer these for later in your schedule.

  • Quadrant 3: Urgent but not important. Delegate these to others, especially if they do not contribute to your long-term goals.

  • Quadrant 4: Not important and not urgent. Delete these tasks, or do them when you have free time because they distract your priorities.

Create a task list and mark each item as urgent or essential for a more straightforward approach. Often, we prioritise urgent tasks instead of important ones—such as tasks that may be creative, important, and fulfilling but do not have a deadline—so identifying and labelling them can be a helpful step towards accomplishing your personal and professional goals.

3. Employ methods to “chunk” your time.

Once you have a better idea of your priorities, setting limits can be an excellent time management tool. There are several options for chunking your time into digestible pieces.

Try the Pomodoro method. This technique was developed in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, a university student overwhelmed by studying and assignments. The Pomodoro method requires a timer to break down your work into 25-minute intervals, separated by five minutes of break time. After four pomodoros, you may take a more extended 15-30 minute break. Pomodoro (“tomato” in Italian) promotes concentration and relieves mental fatigue, which is especially useful for open-ended work like conducting research, studying for an exam, or finishing a consulting project. You might try Pomodor on your desktop or the Focus Keeper app on your phone.

Adopt the Swiss Cheese Method. Like Pomodoro, the Swiss Cheese Method breaks a large project into smaller tasks. Coined by Alan Lakein, author of How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, the Swiss cheese technique “pokes holes” in an overwhelming task by breaking it into tasks that take five to 10 minutes to complete. And maybe, just maybe, 10 minutes is enough to continue focusing on the task longer.

By “chunking” time, you make big projects and goals less daunting. Less procrastination, more productivity.

4. Focus on one thing at a time. 

For most of us, multitasking is generally less efficient than focusing on one task at a time. One study found that only 2.5 percent of people can multitask effectively [4]. Doing too many things at once can impact your cognitive ability, making you feel unproductive or dissatisfied with your progress. Arranging your time so that you complete one task before starting another can boost your confidence.

Further, it may be helpful to compartmentalise tasks. For example, if you are a writer, you dedicate Monday to research, Tuesday through Thursday to writing, and Friday to editing. 

5. Give yourself a reward.

Rewards are not reserved for well-behaved children and pets. They can be a great source of motivation for adopting good time management habits. You can reward yourself for every task you accomplish in a day. These rewards don’t need to be extravagant or expensive. Some options include:

  • Taking a break to enjoy your favourite snack

  • Going for a short walk outside

  • Call a friend or family member

  • Meditate for five minutes

  • Listen to a podcast episode or a chapter of an audiobook

For bigger rewards, you can indulge in activities like reading a book in the bath, planning a night out with friends, or booking a getaway. You have the power to determine which goals deserve which indulgence. Exciting rewards can help you push through an especially tough project or work period.

6. Use apps to block out distractions.

Sometimes, rewards and good intentions are not enough to keep us focused. An app or browser extension can help minimise distractions by blocking you from using social media or touching your phone. Here are some apps and extensions you can try:

  • Forest is an app that helps you stay focused and off your phone. The company partners with an organisation called Trees for the Future to plant trees when you spend virtual coins earned in Forest.

  • StayFocused is a browser extension that prevents you from using time-wasting websites like Reddit, Twitter, Wikipedia, Instagram, and more. It’s highly configurable so that you can customise it to your specific distractions.

  • Freedom is a tool that simultaneously blocks both websites and apps on all of your devices. Take advantage of their free trial to know if it’s right for you.

How to create your time management strategy

Creating a strategy is time now that you have some potential time management tips and methods in your toolkit. Before establishing your most effective long-term habits and routines, you might experiment with several techniques. 

Establish goals and priorities.

Consider your lifestyle, whether you are a student or a working professional (or both), have a family, or aspire to become a digital nomad (or both!). Think of your long- and short-term goals for your career and personal development. Make sure the goals are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. What will it take to achieve them? How can you manage your time to maximise your productivity?

Once you have established your goals, prioritise them in order of importance. Using Post-its or pen and paper to visualise your priorities better may be helpful.

Choose the best method for you.

Using the list of tips above, decide upon a method or two to implement. You can mix and match different time management skills based on what has worked for you. If you are still determining which ones will work for you, pick one randomly and try it.

Plan and implement.

Apply your chosen method over some time. A month is typically enough time to evaluate whether a strategy is working. Over 30 days, monitor your progress. Take notes on how you feel after one or two weeks. Was one method more effective than the other? 

Use a planner, Google calendar, or pen and paper to set your monthly and weekly goals. For daily tasks, write a to-do list every morning with achievable (Swiss Cheese) goals. Feel free to buffer your days and sprinkle in little rewards flexibly.


After one month of your new time management methods, it’s time to reassess. What’s working? What’s not working? Adjust your strategy and plan to be more effective. Continue to practice these habits each month, adapting them as your priorities change. What works for you as a student may differ from when you start a new job.

Remember, practising time management is an ongoing process, and life happens (along with the additional stressors and challenges that come with it). It’s okay not to transform into a time management guru overnight. It’s about progress, not perfection.

Learn how to manage your time effectively

Learn more effective time management tips from instructors at top universities with a course like Work Smarter, Not Harder: Time Management for Personal & Professional Productivity from the University of California Irvine. This course is offered independently and part of the Career Success specialisation.

Article sources


Dillard, Annie. “The Writing Life, https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Writing_Life.html?id=it8NwjEKwCMC." Accessed March 14, 2024.

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