In today’s fast-paced and digitally-driven world, pursuing an online Master of Business Administration (MBA) has become a popular choice for ambitious professionals seeking to enhance their career prospects. It’s much easier to balance the rigorous demands of a career with school when you can take your classes online from the comfort of home. You don’t need to worry about set log-in times, nor do you need to fit a commute into your already busy schedule.
Despite the flexibility and convenience of online learning, it still comes with its own challenges, particularly regarding time management. Most of us are used to a strictly regimented schedule – in school, you traditionally have class at a specific time each day or week, with your professor reminding you that your assignment is coming due or that you have an exam next week. At work, your boss probably implements a project management system to ensure you stay on track. Not so in an online program – the onus of responsibility is entirely on your shoulders to make sure you get everything accomplished on time.
Join us as we explore various techniques to help you develop effective time management strategies so you can get the most out of your online MBA program while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Whether you’re a busy parent or juggling a full-time job alongside your MBA, the following practical tips will empower you to conquer time management hurdles and stay laser-focused on achieving your academic goals.
Why Is Time Management Important for MBA Students?
Time management is an indispensable skill for anyone, but it holds especially true for MBA students. Your ability to manage your time will significantly influence how well you do in your MBA program – and your future career. An MBA program’s rigorous curriculum and demanding workload necessitate efficient time allocation to ensure optimal productivity and success. Effective time management will ensure you meet deadlines and allocate sufficient time for studying, research, assignments, and group projects while still having time for personal and professional commitments. You’ll also maximize your learning outcomes if you reduce the stress that comes with scrambling to catch up or cramming for tests last minute instead of spreading it out. Mastering this vital life skill during your MBA program will serve you well long after you’ve graduated.
10 Time Management Techniques and Strategies
Time is our most precious commodity. Whether you’re a student juggling multiple responsibilities, a professional striving to meet deadlines, or simply looking to make the most of your day, mastering the art of time management is essential. Thankfully, you can implement the following tried-and-true methods to improve your time management skills and unleash your full potential.
1. The Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the Eisenhower Decision Matrix or the Urgent-Important Matrix, is named after former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was known for his ability to make efficient decisions. This powerful productivity tool helps you prioritize tasks based on urgency and importance by categorizing them into four quadrants:
- Urgent and important: These are your most important tasks that require immediate attention, with significant consequences should you fail to address them. Urgent and important tasks should be dealt with as soon as possible.
- Important but not urgent: Tasks in this category have long-term value but don’t require immediate action. Schedule these tasks to ensure they’re completed at a dedicated time.
- Urgent but not important: These are tasks that demand immediate attention but have little to no long-term significance. Whenever possible, delegate or minimize these kinds of tasks to free up your time for more important activities.
- Not urgent and not important: These tasks are distracting time wasters that don’t contribute to your goals or add value to your life. Eliminate them as much as possible.
By organizing tasks into these four categories, the Eisenhower Matrix can help you focus on what truly matters so you can make informed decisions about how to best allocate your time and resources.
2. The Pomodoro Technique
Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, the Pomodoro Technique utilizes a timer to break tasks into focused intervals, typically 25 minutes in length (called “Pomodoros”), followed by short breaks. The name comes from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used during his university days. The idea behind this technique is to enhance your productivity and concentration by working in short bursts with scheduled breaks so you can maintain focus and prevent burnout. Here’s how the Pomodoro Technique works:
- Choose a task
- Set a timer for 25 minutes, representing one “Pomodoro”
- Work on the task with total concentration until the timer goes off
- Take a short break, typically around five minutes
3. Time Blocking
This time management technique involves scheduling blocks of time for various tasks and activities throughout your day. The idea is to take a proactive approach to managing your time by allocating dedicated time slots for specific tasks rather than relying on a to-do list alone.
You’ll start by identifying all the tasks and activities you need to accomplish during the day or week, including work projects, meetings, errands, appointments, and, of course, schoolwork. Next, decide how much time you want to dedicate to each activity block based on the complexity of the task – it could be as short as 15 minutes or as long as several hours. Plot out your time blocks on your calendar or planner for each task and activity, ensuring you have uninterrupted periods dedicated to tasks to avoid multitasking (which, we are sorry to say, you cannot in fact do).
Treat your time blocks as strict commitments and stick to the time you allocate for each task. However, be open to adjusting your schedule in light of unforeseen circumstances or should you need more time for a task. Flexibility is key for time blocking to work effectively.
4. The 2-Minute Rule
The 2-Minute Rule was popularized by productivity expert David Allen in his book “Getting Things Done.” This rule states that if a task takes less than two minutes to complete, it should be done immediately rather than postponed or added to a to-do list. The idea is to minimize the accumulation of small tasks that can easily pile up and create mental clutter.
By immediately addressing tasks that can be completed in two minutes or less, you prevent them from occupying unnecessary mental space or becoming a source of procrastination. It also promotes a proactive approach to task management and can help you maintain a sense of control over your workload.
5. 80/20 Rule (Pareto Principle)
The 80/20 Rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, is a concept named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. It states that roughly 80 percent of the outcomes are often derived from 20 percent of the causes or inputs. In other words, a significant portion of the effects comes from a minority of the efforts.
The Pareto Principle can be applied to various aspects of life and work, including time management. Based on this principle, a small fraction (20 percent) of your activities yield a majority (80 percent) of your desired outcomes. So, you should identify and prioritize your most impactful tasks – the ones that contribute most significantly toward your goals. Meanwhile, identify any areas of inefficiency. Activities that are time-consuming and low-value should be delegated or minimized. By identifying which tasks fall into which category you can more efficiently optimize your time, energy, and resources by focusing on the vital few tasks that will have the biggest impact.
6. ABC Method
The ABC method, also known as the ABC Analysis or ABC prioritization technique, is used to categorize tasks based on their level of importance or priority and typically involves assigning tasks into three categories: A, B, and C.
- Category A: These are high-priority tasks that have a significant impact on your goals. These tasks must be completed to ensure progress and success and often have time-sensitive deadlines or critical consequences if not addressed promptly.
- Category B: These tasks are of medium importance and may have some impact on your goals but are not as critical or time sensitive as Category A tasks. They’re important tasks, but you have more flexibility regarding when you need to complete them.
- Category C: These are your low-priority or optional tasks. They have minimal impact on your goals or outcomes and can therefore be delegated, postponed, or eliminated altogether if necessary. Category C tasks are typically non-essential or time-consuming activities that can become distractions if given too much attention.
By categorizing tasks using the ABC method, you can gain a deeper understanding of your priorities to make more informed decisions about where and how you allocate your time and energy, thereby ensuring critical tasks receive the attention they deserve.
7. The Four Ds
The “Four Ds” is a mnemonic technique that represents four different actions or approaches to handle your tasks. The Four Ds are as follows:
- Do: Tasks that you’ll assign to the “Do” category are important, urgent, and can be completed quickly. Like with the 2-minute rule, if you can do it quickly, you should do it now instead of postponing it.
- Delegate: This involves tasks that are important but can be assigned to someone else. Delegating tasks allows you to leverage the strengths and abilities of others, freeing up your time for higher-priority responsibilities.
- Defer: Sometimes, tasks are important but not urgent. In such cases, you can defer the task to a later time or date. Add it to your calendar or task management system to address it at an appropriate time to ensure that the task doesn’t get forgotten or overlooked.
- Delete (or Drop): This applies to tasks that are neither important nor urgent. If a task has no significant impact on your goals or outcomes, and it’s not necessary to complete it, it may be best to delete or drop it altogether. Eliminating non-essential tasks can help declutter your workload and allow you to focus on more meaningful activities.
8. Batch Processing
Batch processing is a valuable technique for streamlining and automating repetitive tasks. While often associated with data processing and manufacturing, the concept can be adapted and applied in various contexts, including managing tasks and assignments as an MBA student.
Start by identifying tasks and assignments with common characteristics, such as subject matter, format, or required resources. For example, if you have multiple case studies to analyze, group them together as a batch. Next, set aside blocks of time focused on processing each “batch.” This could be a few hours where you work through the grouped tasks without distractions. As you work on your batch, develop a consistent approach you’ll take with tasks of this variety – for example, you could map out several steps you’ll take for each article you read for your research project.
By processing similar tasks in a batch, you minimize the need for switching between subjects or approaches, helping you maintain focus and flow. Monitor your progress to identify bottlenecks and gauge your productivity, then make adjustments if necessary. Batch processing can help you optimize your time, stay focused, and achieve better productivity while managing your workload.
9. SMART Goals
None of the time management strategies we’re covering will be effective in the long run if you don’t know how to set proper goals. The acronym SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. SMART goals act as a framework to help clarify objectives, improve focus, and increase the likelihood of success. Here’s a breakdown of each element of the SMART goal framework:
- Specific: Goals should be well-defined, answering the questions of what, why, and how, outlining precisely what you want to achieve and why it is essential.
- Measurable: Goals should have specific criteria for measuring progress and success. This enables you to track your performance, determine milestones, and assess whether you have achieved the goal.
- Achievable: Goals should be realistic, considering your skills, resources, and constraints. While it’s crucial to challenge yourself, setting unachievable goals can leave you feeling discouraged and frustrated.
- Relevant: Goals should be relevant to your overall objectives, values, and desired outcomes. They should align with your aspirations and be consistent with your long-term plans and priorities.
- Time-bound: Goals should have a specific deadline for completion. This adds a sense of urgency and helps you prioritize tasks and allocate resources accordingly. Time-bound goals also provide a benchmark for measuring progress and staying on track.
By applying the SMART criteria to your goal-setting process, you can transform vague intentions into well-defined objectives that are actionable and results-oriented.
Kanban is a visual project management system that originated in the manufacturing industry and has since been adapted to and widely used in various fields, including personal task management. The term “kanban” is Japanese and translates to “visual signal” or “card.”
At its core, Kanban revolves around the use of a visual board or a series of cards (often called “kanban cards”) to represent tasks. These cards are typically organized into columns that represent different stages of the workflow, such as “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Completed.” Key principles of Kanban include:
- Visualizing your workflow to more easily understand what is in progress, what’s waiting, and what you’ve completed.
- Limiting the number of tasks you have in progress simultaneously to prevent overload and multitasking.
- Operating on a pull-based system, meaning that you add new tasks to the workflow only when you have the capacity for it.
- Striving for continuous improvement and adaptation so you can identify areas that need adjustment to enhance efficiency and productivity.
Kanban promotes a more balanced and sustainable approach to work, optimizing your productivity while maintaining a focus on quality and continuous improvement.
Need Help? Contact UTC’s Center for Academic Support and Advisement
As you embark on your MBA journey, rest assured you aren’t in this alone. At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Gary W. Rollins College of Business, students can avail themselves of the many support resources on offer. When you enroll in the online Master of Business Administration at UTC, you’ll have access to a dedicated advisor and dedicated graduate career coach to help you plan your course load, find tutoring services, explore career options, and find employment opportunities. Apply today or contact us to learn more.