Time management is really a misnomer. The challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves - Stephen Covey
Time is precious, particularly when it comes to running your own business, many of us wishing we had more hours in a day and days in a week, but is it really time that we need to manage or ourselves?
Business owners might all appear to approach their ever-increasing workloads and responsibilities with focus and purpose, but rest assured every start-up will go through periods of overwhelm and stress due to apparent lack of time!
Often we hear people saying they don’t have enough time or are too busy, yet have they really given some focus to how they are losing time and how they might work more efficiently and productively? After all, we should be aiming to work smarter not harder!
If you are experiencing ‘overwhelm’ or simply want to try a few strategies to free up more time and become more effective during your working day, here are a few top tips;
- Know your goals
Make sure you’re engaging in activities that support your business goals, both short- and long-term. Everything else is a potential time-waster. Your daily plan should revolve around working on tasks and activities that directly relate to your business plan and remember to create SMART objectives, ensuring you are focused on revenue generation activities and ultimately growing your business.
- Prioritise your time
Give careful thought to what goes into your day and week, be it strategic activities, business development, client work, projects, customer/client meetings, accounts, sales, marketing, travel time and more. Now consider which what tasks are required for each of the above categories and use the list (1-4) below to prioritise them accordingly.
- Important and urgent - Highest priority tasks that have to be done. Do them right away.
- Important but not urgent - Tasks that appear important, but upon closer examination aren’t. Decide when to do them.
- Urgent but not important - Tasks that make the most “noise,” but when accomplished, have little or no lasting value. Delegate these if possible.
- Not urgent and not important - Low-priority tasks that offer the illusion of “being busy.” Do them later.
We recommend each day includes your BIG THREE “important and urgent” tasks that MUST be completed, but to achieve these, be sure to block time out ample chunks of time in your diary (free of distractions and interruptions). This approach is not only a tried, tested and productive way to work, it’s also a way of tracking your success, which in turn can be a fantastic motivator.
- Value your time and focus on what’s important
You are the business owner, so if you need to decline a social engagement, a networking invitation, down tools to jump on an important call or move a meeting to accommodate a deadline, these are the decisions you will face each and every day. You should be prepared to make the right decision for you, your available time and your business to ensure you’re delivering on your objectives and prioritising tasks. This includes being mindful of things we would ‘prefer’ to do as opposed ‘should’ be doing. From time to time, you might find you are drawn to completing the more enjoyable tasks first, but if you’ve prioritised your week, you’ll be sure to get the important things done, to help your business grow.
The same principal applies for projects or activities that aren’t perhaps moving as quickly as we’d like. Be prepared to review these and consider that it might be worth moving on to more productive tasks, rather than procrastinating and becoming demotivated due to lack of progress. Most importantly, learn from each and every experience to help you develop your skills as a business owner and consider what you might do differently next time a similar situation arises.
- Plan, review, reflect, repeat
One of the worst things you can do is jump into the working week or each work day with no clear plan of what needs to be done and by when. Time spent thinking ahead and planning out your time and tasks is always time well spent – There’s a saying we love ‘Own the day or the day will own you’ and we can’t say it any more succinctly than that! If you fail to prioritise and plan out the week or day ahead, you will find yourself jumping from one thing to the next without any real focus and if you’re someone who is easily distracted, having a regular planning slot, is an important thing to build in to your schedule. Why not follow one or more of these options to see if this helps improves your time management and productivity?
- Plan your day the night before - At the end of each day, take 15 minutes to clear your desk and put together a list of the next day’s most pressing tasks (remember your top 3 ‘must dos’ for e.g.). It’s a great decompression technique, and you’ll feel better sitting down at a clean desk in the morning.
- Plan the day ahead as the sun rises or get to work 20 minutes early to start the day feeling organised - Before the rest of the world is awake, grab a pen and paper, your outlook or phone calendar and plan out your day, blocking out time for all key tasks in priority order, be it admin, meetings, key projects, calls and emails for e.g.
- We also recommend you review your week’s activity at the end of the week - This could be 20 minutes on a Friday late afternoon when you reflect, and review tasks completed, successes, challenges and forward plan for the following week so that you end the week as organised as you started. Remember to celebrate your achievements as well as reflect on and learn from what could have gone better.
- Eliminate distractions
It definitely pays to be more mindful of the various distractions and interruptions that can impact your working week and consider how you could eliminate some of these going forward.
Could you try some of the following to keep your eyes and mind firmly focused on the task in hand?
- Social media notifications - Turn them off when you’re working on high priority tasks or in meetings. If someone wants to get hold of you desperately, they can call you and they don’t expect an immediate response. Do you really need to know who has liked or commented on a post, when you’re in the middle of something important?
- Email notifications - Again, these can be turned off or email closed down when you’re in the middle of important tasks, nobody expects an immediate response and if you are easily distracted, we recommend you turning off the notifications or closing down the email when you’re at your desk and only checking this periodically such as morning, before lunchtime, as the working afternoon begins and again at the end of the day. If you are head down on big tasks/important projects, time spent in your inbox should be kept to a minimum.
- Silence is golden - If you don’t want to turn off your notifications, we recommend you turn your phone to silent and turn it around, so the screen is facing the desk (ideally out of arms reach). Your notifications will still be there, but you’ll be able to catch up with them in one go, over a coffee break!
- It’s good to talk - Often we can get a lot more done during a short 5-minute phone conversation when compared with email ping pong! Ask yourself ‘Do I need to email this, or could I pick up the phone and cover all of my points in a short conversation instead’? Talking or a face to face meeting, can not only save time, it is also a great way to maintain and build those all-important relationships.
- Look after yourself - Owning and running a business will test your resilience from time to time. It is likely to be exhausting too, requiring long days and late nights on occasions and lack of routine and time to focus on ourselves. This can impact our physical and emotional well-being and to use an analogy, our bodies are like a battery or a finely tuned vehicle and if we fail to keep the battery charged or top the vehicle up with fuel, it will eventually stop working as efficiently and let us down.
- Remember to get plenty of sleep (avoid reading your phone or ipad late at night and definitely avoid these just before you go to sleep).
- Eat good nutritious food that will help to energise you and avoid reaching for sugary snacks when you’re in a rush or energy levels are low.
- Take regular exercise, be it yoga, a good walk in the great outdoors or otherwise.
- Build in time for mindfulness or to read your favourite book. Even a short 10 minute walk around can help to reset the mind and refresh you ahead of the next important task or help you unwind from a busy day.
An alert mind is a high-functioning mind and one that’s less tolerant of time-wasting activities.