How to Stick with a Time Management System

By Emily Roner | Updated: 03 Dec, 2020

If you’ve tried adopting a time management system in the past and given up because you found yourself spending so much time trying to follow it that it hurts your productivity, chances are you took the wrong approach.

Productivity is personal, and yet many people adopt new systems with a one-size-fits-all approach. If you try to follow a popular system precisely as recommended by a guru, you have a high likelihood of failure because it doesn’t fit your work style.

Instead of adopting a time management system as-is, customize it to fit your needs.

Here’s how.

Pursue an Emotionally Meaningful Outcome

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when adopting a time management system is doing it solely because you think it’s a smart way to boost your productivity.

Logically, we all want to be productive; however, studies show that sheer willpower isn’t enough to change your habits. The emotional part of your brain controls decisions and your perception of risks and rewards. To change your behaviors, a time management system must help you pursue a meaningful outcome, such as:

  • Improve your work-life balance
  • Spend more time mentoring junior employees
  • Enjoy your work instead of racing from one fire to the next

These kinds of outcomes incentivize you to embrace the discomfort of changing your habits.

Choose a System that Fits Your Personality

If you’ve failed to stick with time management systems in the past, you likely chose options that are a poor fit. Many thought leaders share ”the top” approaches for improving productivity, but the reality is that your personality plays a significant role in which strategies will work for you. Here’s why:

  1. If you still don’t enjoy using a system over time, you’re unlikely to stick with it over the long-term.
  2. If it’s not intuitive for you, there’s a good chance that you’re going to spend so much time struggling to go through the steps that it makes you less productive.

Before choosing a system, think about the factors that help you focus to find an option that aligns with your work style.

If you do your research, you’ll find numerous time management systems that each cater best to different preferences and lifestyles. However, here are a couple of popular options to help you get started:

  • If you love structure and hate having unread messages, try time blocking. This system limits idle time and gives you a clear plan for every day by blocking off time for all of your activities, including responding to emails.
  • If you’re goal-driven and need the flexibility to shift your priorities in real-time, consider Agile Results. This system breaks your goals into milestones that you can iterate on.
  • If you love creating methodical to-do lists, try GTD. It gives you a system to convert all of your ideas into actionable to-dos.

If you’d like in-depth recommendations, there are tons of personality assessments out there to help you understand what conditions you need to perform your best. Like productivity systems, the right test is the one whose results make the most sense to you.

Hire a Virtual Assistant to Manage Your Calendar and Inbox

The unfortunate reality of time management systems is that while they boost your productivity in the long-run, they can be time-consuming to adopt. Regardless of which strategy you choose, you have to be intentional about what times you schedule meetings and manage your inbox. This is what allows you to maximize time for deep work and minimize distractions.

To reap the benefits of your time management system without the hassle of trying to schedule meetings, and respond to emails at the optimal times, hire a virtual assistant to do it for you. All you have to do is share the guidelines you’re following to maximize productivity, such as:

  • Reserving blocks throughout the week for deep work
  • Scheduling meetings only in the first or second half of the day, if possible
  • Adding or removing buffer times between appointments depending on how you work best

And any other scheduling best practices that your system recommends.

A virtual assistant can also ease your email burden while helping you respond to urgent messages promptly. Here’s how:

  • They can organize your inbox based on logical criteria such as sender or type of email
  • Bring urgent emails to your attention
  • Add email details such as prospect information and files into your CRM and other systems

This allows you to limit the amount of time you spend in your inbox while continuing to respond quickly to critical emails.

Download our inbox management guide to learn more. 

Download This Guide

Incorporate Flexibility

Time management systems are often a double-edged sword. On one end, they maximize productivity, which allows you to achieve more, faster. However, if adopted too strictly, they can drive burnout and eliminate all of your productivity gains.

To achieve long-term success with a time management system, you need to incorporate some flexibility so you can deal with unexpected projects.

There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Add catch-up time to your calendar, so you have a designated block to deal with unexpected tasks that come up. This is ideal if you want to maintain as much structure as possible.
  • Plan to make less progress each week than you know you’re capable of. This approach works best if you’re following a system that’s not very time-sensitive.
  • Maintain a list of all your responsibilities in order of priority so that when you run out of time, you know which tasks to push back.

Having a plan in place to address unexpected issues prevents them from derailing your productivity, especially early on, when you’re still building your habits.

Ultimately, successfully sticking with a time management system is about customizing it to fit your work style and personality. Doing so will make it easier to implement and adapt as your priorities evolve.

About the author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.