By Dirk Zeller

Time management isn’t a talent you’re born with. With time management, you can work your way up to champion level without having the efficiency gene. Successful time management is a matter of habit. Here are the ten best habits to adopt for winning at time efficiency.

Start your day early

Most people are more productive in the morning. That’s logical: After sleep, you have more energy, you’re more alert, and you’ve had less “day,” when everything that could go wrong does. No doubt, a half‐hour first thing in the morning is easily worth two hours at the end of the day.

You don’t have to set your alarm for the crack of dawn. An extra hour can buy you plenty of bonus time to take a big bite off your to‐do list. Even just a half‐hour earlier a day adds 182.5 hours to your year — 23 additional workdays.

Plan for the next day

Set aside time every day, at the end of the workday or before you wind down in the evening, to set up for the next day. Investing a half‐hour, even as little as 10 or 15 minutes, can guarantee a higher return on productivity in as little as 24 hours.

As you confirm tomorrow’s schedule and add to your to‐do list, take your entire day into account — not just your work hours but your personal obligations, too:

  • Review tomorrow’s work commitments and be sure your schedule is up‐to‐date.

  • Integrate any personal appointments into your schedule, too.

  • Make sure you have no scheduling conflicts. (Does your morning meeting allow you to get to your noon dentist appointment on time?)

  • Add any items you didn’t get to today.

  • Anticipate and work in any plans or arrangements necessary for accomplishing tomorrow’s to‐dos.

  • Identify your top priorities — if everything that could go wrong does, what do you absolutely have to accomplish?

Take care of your health

Taking steps to stay well is one of the best time investments you can make. After all, if you lose work time because of frequent illness or you just don’t have the stamina to put in a full day of activity, you lose productivity and get behind at work and at home.

  • Eat for optimal performance: Eating healthy is as important for desk jockeys as it is for anyone who requires his or her body to be in top shape. A proper diet ensures the physical and mental energy required for a productive day.

  • Exercise for energy and stamina: Physical activity helps your mental outlook as much as your physical well‐being. Scientific evidence supports that exercise stimulates chemicals that send positive thoughts and increased energy to the brain, all sensations important for peak productivity. So if you often talk yourself out of going to the gym because you don’t have time, consider that you don’t have time not to.

  • Sleep for rejuvenation: Getting enough rest to recharge is paramount. Going to bed early enough so you’re well rested can improve your time management and energy level the next day. Know your amount of needed rest that your body craves. Establish your schedule to coincide with that amount.

Set aside downtime

Whether you call it prayer, meditation, clearing your mind, quiet time, or goofing off, adults need unstructured blocks of time, too. Extremely busy people may find it hard to justify doing nothing when so much work awaits them, but these periods of reflection stretch your thinking muscles, release built‐up stress, and lead you to new insights and greater understanding. And that’s hardly “nothing.”

Plan meals for the week

Make a habit of making a once‐a‐week meal plan so you don’t have to waste time contemplating what to eat — no more frantic sweeps through a fast‐food drive‐through because you don’t have anything in the house.

You can apply a weekly‐plan habit to aspects of your life other than meals as well. For instance, plan what you’re going to wear each day so you can be sure everything is washed, returned from the dry cleaner, shined, and repaired.

Delegate almost everything

Figure out what’s most important to you, and delegate everything else. As soon as you have your list of priorities, you can better determine which activities support those priorities and which, though necessary to complete, can be handled by someone else.

Sometimes, what seems like an activity to be delegated is, in reality, one that’s close to the heart of your most cherished values. The joy you see a child’s face when you join them on the floor with their toys brings joy and deep fulfillment, even if playing tea party of racing cars isn’t really your thing.

Say no more often

You’ve heard it said that if you want something done, then ask a busy person to do it. It’s true that the most productive people seem to be able to juggle more responsibilities and activities. But what a too‐busy person achieves in quantity often comes at the cost of quality. To get the most satisfaction out of the work you do and the pastimes you engage in, you need to protect them from getting swallowed up by other commitments.

The demands on your time are limitless. Time is a finite resource. Figure out how to recognize when the hourglass is almost out of sand, and protect your time by saying no. Return to your list of priorities and evaluate whether your plate is filled with unrelated commitments. If so, scrape them off as possible to make room for the things that really matter to you. And when the next wave of people serves up more requests for your time, politely put your hand over the plate and say, “No, thank you. I’m full.”

Always use a time-management system

To best retain your time-management skills, adopt a system for managing your time. And stick to it. With regular use, such a system gets easier to use and brings a greater return with time.

Simplify your life

Just as material possessions take up space in your home and office, they also clutter up your time. Most people have too much stuff.

Having and caring for possessions takes a lot of time. The fewer you have, the simpler life becomes. Nothing’s wrong with having things that bring you happiness and pleasure. If you love getting in your daily laps and spending time sunning yourself by your in‐ground swimming pool, savor the joy it brings you whenever you can. But the more you can divest yourself of your other leisure toys, the more you’re able to focus on your time enjoying the pool.

Return to your priorities list and take stock of how your material wealth aligns with your goals. Identify what relates, and get rid of as much of the rest as you can. Having fewer material burdens is one of the most liberating feelings you can experience.

Begin every day at zero

Leave all your baggage from the day before where it belongs: in the past. Whatever mistakes, disappointments, losses, embarrassments, and failures you suffered yesterday don’t have to affect the outcome of today.

As the saying goes, the past is history. The future is a mystery. Today is a gift; that’s why they call it the present. Unwrap each day with the anticipation and expectation of unfolding a wonderful day of production, success, fulfillment, service to others, results, and relationship‐building. Use your time to create the largest, best, most significant return on your time as possible.