Science-Backed Skills for Better Time Management

Science-Backed Skills for Better Time Management

Science-Backed Skills for Better Time Management

Do you feel there isn’t enough time in your day?  

Most people wish they could do more in less time. 

You’re probably aware that time management is key for achieving success. 

Many people allow poor time management to damage their work and personal lives. 

There are many reasons why time is a struggle. 

  1. We don’t know how to work effectively. 
  2. We get distracted. 
  3. We can’t get in “the zone.” 
  4. We keep jumping between tasks. 
  5. Time is  a resource you we never seem to get enough of. 

Sound familiar? 

Check out these science-backed ways of managing your time more efficiently. 

Time is a Subjective Experience 

Time is elusive. 

The concept of time is a construct of our perspective, brain chemistry, and emotions.  Two groups of people watched a film for a study on the regulation of time. The first group was told to “regulate their emotions” during the film. 

The other group was not. The group that tried to control their emotions perceived the length of the film to be longer than the participants who were only watching. In the same study, a group performed a “resource-depleting” task. The control group completed a non-taxing thought exercise. Both groups were then asked to perform a new task. 

The depleted group had less persistence for the new task but thought they had worked longer then they had. What are the takeaways? 

When emotions are involved, or when we are already mentally drained, time seems to pass slower. 

When time feels like a slog, we’re more likely to give up.  Getting into flow state can solve this. When we’re in flow, hours feel like minutes.


Time Management is Harder When We’re Mentally Fatigued. 

Your brain uses up to 20% of your body’s total energy output.
If you don’t learn effective ways to manage that energy burn, mental fatigue is going to hit fast and hard. 

Getting a good night’s sleep can help you avoid chronic fatigue. 

What about during the day? How can you avoid overcooking your neurons before noon? 
Think of work as a series of sprints—not a marathon. 

Your Circadian rhythm controls cycles of sleeping and wakefulness over a 24-hour period. But you have another rhythm too. 

Nathaniel Kleitman, known as the “father of sleep science” discovered it. 

Kleitman went to extremes for science. He kept himself awake for 180 consecutive hours to study the effects of sleep deprivation. 

He also lived in a cave for a month to study how a lack of sunlight would affect mental performance. By altering his normal 24-hour routine, Kleitman discovered the basic rest-activity cycle (BRAC).

The BRAC cycle is 90-minutes of high-frequency brain activity.  Followed by 20-minutes of low-frequency activity. After 90-minutes your brain starts to slow down anticipating a break. 

It’s better to take a mental break, then to try and resist. Resistance triggers your body’s fight or flight response. If you want to be elite, learn to take breaks. Elite performers practice more than their less talented peers. 

They also rest more. When we’re well rested and not stressed, it’s easier to get into flow state where time becomes irrelevant.

Watch Out for Brain Bottleneck

Do you consider yourself a good multi-tasker? You may be believing a myth. 

Multitasking creates a mental traffic jam in your brain. 

Psychologist Harold Pashler found that we are not doing two things at once. We are only switching back and forth. This uses up that limited brain energy faster. 

Focusing completely on one task is a better time management technique. Would you rather speed down an empty road, or sit in traffic?

Become Aware of Parkinson’s Law

This law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” 

This means you have to get ruthless with your deadlines. Create a container for work, and don’t let it expand past that container. 

This gives work a built-in urgency. We’re also finding it may trigger flow:

Self-imposed Deadline → Urgency → More Flow

Leverage Technology to Fight Distraction

One of the time management problems we face is having an ancient brain in a high-tech world. Solutions to this issue have been discovered by world-renowned neuroscientist Dr. Adam Gazzaley. He designs brain assessment and optimization tools to help people avoid distraction. 

We interviewed Dr. Gazzaley for our Sustaining Peak Performance During a Pandemic series. Check out our call with him here

Avoid Procrastination

Procrastination happens when we put off doing what we know should be done. 

One of the keys we’ve found to overcome it is not letting friction build up in your life. Friction is the result of having too many low-value activities in your day. Watch this free webinar on The Four Keys to Eliminating Friction.

It’s what separates the top 1% of high performers from the rest. 

Become a Better Delegator 

The rise of “Hustle Culture” has had a negative impact on how we use time. 

Watch my Ted talk to find out why. 

Learning to delegate is a top time management strategy.  

Evidence has shown that delegation increases productivity. It also reduces decision fatigue. So why do most of us suck at it? A 2015 Gallup poll revealed that only 1 in 4 business leaders have a talent for delegating. 

You have to realize what can be delegated. 

Tasks — delegate work to someone else. Make sure they also take responsibility for the outcome. 

Authority — You can delegate authority to someone else. Remember in Westerns when the sheriff would deputize someone?  

Use strategic delegation to improve time management. 

This is a powerful time management skill when you learn how to master it.

Use a Cost/Benefit Analysis to Prioritize Tasks

Prioritization is an important time management tool. 

All tasks don’t carry the same weight. 
Look at what you have to do and assign a cost to each task—Include: 

  1. The effort required to accomplish the task. 
  2. The Time needed to complete the task. 
  3. Money and resources needed. 

Next, list the benefits associated with accomplishing each task.

Don’t overthink this analysis, it should take you less than ten minutes. You can make your list at night before you go to bed. 

Put the lowest cost, highest benefit task first and rank the rest from there. 

Move the Big Rocks

A “rock” is another word for an attainable goal.

The plan to accomplish a rock must always be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.) 

Think of a jar. Beside the jar you have rocks and you have sand. The sand represents the low-value distractions that can fill up your day. 

If you put sand in first, you’ll run out of room for the rocks. If you put the rocks in first, any sand you decide to keep will fit around the spaces between your rocks. 

Managing your time should follow the same pattern. Remember: rocks before sand. 

Apply the XDS Approach

Take an audit of everything you’re doing. Ask yourself, what can I remove entirely (X)? What can I delegate (D)? What can I systematize (S)? 

Expert tip: if in doubt, take it out.  On the fence about whether to eliminate something? That means you should.   

Stop Being Busy

Busy doesn’t look productive. Being busy looks stressed. People pack tons of errands and low-value to-do’s into each day because we don’t want others to think we’re lazy. 

The irony is busyness destroys your time management. If a task isn’t contributing to a net positive outcome you should question why you’re even doing it. 

Busyness is also a flow blocker that keeps us from our most creative and best state. 

Here are 3 quick time adjustment tips: 

  1. Make your to-do list the night before. 
  2. Try setting your alarm for 30-minutes earlier than you usually wake up. Use that time to sit and contemplate.
  3. If you feel yourself starting to daydream during the day, don’t stop it. Your brain needs little default breaks to perform best. 

Making a few small changes will help to manage your cognitive load. 

Stress Makes Time Management Worse

When you feel stressed, your cortisol levels rise. Excess cortisol release leads to: 

  1. Insomnia. 
  2. Excess belly fat. 
  3. Anxiety. 
  4. Extreme fatigue. 

In the morning, your cortisol levels are higher. This gives you a little extra juice to start your day. Allow stress to overproduce it from there and you’re going to be a mess. 

To beat stress, try: 

  1. Taking a walk in nature. 
  2. Elevating your heart rate and breaking a sweat. 
  3. Do a guided meditation or mindfulness exercise. 
  4. Listen to your favorite music playlist or an interesting podcast
  5. Phone a friend or schedule time to practice your hobby. 

There’s Training for This

Do you wish you could accomplish more, in less time, with greater ease? Learn more about our peak performance training


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