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Last updated: 26.05.21

A Guide to Time Management Models

Time management models and theories have been used to boost productivity for decades. Psychologists, business owners, entrepreneurs and critical thinkers have all developed and tested their own ways of working as efficiently as possible and ensuring that all their tasks get completed in time.

There is no one effective model of time management. Depending on the way that you work and how your brain handles tasks, deadlines and responsibility, different time planning techniques may be more or less effective.

Below are five of the most common time management methods that are commonly used today. They all involve different approaches to planning and delegating your time, but all of them are sure to provide insight into examples of good time management and tips on how to make these models work for you.

What is Time Management?

Time management is the process of organising and delegating your time to the tasks required of you in a way that ensures that everything gets done.

The purpose of time management is to maximise productivity, avoid stress and create a schedule for working that is as efficient as possible. People who are said to have good time management skills consistently meet deadlines, have balanced workloads and keep on top of their tasks by planning ahead.

5 of the Best Time Management Models

Being able to manage your time effectively is an essential skill that will benefit you both professionally and personally. From grids to lists and creative visualisations, here are five time management models and theories that will help you to take back control of your time.

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is one of the most famous time management models out there. Originally developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, it gets its name from the old-fashioned kitchen timers that were named after the Italian word for ‘tomato' and shaped as such.

The philosophy behind the Pomodoro Technique is that you are more productive if you work in short bursts of time. Cirillo first utilised his technique by starting a tomato-shaped kitchen timer and making himself commit to working until the timer went off.

The standardised Pomodoro method involves working for 25 minute periods. At the end of these 25 minutes, you give yourself a five-minute break where you can get up from your desk or spend your time on a recreational activity like reading or checking your phone.

After completing four cycles of 25-minute Pomodoros, you are then allowed a 15-minute break to give yourself a rest after what will hopefully have been two hours of productive work. You can change these time intervals to suit your working conditions by simply adjusting the timer you use.

This time management model gives you a framework for how long you need to stay focused and how long you are going to allow yourself a break. It can be particularly useful for those who struggle with wanting to check their emails or phone as they work, as it provides you with a period of time without distractions followed by an interval where you can do what you like.

The Pickle Jar

The Pickle Jar time management model is also known as the Bucket of Rocks theory. It’s a visual metaphor tool that helps you to prioritise your tasks and therefore better manage your time by having a clear idea of what needs to be done first.

The model involves imagining an empty jar, like one that used to hold pickles. It also asks you to imagine that you have some large rocks, some pebbles, and some sand.

If you tried to put all of those objects into the jar in any order, chances are that you wouldn’t be able to make everything fit. You’ll fail particularly spectacularly if you try and put the sand in first, then the pebbles and then try and fit all the large rocks at the top.

However, if you began with the large rocks, then filled the gaps with pebbles and then poured the sand around them, you’d easily be able to fit everything in the jar.

Now, imagine that the empty jar represents the time that you have. The large rocks represent important tasks that need doing soon, the pebbles are tasks with average importance, and the sand is tasks that are short and not very important at all.

What the Pickle Jar time management model shows us is that if we want to fit all of our tasks into a given amount of time, we need to start with the large tasks that are urgent and important. They might be the most difficult, but without completing them you’ll never have enough time to get everything else done.

Applying this time management technique means looking at your list of tasks and identifying which are the sand, which are the pebbles and which are the rocks. Once you’ve used this approach to prioritise everything you have to do, you can come up with a plan for how you’re going to fit each task into the time you have and ensure that nothing important gets missed.

The Time Management Matrix

The Time Management Matrix is another of the best-known time management methods out there, allegedly first developed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was popularised by author Stephen Covey in a bestselling book and is now one of the most popular ways of prioritising tasks.

The matrix is made up of four different sections, each determined by one of four conditions. The first quadrant is for tasks that are urgent and important, the second is for tasks that are important but not urgent, the third is for tasks that are urgent but not important, and the fourth is for any task that is neither urgent nor important.

You can use this method of time management to divide all of the tasks onto your to-do list. The idea is that you should complete all of the tasks in the ‘urgent/important’ quadrant first, and then work to remove the other tasks in descending order so that you never have too many tasks moved into the first section.

This time-based method of determining priorities is particularly helpful, as it can also allow you to realise whether you have any tasks that can just be removed from your list entirely. Anything that you deem ‘not urgent/not important’ may be a pointless task that you can save time by not completing in the first place.

The ALPEN Method

The ALPEN Method is a more thorough approach to time planning that was theorised by German economist Lothar J. Seiwert. It uses an acronym to describe the steps you should take at the beginning of every day to effectively manage your time, and can be followed to ensure that you work as productively as possible.

The ALPEN acronym uses German words for each stage, which are less useful if you are only an English speaker. However, the stages can be easily summarised as follows.

Step 1: Make a list of everything you need to do

The first stage of this time management plan is to write down every single task you have to complete at the start of the day. It doesn’t matter how large or significant these tasks are, just get everything down. 

Step 2: Estimate the length of each task

The next step is to make a note of how long you think each task is going to take. This will help you to divide your time effectively when it comes to planning how you are going to spend your day.

Step 3: Add buffer time

After you’ve got a rough idea of how long each of your tasks will take, add a bit of buffer time onto the end of these. That way you won’t get behind schedule even if you underestimate how long something will take and ensure that your plan doesn’t get derailed by an unreasonable expectation.

The APLEN Method suggests that 40% of your day should be allocated to buffer time. If you finish a task before the estimated end time then you give yourself more time to complete the next or can take a break until it’s time to begin your next task.

Step 4: Edit your list

After you’ve added times to all the tasks on your list, edit it. Identify which items are a priority and which you can leave until another day and strike from your list for the moment.

Once you’ve edited, you can then put together a schedule of everything you need to get done and how long you have given yourself to complete it. This removes the need to keep making decisions about what to do next and allows you to be much more creative and productive.

Step 5: Reflect on the process

Once you have followed your ALPEN time management plan and hopefully been successful, go back to your list and reflect on it. Were your estimates accurate for how long tasks would take? Do you get everything done that you wanted or do you need to reevaluate your efficiency?

This reflective process also gives you the chance to highlight what tasks you are going to do tomorrow, which will make your life easier when you come to following this method again.

The ABC Method

Finally, the ABC method is another way of prioritising tasks to be more efficient with how you spend your time. It was developed by author Alan Lakein and breaks tasks down into three different groups. 

Like the Pickle Jar technique, tasks are divided into very urgent and important, moderately important and unimportant. These tasks are sorted into boxes A, B and C as a way of organising everything that needs to be done.

The method behind this model is that you need to have finished everything in box A until you can move onto box B and then box C. You can create subcategories within each of these sections by numbering tasks in order of urgency, such as A1, A2 and A3.

This is a very simple method that can really help your time management skills, as it gives clear instructions on how to prioritise tasks and then an easy order in which to complete them.

FAQs

Why is time management important in the workplace?

Whatever industry you work in, time management is an incredibly important skill in the workplace because it affects how efficiently you work. If you don’t have very good time keeping skills you are likely to fall behind on work and miss deadlines, which reflects poorly on you as an employee and has the potential to jeopardise your job.

Those who demonstrate examples of good time management in the workplace are more likely to succeed in their career and gain recognition for being organised and efficient.

Why is time management valued by employers?

Time management is one of the key skills that potential employers look out for when hiring new members of staff. No matter what position or industry, time management is essential for success in all kinds of work, and you’ll need to be able to demonstrate this in job interviews and when you are hired in a new role. 

How can time management reduce stress?

Effective time management can massively reduce stress by giving you a plan for completing tasks and allocating time to both work and rest. If you plan how you are going to spend your time in advance you will ensure that you have sufficient time to complete everything you need to do both at work and in your personal life, reducing the risk of having a last-minute crisis, having to rush or not being able to finish a task.

Summary

There are benefits and drawbacks to all of the above time management models, as some only offer a framework for prioritising, some create a schedule for work and others just suggest how you should divide up your time. But by applying each of these approaches and cherry-picking the elements that work best for you, you’ll easily be able to improve your time management and time keeping skills and start working more efficiently without any stress.

If you’d like to find out more about effective time management, we offer an online ‘Time Management’ training course as part of our personal and professional development resources that will provide further insight into the best techniques and approaches to polish your time management skills.

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