Time management: which methods work - and which do not?

Laura Hennies, 21.September 2021

time management methods cover with clock

You can find Time management methods everywhere. If you are looking for a good method, you will come across some that simply don't work.

Think about it - many methods make it difficult for you to actually follow through. Why? Instead of helping you improve your productivity in the long run, they focus on one thing, saving time. But according to Harvard Business Manager, time management and self-management are about one thing - managing stress.

If a method does not help you with your stress management, you are inclined not to follow through and achieve exactly the opposite of what you actually wanted. Instead of gaining time, you lose it through annoying trial and error.

We help you find the best time management method for you with our ranking. For this reason, we have ranked the most popular ones, like the ALPEN method, the Eisenhower principle and many more, from "Must try " to "Waste of time ".

Time management methods ultimate ranking graphic

How do I recognize good time management methods? - our criteria

Everywhere you look you see time management tips. Are you looking for a time management method that really works? Then our ranking is just right for you. Look for the following criteria and find the right method for you once and for all.

Generally valid

Good time management is useful in every area of your life and a good method should be able to adapt to any situation in your life. Whether you are interested in achieving your professional or personal goals, the right time management method can help you in your studies, personal life or household as well as in your professional life.

Easy to implement

The ease of implementation of a method is paramount. No one wants to have to study and try out a method for a long time before they can save time with it. Bad methods often take a lot of time themselves. What we are looking for in our ranking is a method that is simple and helps us to clear our head instead of burdening it additionally.

Increases productivity

What do we all want from a good time management method? Of course, that it helps us to work more productively. Good time management methods help us manage our energy and tasks properly.

The ABC method

ABC Method Summary.

In one sentence: Use the ABC method to sort your tasks by priority and divide your time accordingly.

Ranking: Although, or exactly, because the method is incredibly simple, it increases your productivity and you should definitely try it out.

Suitable for: Anyone who loves simplicity and wants to work productively, whether at work, study, home or other areas.

The ABC analysis is a business method that helps you to get a good overview of your tasks and to form priorities. Why do you have to try this method? Simple - it helps you define your most important tasks and allocate your time accordingly.

In time management, the ABC method divides the tasks of an overall project into three classes - A, B & C.

A: Very important & urgent - these subtasks are very important and have a great benefit. Proportionally seen these have however a small expenditure. The recommendation of the ABC method is to take on these tasks personally and preferably work on them immediately.

B: Important & not urgent - in this category the expenditure of a task should be also proportional to the use. These tasks can be partially delegated, but should, if possible, be taken over or scheduled by yourself.

C: Urgent but not important - these small tasks have the least benefit for the overall project, but still need to be done and have a large effort.

The ABC method works best if you assign a time frame to the different tasks depending on how they are grouped

  • From group A, about two tasks should be implemented per day, taking up about 60% of your time.
  • The tasks for group B should take about 25% of your time.
  • About 15% of your time should be reserved for C-tasks.
Zeitmanagement Methode ABC-Methode Visualisierung von Aufgaben und Zeiteinteilung

Why is the ABC method so good?

It's simple, increases your productivity, and can be used anywhere. The ABC method has all three and summarizes some principles of other methods. That's why it's at the top of our ranking.

The goal of the method is to help you sort your tasks by priority and have a simple representation of complex tasks. The method focuses on the tasks that are most important for achieving the overall project.

The method is suitable for organizing different parts of a company as well as for organizing a university semester or a budget.

What distinguishes it from other methods?

The ABC method combines elements of the Eisenhower principle, as well as the Pareto principle. It attaches however a large value to Simplicity & applicability.

Also, it helps you, similar to the Pomodoro technique, to find out more about your function and thus time thieves to unmask. Compared to the Pomodoro technique, however, it requires less planning.

Are there also disadvantages?

Time management is and remains individual. If a division into A, B, and C groups is too little for you, you can also expand it with groups D and E.

Conclusion about the ABC method: You absolutely have to try it out.

Die 'Eat that Frog' Methode

Summary 'Eat that Frog' Method.

In one sentence: The principle of the method is to start your day motivated by doing your "frogs" - the tasks that need energy and have the biggest impact on your results - at the beginning of the day.

Ranking: Simplicity Meets Effectiveness - Eat that Frog is a simple principle that can improve the productivity of your entire day. Try it out.

Suitable for: Anyone with a bit of willpower and a goal to increase their productivity, whether for work, study or home.

The 'Eat that Frog' method refers to a very simple principle. Your 'frog' is the task you most want to put off, but at the same time has the greatest impact on your results. The principle of the method is to "eat" this frog right at the beginning of the day.

There are two guides for "eating frogs "

  1. how can you identify the most important frogs?

Feel free to do this process the night before. Looking ahead to the next day, ask yourself the following question: Which activities have the biggest impact on your results? At this point it is worth using the ABC method.

  1. what is the best way to eat your frogs?

Start first thing in the morning and don't get distracted at this stage. It is important that you see the "frog" as a fixed appointment and you also do it first thing in the morning. The resulting sense of achievement will stay with you throughout the day.

Why should I eat frogs?

The 'Eat that Frog' method is easy to implement. After you have identified your frogs, the most important thing is to actually do them first thing every morning. The method is useful because not only do you complete difficult tasks in a biorhythmically defined performance phase, but you also have a sense of accomplishment that will motivate you for the entire day.

Neither do you have to make decisions throughout the day, nor do you have to commit to one area of your life when using the method. The 'Eat that Frog' method will make you more productive, as you will clear your head in the morning and start the day less stressed.

„I try to fill my calendar in reverse, from the end-of-day to earlier; I try to reserve the morning for doing ‘real work’. I find I can focus more in the morning, whereas it’s harder to get focused after having been bombarded by meetings, so I try to save meetings for later in the day.”
Nathan Blecharczyk (Co-founder of Airbnb)

Are there also disadvantages?

The 'Eat that Frog' method is simple and good. However, you also need to have some willpower and discipline to eat the 'frog' early in the morning. You must not give in to the urge to check your email or do other things early in the morning.

Conclusion about the 'Eat that Frog' method: You absolutely have to try it out.

Personal Kanban

'Personal Kanban' Summary:

In one sentence: The Kanban method focuses on the visualization of the work process on a board and thus guarantees you a good workflow and the reduction of multitasking.

Ranking: The method is simple & versatile, but cannot bring in the two components urgency and importance at the same time.

Suitable for: Working in teams or as an individual (especially for freelancers) but also for private self-management.

The 'Personal Kanban' method puts great emphasis on visualizing your tasks and the work process. The Kanban board consists of three columns and ensures that not too many tasks are taken on at once. You can just as well use an online whiteboard, as a physical pinboard or any other form of board for visualization.

1st column: To Do - open tasks
2nd column: Doing - tasks in progress
3rd column: Done - completed tasks

Sounds simple, but it is. Each card on the board corresponds to a task and is placed in the columns according to the state of completion. It is important to set certain rules when implementing this. One rule should include when a task is considered completed. Another rule should specify how many tasks may be processed simultaneously in the second column.

Why is the method good?

As with the first two methods, the Kanban board emphasizes simplicity. The method can be easily integrated into existing processes of a company and is particularly well suited for working in large or small teams. For individuals, e.g. freelancers the method is likewise meaningful and also before the private life it does not have to stop. A 'personal kanban board' in the kitchen? No problem.

The method provides a good workflow and more transparency in communication. It promotes focused work, as not too many tasks can be taken on at the same time.

Zeitmanagement Methode Personal Kanban beschreibende Visualisierung der To-do-Liste
Kanban, you build a map of your work. The landscape depicted is your value stream. A value stream visually represents the flow of your work from its beginning through to its completion.
Jim Benson, Personal Kanban: Mapping Work

What can the method not do?

The method reaches its limits when it comes to setting priorities. You have to decide whether the most important or the urgent tasks are at the top of the column.

Conclusion about Personal Kanban: You can try it out

'One Minute To-Do List

'One Minute To-Do List' Summary:.

In one sentence: This method adds two more columns to the classic to-do list to sort tasks by urgency and integrates a review process.

Ranking: The 'One Minute To-Do List' only made it into the second category because it also doesn't link urgency to importance. Still, it gives a good overview and helps you increase your productivity.

Suitable for: Anyone who wants to make their simple to-do list more productive. The 'One Minute To-Do List' provides a quick overview of one's tasks, which is useful in any area of life.

This new kind of to-do list should take one minute. One thing is certain, besides setting priorities, this time management method also focuses on simple implementation.

What is new about the 'One Minute To-Do List'?

Unlike normal to-do lists, this one consists of three columns. Inventor Michael Linenberger also calls these "Urgency Zones":

Critical Now: tasks you want to get done the same day.

Opportunity Now: tasks you'd like to get done on the same day or in the same week. However, these tasks can also wait without doing any damage.

Over the Horizon: Tasks that can wait 10 days or longer.

The tips from the inventor

  • Never have more than 5 tasks in the "Critical Now" column.
  • Have no more than 20 tasks in the "Opportunity Now" column.
  • Check each column for urgency - the "Critical Now" column every hour, the "Opportunity Now" column every day, and the "Over the Horizon" column every week.
  • If the "Over the Horizon" column gets too big, set yourself a start date for completing those tasks.

These are the advantages

It may not be written down in a minute for everyone, but the 'One Minute To-Do List' is quick to visualize and gives you a good overview of your most important tasks and those that can wait a bit longer.

The list can be used in any area of life. You can implement it flexibly and easily in your studies, professional or private life. Similar to Personal Kanban, limiting tasks in one column helps you not to take on too many tasks at once.

These are the disadvantages

With this list, you can't avoid checking it regularly. To make sure that the urgent tasks are on the top of the list, it is best to check them every hour. Since this time management method is only an organization by urgency and not by importance, it could happen that important topics, even if they are not urgent, are neglected.

Zeitmanagement Methode One-Minute To-Do List Visualisierung der Urgency Zones
Conclusion on the 'One Minute To-Do List': You can try it out.

Pareto principle

Pareto Principle Summary:

In one sentence: The basic idea of the Pareto Principle is to achieve 80 percent of your results in 20 percent of the time and prioritize your tasks accordingly.

Ranking: The principle is generally valid, but does not offer a specific application suggestion and can lead to unproductivity if misunderstood.

Suitable for: Anyone who is looking for a universally applicable principle that helps in forming priorities.

The Pareto method refers to the principle of the same name by sociologist Vilfredo Pareto, who made the well-known observation that 20% of the population owns 80% of the land in Italy. This principle became known as the 80/20 rule or Pareto principle and can also be used in time management.

For time & task planning, the principle means that 20% of the time spent already achieves 80% of the results. The remaining 20% of the results need the other way around 80% of the time.

The method focuses on finding the tasks that already give you 80% of the results. The remaining tasks usually still need to be done, but can be neglected.

For each project, you could create a to-do list with all your tasks and find the 20% that already give you 80% of the results.

An example.

Let's say you have an impromptu meeting on Friday and you need to prepare a presentation by then. If your to-do list for the presentation still contains 10 subtasks, identify and take care of two tasks that will give you 80% of the results. Such as the rough form and content. You can complete these in 20% of the time. Tasks like formatting, visual treatments or animations can be done later or neglected.

When is this a good principle to use?

Whenever you need to prioritize. For example, if you are working on several tasks at the same time that have a deadline, the principle helps you define the most important tasks.

The Pareto principle helps you to complete all important tasks in the given time. The rest of the time you can spend improving tasks with details or devoting yourself to other tasks.

What are the disadvantages?

Not every task that takes a lot of time but contributes little to the overall result can simply be neglected. Many of these tasks serve as preparation for more profitable tasks.

In addition, the method is not easy to understand and therefore not easy to apply in some cases. The idea that 20% effort would be enough to produce satisfactory results could also motivate one not to do tasks properly.

Time Management Method Pareto Principle Visualization Bar Chart
Conclusion on the Pareto Principle: You can try it out.

Eisenhower Principle

Eisenhower Principle Summary:.

In one sentence: Classifying your tasks in a matrix based on two categories - importance & urgency.

Ranking: You can look at - but you don't have to. The ABC method works similarly, but made it higher in our ranking.

Suitable for: Anyone who likes symmetry and likes the visualization in a matrix. Also suitable for people in management positions who have to manage a large number of tasks, but can also delegate or delete.

The Eisenhower Principle is one of the best-known time management methods and relies primarily on the formation of priorities. In this method, all tasks are classified into four quadrants based on two criteria - importance & urgency.

1st quadrant: Important & urgent - do it yourself immediately
1st quadrant: Important & not urgent - set deadline and do it yourself
1st quadrant: Not important & urgent - delegate to someone else
1st quadrant: Not important & not urgent - task does not need to be done at all

Advantages of the matrix

The display makes it immediately clear at a glance what needs to be worked on next and which tasks can still wait.

The fourth quadrant helps to identify time thieves - those tasks that only waste time and do not bring results. The third quadrant on the other side helps to make decisions about which tasks can be delegated.

Disadvantages of the matrix

It is difficult to assign tasks to the right categories. What is actually not important and yet urgent? Should tasks that are not important and not urgent really always be deleted?

The Eisenhower principle has similarities with the ABC method, however, it does not give time specifications for the individual quadrants. Also, the Eisenhower Matrix reserves an entire quadrant for tasks that should be delegated. This methodology is much more suitable for people in management positions than for students, freelancers or professionals in non-management positions.

Zeitmanagement Methode Eisenhower-Prinzip Visualisierung der Matrix
Conclusion on the Eisenhower Principle: You can take a look at it.

ALPEN Method

ALPEN Method Summary:

In one sentence: The ALPEN Method helps you plan your daily schedule in five steps and set precise times for each task.

Ranking: The method has landed further down our ranking because it is not easily integrated into the modern workday and uses unrealistic buffer times.

Suitable for: Anyone who can manage their time freely, likes to work to a strict schedule, and has self-discipline.

In addition to a mnemonic to remember the individual steps of the method, the method helps you to plan your daily routine. This is what the individual letters stand for:

A -TASKS & note down appointments.

  • Write down all your activities in an unsorted to-do list.


  • Think carefully about how much time each task will take and write down realistic, honest times with consideration for waiting or driving times.


  • P stands for buffer times and breaks, so don't schedule 100% of your time, but reserve about 40% of your time as a buffer.
  • 20% stands for buffers of planned tasks and 20% for buffers of unforeseen tasks


  • Prioritize which tasks you want to do first, which tasks you can shorten, delegate or postpone.
  • For this point it is suitable to use another method, like the ABC analysis.


  • At the end of the day you should check if your planning has worked and which tasks have been done.
  • This step will help you for your next planning


These are the advantages of the method.

Although the planning is more complicated than in some other time management methods, the individual steps are formulated in a comprehensible way and are easy to understand. With the ALPEN method you manage to structure your day well and reduce stress. Due to the strict structure, the ALPEN method can help you to identify time thieves and to better understand the way you work.

These are the disadvantages of the method

One problem with the ALPEN method is the buffer times. In theory, they sound very good, but in practice, it is unrealistic to keep 40% of the day free and not schedule any appointments there - especially if you have a lot of customer contact in your job, for example.

So, to work effectively with the ALPEN method, you should be able to manage your time freely and also be disciplined to stick to the exact schedules. If you are not disciplined by nature, you might tend to waste the buffer times with time thieves. It is also less suitable for working in a team, as it is difficult to plan an exact schedule when working in a team.

Conclusion about the ALPEN method: You can have a look at it.

'Getting Things Done'

'Getting Things Done' Summary:

In one sentence: 'Getting Things Done' is a complex ordering system that consists of 5 steps and sorts all your tasks and projects by context and time.

Ranking: Only after you understand and internalize the method properly, you can use it to save time.

Suitable for: Anyone who is disciplined, willing to invest time to integrate a new method into their daily life and likes to write lists.

The principle of this method is to create space in your head by writing down all your thoughts and tasks and entering them into a system.

The creator of this system describes this process as: "Get control of your life: 5 steps to optimize your workflow". These five steps are as follows:

  1. collect all the things that keep you busy and record them. These can be goals, projects, deadlines and other commitments.
    Sort them and find out what you can do for each one. You should make a distinction between "tasks" and "projects" and put them in different in-boxes accordingly. In-boxes can be email inboxes, boxes, or other boxes.
    Tasks: Can be done in under 2 minutes, you should either do them immediately or delegate them
    Projects: Take longer than 2 minutes - write them on a to-do list and give them a start date or sort them into the someday folder
  2. organize your lists
    List 1: "Next steps for your projects".
    List 2: "Waiting for" for delegated tasks
    List 3: "Maybe/Someday" for projects
    List 4: "Appointment calendar" for entering all appointments
    List 5: "Reference material" for all project documents
  3. review process: Daily you should have a look at your calendars & lists and add new tasks and projects if necessary. Weekly you should look through all lists, cross off all completed items, update appointments, and empty in-boxes.
  4. the fifth step is to 'get things done'.

'Getting Things Done' sounds like exactly what we all want for now. But if you've been following our ranking, you've noticed that the method didn't make it to the top. And here's why:


As you may have noticed from the long description, this method is not easy to implement. The big hurdle before the method can make you more productive is understanding it in the first place.

You have to invest time before you can gain time. If you have to read over and over again how the method is actually meant, you might not manage to integrate it into your everyday life and thus unfortunately only waste time.

In addition, you have to invest time in maintaining the lists and in-boxes and keeping them up to date. It's best to check and update your lists daily. With all the organizing and filling lists with information, dividing them into tasks and projects, adding deadlines and reference material, you might neglect your really important tasks.

Are there benefits?

Writing down every new idea, event or task takes time, of course, but helps you to completely free your mind for tasks and new ideas. Getting Things Done' is meant to be an organizing system that frees your mind.

Conclusion on 'Getting Things Done': waste of time

Pomodoro Technique

Pomodoro Technique Summary:

In one sentence: The Pomodoro Technique works with a stopwatch and divides your workday into intervals of 25 minutes of work each followed by a 5 minute break.

Ranking: The Pomodoro technique is at the bottom of our ranking because organizing the method takes more time than it gives you and can additionally cause stress.

Suitable for: Anyone who doesn't get stressed out by timers, has the time to learn a new methodology and wants to train their concentration, self-control & self-discipline.

The Pomodoro Technique is about getting to know your way of working better, as well as training your self-control & self-discipline.

The Pomodoro technique works with time intervals, a sheet of paper (physical or online) and a timer.

A Pomodoro - or time interval - consists of 25 minutes of work. This phase is monitored with a stopwatch and should consist of intense work without distractions. Each pomodoro is followed by a 5-minute break. After four pomodri, you have completed one cycle and should take a longer break of up to 30 minutes.

However, before getting to work, you should take a Pomodoro at the beginning to write down all your tasks for the day and divide them into Pomodori. So if you have a larger project, break down each task into 25-minute increments.

Important to note:

If you don't finish a task in the allotted time, don't ignore the timer, but take a 5-minute break anyway and continue working on the task in the next pomodoro.

At the end, always note how many Pomodori you needed for a task as well as possible interruptions, in order to get to know your working day and your way of working better.

**This is why the Pomodoro technique doesn't work.

As with the 'Getting Things Done' method, you need to train the Pomodoro Technique before you can know your way of working and save time. Organizing the method and analyzing your work day is time consuming.

Depending on what type of worker you are, a stopwatch could cause discomfort and stress in your workday. If you do get distracted and the stopwatch rings before you finish your task, you may feel a sense of failure or guilt. Neither of these are good conditions for being productive at work.

Prerequisites for the method are:

  • self-discipline - you need it to really not get distracted during the Pomodori.
  • elaborate planning - because you need to be able to estimate exactly how much work you can do in 25 minutes.
  • a good attitude towards working with timers.

Even if you don't let stopwatches stress you out, setting fixed time frames can lead to unproductive work. Either the ringing of the timer can pull you out of the workflow, or you may find yourself forcing yourself to work through the 25 minutes when you sometimes lack concentration. Let's face it, try as we might, isn't it unrealistic to never be disturbed by a colleague or a message during a Pomodori cycle?

This is what you can train with the method:

  1. to work in a focused way
  2. increase your ability to concentrate
  3. eliminate interruptions
  4. avoid multitasking
Conclusion on the Pomodoro technique: a waste of time

Conclusion: What really matters in time management?

The core of any good time management is perseverance and continuity. All the methods that made it to the top of our ranking have one thing in common. They are not solely about getting more tasks done in less time, but about helping you with weighting and decision-making issues, thus reducing your stress. However, every good method falls and stands with our self-discipline.

You're always looking for new methods?

Then you should stop doing that now. Our ranking is designed to help you find the perfect method for you, so you don't have to spend hours searching. Because that's exactly the problem: To become successful with time management methods, you have to find the best system for you and keep it as long as possible.

Now you know what criteria are important for good time management methods. Always searching for new methods will cost you much more time than you gain. To avoid this, you should use our ranking to find a method that really suits you. Haven't found anything yet? Then read on to discover two more alternatives.

Alternatives to time management methods

If you've looked through our ranking and still haven't found a method that works for you, here are two more alternatives for you:


Besides time management methods, journaling can also help you understand your workday in retrospect. In journaling, you write down thoughts, experiences, and ideas from the day and reflect on which tasks took you time and which gave you meaningful results. Journaling can help you:

  • recognize and appreciate your successes
  • improve your planning by recording what you did in a day and reflecting critically on it
  • identify and minimize your time thieves

Time Tracking & Project Management Software

Computer software can also help you get an overview of your day, identify time thieves and perceive your most productive results.

memtime, for example, is a fully automated time tracking software that records your working day on the computer, down to the second and in detail. So at the end of the day, you know exactly what you worked on and how to better allocate your work on different projects.

memtime can also be connected to your project software. This way you have all your projects and measured times in one place and you can get an accurate overview of how you work.

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