Are you struggling to get through everything you want each day? Do you wish for just a little more time? Ever wonder how those ultra-successful people do it?
- Richard Branson swears by waking up early.
- Zappos founder Tony Hsieh bundles up all the emails he needs to reply to each day and hits them in one go during a single session.
- Tennis star Martina Navratilova says she would try to concentrate on concentrating.
- American president Benjamin Franklin planned his entire day, all 24 hours, from start to finish and focused on two questions: The morning question: What good shall I do this day? The evening question: What good have I done today?
- Winston Churchill would spend most of his morning working in his bed.
- Barack Obama is quoted as saying “Get a head start on tomorrow, tonight” – he uses those last hours of each day to get his plan for tomorrow ready.
Following the same approach as these superstars, here are some strategies for the over-worked, over-burdened, and sometimes under-appreciated entrepreneur, startup or small business owner.
If You Don’t Manage Your Business Time Effectively, You May As Well Go Sit on a Beach
Honestly, if you are not using your time positively to generate income or grow your business, what’s the point? The time you spend on non-income or non-growth activities is basically a lost opportunity. Sure, it may feel important but if it is just a background administrative chore, you are missing out on doing something more valuable with that time.
Look at it this way. Lets say, for example, you have two options for how to use the first four hours of your business day tomorrow.
Option A) Contact five potential new customers, draft that new marketing campaign you have been thinking about and then hold two sales calls.
Option B) Check your email, check that your staff are working on the right things for the day and then post a bunch of replies to interesting social media posts.
Which one do you think is going to make you more money in? Obvious answer, option A.
Is your average day more like option A or option B?#SmartBusiness owners allocate their time to the highest value activities. Click To Tweet
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself, We’ve All Been There
Ways to Free Up Time
To help get you started, try some of the ideas from our following list of 30 ways to free up time in your day.
1. Stop multi-tasking on business work
In an upcoming post, 6 simple steps to becoming more productive in your business, we are going to share some interesting facts. Recent research proves multi-tasking essentially causes you to waste time. The overhead of context switching between tasks results in lost time. Each time you switch, you need to recall where you were. You then need to get yourself back into the right frame of mind for the new task.
2. Develop your own ‘system’ of working
Put together your own personal plan that focuses on getting more done each day. There are countless best-practices, methodologies, and guides out there to use as a starting point. You are reading one now! Regardless of what approach you decide to work with, customise it. Do it in the way that works best for you. Everyone is different and there is no one-size-fits-all. Think about when you are most productive each day and when you are not. Consider where you like to work. Remember how you like to work and what gives you the most satisfaction. The key is to build in positive reinforcement strategies. that you know are going to motivate and inspire your own unique personality.
3. Work on the hard things first
Each day there are going to be things you can work on that are relatively more challenging than others. For these more complicated tasks, try to work on them at the start of each day when you body and mind are well rested. This will also have the added benefit of longer stretches as you’re less likely to be interrupted earlier in the day than later.
4. Eliminate anything that doesn’t provide value to your business
Things that don’t get you a step closer toward your business goals are clear candidates to simply stop doing. For each thing you identify as a possible task to eliminate, ask yourself what would happen if you simply stopped doing it. Really, what is the worst that could happen. If the answer isn’t detrimental to your overall strategy and direction, then why bother spending anymore time on it?
5. Take more breaks
This one may seem counter-intuitive but research shows were are actually more productive if we give ourselves time to re-energise throughout the day. On a physical level, we are biological machines that require energy to be at out peak. Whether your doing physical work or mental work, it all requires energy. When you work, you use up that energy and your performance levels begin to decline. Pausing every now and again to perhaps have a drink, eat a snack, get some fresh air or to meditate will help you recharge and get back to your best.
6. Break your work into smaller tasks
Once you have identified which major project or strategy you’re next going to focus on in your business, give you and your team the best chance of completing it successfully by decomposing the work down into small discrete tasks. A good rule of thumb is to divide up the work into small tasks that can be completed by one or two people in a few days or less. That way, you’ll see yourself making progress and you will feel good about the results you’re achieving. It’s amazing how much more productive a team is when is motivated by momentum and results.
7. Prioritise your task list
Following from our tip on breaking complex work into smaller discrete tasks, this one takes it a step further and gets you putting things into priority order. Focus on the high value tasks first, and then work through them until the least important tasks are the ones you work on last. This approach will boost your momentum, and you’ll be less likely to run out of time. In other words, you gain time by not wasting it on unimportant work.
8. Focus on one thing at time
This goes hand-in-hand with our earlier recommendation to stop multi-tasking. Taking it up a notch above individual tasks, try to only focus on a single growth activity in your business at the one time. Decide who will be involved and then give them, and yourself, the freedom to concentrated on it. Let yourself get immersed in that one thing for the duration. Doing this will help you get into the zone so to speak where you can build up your contextual knowledge. You’ll find that this approach will maximise the likelihood that your business will end up with the best results it can for each activity or project it works on.
9. Be ruthless about blocking out distractions
If you are going to take the time to work on something, then give yourself the freedom to concentrate on it. Block out your calendar, turn off your email, turn your phone on silent, close down all your social media applications, shut your door, politely let unexpected visitors know that you’re busy and could they pop back a bit later, arrange for your staff (if you have any) to handle any incoming enquiries, etc.
10. Set an agenda and time limit on meetings
If you really must have a meeting, and we really do suggest that you avoid them if you can, but if you really must, then make sure it has a purpose and that it will end on time. Sitting around listening to people waffle without a focused goal, for an inane period of time benefits nobody in business. Have a purpose/goal, get to the point, and then move on.
11. Set aside time each day for interruptions and emergent tasks
Life happens, it’s unavoidable. Structure your day so you have a set block of time where you can group together all those unexpected questions, visits, calls, unplanned tasks, etc. If someone pops in or calls up let them know that you will be free at _x_ o’clock. If it is non-urgent, then it can surely wait.
12. Outsource personal chores
As rewarding as it is to be self sufficient and to help out with things at home. If you really want to find extra hours in your day then personal chores are an excellent place to look. With the internet age truly upon us, there is a growing set of excellent services available to connect to and get things done for you. The ‘tasker’ service model is being rolled out across almost every aspect of life – if there is a chore you need to do in your life, you can be pretty sure that you’ll be able to find someone out there will be able to do it for you, for a fee. Of course, following this suggestion comes down to a cost/benefit analysis. How much will it cost you to outsource a chore, and how much do you think that time is worth to you? If you can create significant value in your business with the extra time from offloading a chore, then why not consider it?
13. Outsource things that are not your core business
Successful entrepreneurs and those in the industry surrounding them, i.e. venture capitalists, suggest that you should be doing only two things in your business: 1. Creating a great product or service. 2. Getting people to buy that product or service. Anything in between, while possibly necessary, doesn’t actually get you any closer to your business goals. These non-core activities are the necessary evils of doing business but they’re not something you absolutely have to be doing yourself. If you really want time to focus on either building or selling then get these administrative tasks outsourced.
14. Stop checking your email
Email is the bane of modern humanity. It can be the ultimate business time suck if you let it. If something is absolutely urgent, someone will probably call you or visit you in person. The truth is, the world won’t fall apart if you don’t check your email all the time. Pick one or two a set times during the day to manage your email. It may be once in the morning or the afternoon or both, or something else. It really doesn’t matter when, just pick whenever suits you best. What does matter, is that you minimise the frequency. Once you have set your time stick to it.
15. Keep your head clear
Find a way or use a tool to capture any random thoughts and ideas that pop into your head. Don’t let you mind wander and drift off while you’re in the middle of something just because you started thinking about something new or you suddenly remembered something important. Having some way of writing down the thought means you won’t forget it and you can come back to it later after you have finished what you are working on. Following this idea works along with the idea of not multi-tasking and will definitely buy you more time each day.
16. Automate with technology
Welcome to the future. It’s pretty cool. There are a lot of repetitive tasks you can now automate using technology. If you find there are things that you or your staff are repeating over and over again in your business, have a look around and see if there are options available to automate them. If you need to, speak to a technology consultant or look at what others in your industry are doing.
17. Wake up earlier
This one is blatantly obvious. If you want a bit more time each day, then make your day longer. It is tempting, and probably easier, to stay up later each night but at that point you’re not going to be as physically and mentally productive. Mornings are more productive because you’re at your most rested. If you’re not a ‘morning’ person, still try it – but just give yourself enough time to wake up, rub your eyes, eat breakfast, etc. Oh, and a good trick to being able to wake up earlier is simply to start waking up earlier. Your body clock will soon adjust.
18. Just get started
Tackling a hard problem can overwhelm even the best of us. That time up-front you sometimes spend worrying/thinking/analysing/designing/etc. could actually be delayed until a bit later once you’ve learned a bit about what you’re doing. If you take the approach of getting started on a job first and then pausing once you know a bit more about it to think it through and analyse/plan the ideal path then you will probably not waste as much time muddling around. The little bit of knowledge you get from starting something will then help you come up with an ideal solution. We advise you not to take this one too literally – don’t rush off and start something you have no idea about if it can be highly detrimental to your business. Remember, dial-before-you-dig, measure-twice-cut-once, and don’t play with fire or electricity!
19. Be decisive
Time spent analysing each and every task and trying to get the most optimal solution is time wasted. Sure, you might improve the design here, or save a few dollars there, or get the best fit of features or produce a slightly higher return. But if it takes you 10 times a long to do all this, then is it really worth it? Probably not. Go with what you think is best at the time based on what you know. You needn’t worry about making catastrophic mistakes. By this point in your career, you’ll have enough knowledge and experience to prevent yourself making extremely risky decisions. Trust in your abilities and your ability to learn.
20. Empower your staff with information
Want to have a great team that is confident and capable to self-manage and perform at their best? Then give them the information they need to get on with their job without interrupting you. Work together with your employees to create standard operating procedures, guidelines and policies. Keep this information updated over time you will have a powerful productivity enhancer and time saver. Once you have it in place, if you find that people still knock on your door with questions, gently teach them where to find the answers themselves.
21. Only handle things once
In the spirit of staying focused and not multi-tasking, this one relates to using the minimum time necessary to get something done. Once you decide to work on something, make sure you allow yourself enough time to get through it and then stick at it until it is completely finished. This goes for trivial tasks as much as it does for more complicated longer running items. The time savings are gained by preventing start-stop-start context switching and repeated effort.
22. Use waiting time to knock over a few small things
Anytime you find yourself in a situation that requires you to wait, use it to your advantage to get something done. For example, waiting in line at the grocery store, sitting in the reception chairs at the doctor/dentist, riding public transport, sitting on the side at your kid’s after-school/weekend activities. In these brief moments you can probably check and respond to a few emails, make a quick call, delegate some work to one of your employees or service providers, research something you’re currently focused on, etc. If you know in advance you’ll be waiting somewhere for an extended period, you can come prepared with the necessary paperwork plus any tools like a laptop, tablet, smart-phone and actually use that waiting area as a temporary mobile office.
23. Consider that reduced productivity could essentially just be laziness or procrastination in disguise
Not to be hard on yourself but if you feel that you or your staff are suffering from reduced productivity, there could be a deeper underlying problem. Sometimes people inadvertently find other ways to be ‘busy’ just so they don’t have to front up to the more challenging task they know they really should be doing.
24. Avoid blatant time wasters during business hours
Surfing the web without a purpose, checking in on your social media accounts for fun, watching TV, playing games. These activities are all great fun and may be relaxing for you but save them for later when you’re not working. They are a slippery slope once you get started and before long you’ll have lost time that could have been better spent on something more valuable for your business.
25. Triage incoming work
With each new task that comes across your desk, start off by briefly scanning it and deciding the quickest and most effective way to deal with it. For emails, phone calls, in person questions and other forms of personal communication, provide the most concise and polite response you can. If it is reading and research, try skim reading to obtain the important points/conclusions rather than reading line by line.
26. Learn to say No Thank-You
For incoming offers that you’re not ready to investigate or not interested in, be honest and just say “thank-you, but I’m not interested”. With invitations to discussions and meetings that are not critical and don’t really require your input, thank them for the invite and politely decline. If you get an offer to undertake work that doesn’t contribute to your overall goals and strategy, respond with a simple “thank you for thinking of me, but not this time”. Next time one of your friends asks you to help them move house, offer them the keys to your car/ute/pickup-truck for the day but let them know you won’t carry the boxes for them. Of course, it will be up to you to decide on when you should say yes, but at some point you must realise that you can’t do everything. If you want to move forward in your business, you will need to give it priority more often than not.
27. Double-up while you’re commuting, tidying up or exercising
If you’re like me and you have an insatiable appetite for learning new things, listening to new music, or catching up on the latest podcasts, then why not do these things while you’re tidying up or exercising. Even better, use them as a reward so you get some sort of positive reinforcement or motivation for taking on things that you have a hard time starting. i.e. Only read certain material on the treadmill/exercise bike, only listen to certain podcasts while your on your daily commute, listen to new music while you’re on a daily walk.
28. Plan your daily, weekly and monthly schedule
Use a calendar with reminders and decide in advance what you are going to work on when. This way you will waste much less time thinking about what you are going to next. Additionally, by using time-blocks and deadlines for tasks you will put an upper limit on certain tasks and you will be less likely to let things drift on for hours, days or weeks.
29. Make calls at the ‘right’ times
If you have to call a particular client or service provider about something that is expected to be short and simple, then pick a time of day when you know they won’t be up for a chat. Conversely, if you need to make a more in-depth call that is anticipated to run for a while pick the right time when you think the other person won’t be distracted.
30. Keep your office tidy
A clean workplace is an efficient workplace. By keeping things tidy and in ‘their place’ you will always be able find what you are looking for when you need it and you won’t waste time searching around. This holds true both for your physical environment and your virtual/electronic environment. Keep things organised for the most efficient retrieval, throughput and archiving.
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Tell Us About Your Ways to Free Up Time
We’d really love to hear from you if you try any of these ideas. Additionally, are there any other ideas you could add to the list? Let us know about your experience in the comments below.