4.7 Enhanced Strategies for Time and Task Management


  • What strategy helps me prioritize my top tasks?
  • How do I make the best use of my time when prioritizing?
  • How do I make sure I tackle unpleasant tasks instead of putting them off?
  • What’s the best way to plan for long-term tasks?
  • How do I find time in a busy schedule?

Here are three unique strategies that have become staples of time management. While not everyone will find that all three work for them in every situation, enough people have found them beneficial to pass them along with high recommendations.

1. Daily Top Three

The idea behind the daily top three approach is that you determine which three things are the most important to finish that day, and these become the tasks that you complete. It is a very simple technique that is effective because each day you are finishing tasks and removing them from your list.

Even if you took one day off a week and completed no tasks on that particular day, a daily top three strategy would have you finishing 18 tasks in the course of a single week. That is a good amount of things crossed off your list.

Analysis Question

Think about what would be your top three tasks for today? What would you have on the list tomorrow?

2. Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo. The basic concept is to use a timer to set work intervals that are followed by a short break. The intervals are usually about 25 minutes long and are called pomodoros, which comes from the Italian word for tomato because Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to keep track of the intervals.

In the original technique there are six steps:

  1. Decide on the task to be done.
  2. Set the timer to the desired interval.
  3. Work on the task.
  4. When the timer goes off, put a check mark on a piece of paper.
  5. If you have fewer than four check marks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to Step 1 or 2 (whichever is appropriate).
  6. After four Pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your check mark count to zero, and then go to Step 1 or 2.
The Pomodoro technique is illustrated.
The Pomodoro Technique contains five defined steps.

There are several reasons this technique is deemed effective for many people.

  1. One is the benefit that is derived from quick cycles of work and short breaks. This helps reduce mental fatigue and the lack of productivity caused by it.
  2. Another is that it tends to encourage you to break tasks down to things that can be completed in about 25 minutes, which is something that is usually manageable from the perspective of time available. It is much easier to squeeze in three 25-minute sessions of work time during the day than it is to set aside a 75- minute block of time.

Analysis Question

How long do you think you can focus on a single task without letting your mind wander?  Would 20 min work better for you? 30?

If you are “on a role” while working, do you think you would find it difficult to stop and take the break?  Why or why not?

How useful do you think this strategy might be for YOU?

3. Eat the Frog

Of our three quick strategies, eat the frog probably has the strangest name and may not sound the most inviting. The name comes from a famous quote, attributed to Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Eat the Frog is also the title of a best-selling book by Brian Tracy that deals with time management and avoiding procrastination.

How this applies to time and task management is based on the concept that if a person takes care of the biggest or most unpleasant task first, everything else will be easier after that.

How is this technique useful you may wonder.

  1. First, we greatly underestimate how much worry can impact our performance. If you are continually distracted by anxiety over a task you are dreading, it can affect the task you are working on at the time.
  2. Second, not only will you have a sense of accomplishment and relief when the task you are concerned with is finished and out of the way, but other tasks will seem lighter and not as difficult.

Analysis Question

Which one of these techniques listed above do you think you could implement right away?

Breaking Down the Steps and Spreading Them over Shorter Work Periods

In this section you will read about two more creative techniques that combine elements from the above methods.  We have already seen how important it is to estimate how much you can get done in a certain amount of time earlier in this chapter, so once we know that how can we build a schedule to help?

The concept behind this strategy is to break tasks into smaller, more manageable units that do not require as much time to complete. Imagine you have a portfolio to create or a presentation to do  that you estimate will take 4 hours. Instead of trying to do the entire presentation in one sitting, you break it up into much smaller components as shown in the table below:

Breaking Down Projects into Manageable-Sized Tasks

Day/Time Task Time
Monday, 6:00 p.m. Write outline; look for good sources of research. 60 minutes
Tuesday, 6:00 p.m. Review  references to support outline; look for statistics. 60 minutes
Wednesday, 7:00 p.m. Create PowerPoint and list main topics on each slide 60 minutes
Thursday, 6:00 p.m. Add bullet points and pictures to each slide. 60 minutes
Friday, 5:00 p.m. Rewrite and polish final draft ensuring reference page complete 60 minutes
Saturday, 10:00 a.m. Only if needed—finish or polish final draft. 60 minutes?
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
8:00–10:00 Work Study for Business Foundations Quiz Work Business Foundations
10:00–12:00 Accounting Work Math Work Math 10 a.m.–11 a.m.   Only if needed Work
12:00–2:00 Lunch/study 1 p.m. WRIT Lunch/study Accounting Lunch/study Work Work
2:00–4:00 Marketing Math Business Foundations COMMS Strategies for Success Work Cleaning
4:00–6:00 Study for Math quiz. Grocery Complete COMMS assignment Study for History exam. 5 p.m.–6 p.m.   Rewrite and polish final draft and reference page Work Laundry
6:00–7:00 Write outline; look for good sources of research. Review research to support outline; look for statistics. Research presentation project. Add bullet points and pictures to each slide Create presentation. Meet with Darcy. Prepare school stuff for next week.
7:00–8:00 Gym Free time Create PowerPoint and list main points on each slide. Free time Create presentation. Meet with Darcy. Study for Math Quiz
8:00-11:00 Free time Gym and movie Work Movies Free time

While this is a simple example, you can see how it would redistribute tasks to fit your available time in a way that would make completing the paper possible. In fact, if your time constraints were even more rigid, it would be possible to break these divided tasks down even further.

You could use a variation of the Pomodoro Technique and write for three 20-minute segments each day at different times. The key is to look for ways to break down the entire task into smaller steps and spread them out to fit your schedule.


A student's work calendar shows to-dos on a particular week from 7 A M to 8 P M, at standard time G M T 0 4.
An online calendar is a very useful tool for keeping track of classes, meetings, and other events. Most learning management systems contain these features, or you can use a calendar application.

Analyzing Your Schedule to “Find” Time

What can you accomplish in 5 minutes?  Take a moment and make a list.

For example:

  • unload dishwasher
  • fold laundry
  • read instructions for report
  • scan current event highlights
  • review course site for what today’s class is about

Start to  pay attention to what you do throughout the day and how much time you spend doing it. The example of waiting for the next thing in your schedule has already been given, but there are many others. How much time do you spend in activities after you have really finished doing them but are still lingering because you have not begun to do something else (e.g., reading social media posts or waiting for someone to reply, surfing the Internet, etc.)? You might be surprised to learn how much time you use up each day by just adding a few unproductive minutes here and there.



Analysis Question

Identify areas in the way you spend your day where you may be able to recapture and re-purpose time. Are there things you can move around to gain more time? Are there ways you can combine tasks or reduce travel time?

3.4 How to Manage Time” from College Success  by Amy Baldwin & Open Stax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 



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