Time management is one of those areas that many people struggle with, while others seem to have mastered it. Do they possess some secret knowledge or special skills for getting things done? No, they do not. Super productive people merely set priorities and work on them through completion. They don’t let distractions get in their way.
Here are some tips to help you set priorities and start managing your time more wisely so you can get things done and have plenty of time left over in the day to actually enjoy your life.
1) Track Where Your Time is Going
If you frequently find yourself wishing that you had more time in the day to get everything done for your business then there could be two reasons for this. Firstly, you might just need to start outsourcing! Secondly, you could be wasting precious time on “busy work” that isn’t getting you anywhere. In fact, it’s probably a little bit of both.
In either case, tracking exactly how you spend your time will put you in the best position to eliminate useless tasks, and outsource those that you don’t personally need to spend time on yourself.
If you work at your computer all day then tracking the things you do every time is easy. Just install some free software like RescueTime (https://www.rescuetime.com) and let it run in the background. If you work away from the computer for part or all of the day, you’ll need to note down everything yourself. Simply note the time you started the task, a brief description of the task, and the time you finished it.
It might seem like a waste of time to track everything like this but it can be very eye opening!
2) Learn to Prioritize Your Tasks
As a business owner, there will always be ideas that you just don’t have the time to make a reality, and tasks that can’t get done in a day. This is OK – really! – but you need to learn to prioritize.
Find a system that helps you decide which tasks are priority, which tasks can wait and which ones can be outsourced to someone else if you have a budget that allows outsourcing.
A good system to use is a tray system. It’s much like an office worker has trays for paperwork coming in and paperwork going out. You don’t need a big tray system for this. Simple little boxes that can hold small slips of paper are fine.
Label each box according to what will be placed in it. Your main box should be labeled “Priority.” This means you have to take care of those things in a timely manner. The second box should be labeled with something that indicates they are important but don’t need doing immediately. A good label for this box is “Important.” You’ll also want a box labeled “Outsource” so you can delegate those tasks to someone else. Good examples of things you can delegate are posting to your blog, light edits, customer emails, etc. Those are things that need to be done but don’t necessarily have to be done by you.
Another box can be labeled as “Low Priority.” Put things that you want to get done, or perhaps need to get done, but they can wait until you have free time to get to them. Good examples of things for this box include website work, like updating your widgets, adding new plugins or images. These are not necessary to run your business, but they will give it more visual appeal and make it a little more efficient. However, these are not money making tasks and should be done in your free time or outsourced to someone else.
After you’ve set your system up, you need to make a list of all the tasks you have for the day or the week. Once that’s done you will want to go through the list, decide which are priorities, which are not and which ones can be outsourced. Write them on slips of paper or index cards and place them in their respective box.
NOTE: for a digital version of the tray system, try using Evernote (https://evernote.com)
The tasks that can be outsourced, you need to go ahead and send those out to your VA, then you can focus on your priority box and get those done.
Pull one out of the box, unless you’ve listed them in order of importance and get to work on them.
3) Don’t Try to Multitask
When you are working on your priority tasks, don’t try to work on them all at once. Studies have shown that only a tiny percentage of us are actually able to multitask effectively. The rest of us, well we usually just find that nothing gets done properly or everything takes a lot longer!
The experts actually recommend working on just one thing at a time. When we do, we are usually twice as productive as when we try to focus on something else.
So start with your top priority item of the day and focus on that, and only that, until it’s finished. When it is, move onto the next task. If you find yourself getting bored you can switch between tasks, but give each one a solid block of time before you do. A timer can work really well to keep you focused (see below).
4) Turn Off Distractions
One of the biggest problems with running any kind of business is that distractions are everywhere. You need to learn to turn these off if you’re going to put in any kind of productive work. This includes email, your cell phone, social networks, your internet browser (unless you have it open for research) and even the door to your office if other people are likely to come in and disturb you!
Tip: If you do your research ahead of time and save your notes into a text file, you should not need your browser. It’s a well-known fact that having it open while trying to work is a distraction in itself. You will be too tempted to “check in” somewhere instead of focusing on your tasks.
You need to learn to remember that an unanswered phone call or email isn’t the end of the world. Set times when you’re available via email and phone (see below) and stick to them. And if you work at home or in an office, don’t be afraid to hang a “do not disturb” sign on your door!
5) Use A Timer
Working against a timer is a great way to help you stay focused and get the job done. Knowing you have a timer on stimulates something in the brain that helps you keep your mind on the task. Start with small increments of time until you get accustomed to using the timer. You can start in 15-minute increments and work your way up to 30, 45 and 60-minute time frames.
In between those time frames, you should get up and walk around before starting another one. This is especially true if you’re working for 45 minutes to an hour at each time. Get a drink of water, go outside and walk around or simply walk around your house. This will give your mind a break and help it feel refreshed when you sit back down for another round.
As for what to use as a timer, a kitchen timer works well, as does the timer on your cell phone.
6) Check Email & Social Media at Set Times
Set times to check email and social media, and get out of the habit of constantly having notifications pop up on your screen or smartphone throughout the day. Decide what time you will check those and stick to it. Also, set a time limit on those too and use the timer to remind you when time is up so you don’t get lost on Facebook looking at cute pet pictures.
Remember… you don’t need to answer the phone just because it’s ringing, you don’t need to answer an email just because it popped up, and you don’t need to chat on an instant messenger. You can, but only at a set time of the day.
If customers get annoyed that you aren’t responding immediately then just make it clear on your website, or in your out of office email reply, that you only check email at certain times of the day. In all likelihood, people won’t even notice!
7) Set Times for Your Most Important Tasks Too
We talked about checking email and social media at set times of day, but it’s even more important to set specific times of day for your most important tasks. This could mean a weekly bookkeeping schedule, brainstorming sessions or meetings with other people. These are the kind of tasks that are crucial to your business, but that can be quickly forgotten when you have so many other things on your to do list.
8) Make A Task List
Take time to make out your task lists each week and separate them into priorities. That way, when you sit down to work you’ll already have a plan in order that you can get started on.
Set daily priorities and make sure you update the list at the end of each workday so it’s all ready for you the next morning. Trying to do this in the morning before work is another waste of time. Spend 10 minutes or so at the end of the day to plan the next day. When you do this it eliminates wasting your first 30 minutes of the day trying to decide what to do and getting it organized!
By separating out your tasks for the week then deciding what can go in the trash or be delegated gives you the time you need for the important actions, starting with your priority box.
9) Allow Time for Interruptions
One of the biggest problems we have as business owners have is that we don’t schedule time for interruptions. We answer calls and emails that can take us far away from our original to do list, and then we wonder why we haven’t managed to get everything done today!
So schedule time each day for these interruptions. This isn’t “wasted time”. It’s time where you can freely answer the phone and emails, or perform other, unexpected tasks that come up throughout the day. Since you’ve allotted time to them in advance, they won’t have such a negative impact on your productivity for the rest of the day.
10) Spend the Majority of Your Time on Actions That Bring the Most Results
Overall, when you’ve got a good time management strategy in place you should be learning to spend the majority of your time on actions that bring the most results.
The “80:20 rule” states that 80% of our results come from 20% of our actions. This is why we need to constantly streamline, to make sure we’re not wasting time on “busy work” that won’t impact our business.
If you’ve got a to do list that’s a mile long, learn how to pick out the tasks that really add to your bottom line. It takes practice and focus, but you can master it if you keep at it.
Being productive is more about managing yourself than it is about managing time. Time can’t actually be managed, it can only be utilized to your advantage or it can be wasted. Learn to use it wisely, by setting priorities and doing the work, and you will find that you start to get more done in less time.
Now go and start prioritizing your tasks and writing your to do list!