“How do you manage your time?”
This is a fairly easy behavioral question that could be asked at any type of job interview, though it’s more common for roles in fast-paced environments, managerial roles, or work-from-home jobs.
In this article, you’ll learn how to tackle this time management question following our structured 3-step process.
Variations of This Question
This question might be asked in a variety of ways, so here are versions of this question that really just mean the same thing:
- Can you describe how you prioritize tasks?
- How do you balance all of your work tasks?
- What is your approach to time management?
- Why is it important to manage your time at work?
- How do you organize your time?
- Are you good at managing your time?
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
When the interviewer asks this question, they’re really looking for evidence you know how to prioritize important tasks.
They want someone who knows when a task needs immediate attention and when it’s better to deal with it later. Being able to make the right judgment call makes you a far more efficient and productive employee.
Interviewers are also looking for you to demonstrate that you can stick to a schedule and not get sidetracked.
Distractions will arise whether you’re in a busy service environment or in your quiet home office, so they want to be sure you can set (and stick to) deadlines and boundaries to get the job done.
Ultimately, by answering this question, you’re showing the interviewer you have experience in setting expectations for your own time and meeting those expectations.
How to Answer: “How Do You Manage Your Time?”
Like most answers to job interview questions, this one follows a particular formula so you can gradually build your answer.
Let’s go over the 3-step formula:
1. Describe Your Approach to Time Management
Start by talking about your approach to time management.
There are many different ways to approach this depending on your time management skills and experience, but the idea is to communicate a system that works for you and makes sense in the job you’re applying for.
In other words, if you’re going to be working in a team environment, talk about an effective time management strategy for working in teams — like getting everyone comfortable using project management software.
Here are some other time management strategies:
- Delegating tasks for managing a team of people.
- Having a written schedule for a variety of tasks that need doing.
- Using time-management tools or apps for managing a lot of tasks.
- Applying block scheduling when working in a structured environment.
- Leaving a buffer of time in your day to handle unexpected interruptions.
To clarify, the right balance here is something that could realistically be applied in the job you’re interviewing for, while also being something you’ve used with success in the past, at least to some degree.
Here’s an example:
“I have an analog planner to keep track of meetings and deadlines. I update my planner at the end of every workday and move tasks around as needed. Each morning, I review it and commit to a mental plan for accomplishing my tasks while also leaving some extra time for necessary interruptions.”
2. Explain Why This Is Your Preferred Approach
Next, talk about the benefits of using this approach to manage your time.
Going into detail about how this approach has worked for you shows the interviewer you have real-life experience implementing this method to manage your time, and you aren’t just plucking it out of the air.
Think back to a time you applied it with success, whether it was at work or in a personal setting. You don’t have to be specific about where or when you used it, but you should be able to explain why it’s so effective.
What did it allow you to do that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to?
Here are some ideas to get your juices flowing:
- Delegating tasks to other people allowed you to get more done in a much shorter period of time.
- Leaving extra time in your schedule allowed you to tackle smaller tasks that otherwise would fall by the wayside.
- Using a time management application helped you remember tasks you would otherwise forget about.
Here’s an example:
“I’ve found the act of physically writing down my tasks helps me to remember them and keep them in mind. If an urgent matter comes up while I’m busy, spending a few minutes including it in the next day’s schedule ensures it doesn’t slip through the cracks.”
3. Explain How This Approach Will Benefit The Role
Finally, explain how all this fits into the position you’re applying for.
The employer wants to know you’ve considered the different types of distractions and challenges you’ll encounter in your new role. This shows preparedness and critical thinking.
Mention a time-management-related obstacle you might encounter in the position and discuss how your approach will help you overcome that.
Some obstacles might include:
- Annoyed or confused customers needing extra help
- A coworker needing to tend to an urgent matter
- More phone calls coming in than usual
- If you’re working from home, a package delivery or similar interruption
Here’s an example:
“In this role, since I would be managing client calls in addition to my regular work, having a written schedule would allow me to get right back to work without losing track of what I was doing. Also, by including non-urgent tasks each day, I would have the option of postponing something if needed.”
Putting It All Together (Example Answers)
Let’s look at some full sample answers that utilize the same 3-step formula outlined above.
Example #1: Work-From-Home Job
“I use a block schedule system to manage my time. This means I accomplish tasks that require a lot of alertness in the morning when I’m at my best, and I save more routine tasks for the afternoon when I have less energy.
I’ve found that by scheduling my day this way, I am taking advantage of my natural rhythms and maximizing my productivity. Before I began this system, I often found myself losing focus in the afternoons. Now I purposely schedule harder tasks when I have the most energy.
In this position, using block scheduling will allow me to get just as much work done at home as I would in the office. I will also have more time available in the afternoon to handle any problems that came up earlier because routine tasks can often be grouped together on another day if necessary.”
Example #2: Front Desk Job
“I use a digital checklist system to ensure I get everything done that I need to do each day. Each week, I add the tasks that I need to accomplish and then I check them off as I complete them. I check each day to make sure I can finish the list before the end of the week.
I learned this method when I was a student, and it’s served me well throughout my working life. I prefer to be able to pick and choose which tasks I complete depending on what else is going on that day, so this system works well for me.
Because the front desk position varies a lot depending on the clients who come in, having a checklist would allow me to find a task I can do within the time I have between scheduled meetings. I can also fit in unexpected interruptions and get right back to what I was working on before.”
Example #3: Management Position
“My time-management methods rely quite a bit on delegation. I first try to learn a lot about my team and what each person is good at, then I assign tasks to different employees depending on their strengths and weaknesses. I take on the tasks that are vital until I am sure someone else is fully capable of doing them.
In the past, I’ve made the mistake of trying to do everything myself. This didn’t make for good time management. I learned that delegation is the key to productivity when you’re managing a team.
In this role, I plan on training my team and working with them with the end goal of delegation. This will reduce my mental clutter because I’m confident the jobs are being done correctly by trustworthy people. That means I’ll have more time for strategizing and planning for the company’s growth.”
How NOT to Answer
Let’s finish off with some of the most common mistakes people make when asked “How do you manage your time?”
Don’t Say Time Management Isn’t Important
Avoid giving the impression that you have no strategy in mind or that you’ve never thought about it.
This can give your interviewer the impression you’re just flying by the seat of your pants. Doing so could allow important tasks to slip through the cracks. You might also become overwhelmed during busy or stressful times at work.
Instead, think about how managing your time will look in the role you’re applying for. Consider which interruptions or issues are likely to come up, and think of a strategy that will help you get past them without losing your focus.
Don’t Talk About Multitasking
While multitasking might have been a popular strategy in the past, it’s best to stay away from mentioning it here.
Studies have shown people who multitask aren’t able to give their full focus to any of the jobs they’re trying to do at the same time. Employers want to know you’re able to dedicate your time and energy to one task at a time rather than giving a fraction of your attention to two (or more) different things.
Instead, talk about other methods for getting different tasks done throughout the day and dealing with interruptions.
- Learn the different ways the question may be asked
- Discuss the method or methods you use to manage time
- Talk about why they work for you
- Explain why they are good for the role you’re applying for
- Don’t give the impression that time management isn’t important
- Leave multitasking out of the discussion