Time on your business is such an amazing investment. When used correctly, time has the potential to take your businesses to all the places you dream about.
Have you ever had a period of time when you were extremely efficient, at your peak, and felt you produced amazing results? Similarly, has there been moment when you felt like you were trudging in circles through a swamp and getting nowhere? For example, have you ever found yourself questioning your business expectations? It’s all about how you use your time.The truth about 'time' is that entrepreneurs can never have enough of it. #entrepreneurship Click To Tweet
No matter what you achieve, there always seems to be something else you want to do. I guess that is the nature of entrepreneurs – we always want to get more done. But given there are only so many hours in the day for your to work on your business, how can you make sure you’re using that time effectively?
In this guide, we’ll take you through some time management tactics and strategies we have found to be extremely useful in our own business. We’ll also include a couple of gems that we picked up along the way when working with some of our amazing clients. Are you ready to dive in? Ok, let’s go.
1. Control your own time, don’t let others demand it from you
One truth in the universe is that life happens. By that I mean that on any given day, there are always going to be random things that just pop up or people that drop in and want something from you. You can’t really avoid this, but what you can do is to stay in control of how these things impact your day.
Take this scenario for instance: You sit down at 9:00am to start your day, and then the phone rings – it’s an important client wanting to find out a certain piece of information – so you take the call. After a bit of time, a new email arrives, it’s one of your staff asking for help on a particular task – so you spend a bit of time responding to them – its 10:30am. Ok, you now think you’ve getting into things and then you’re interrupted by your neighbour who has just dropped by for a chat. Next thing you know it’s almost lunchtime and you haven’t really gotten much done yet due to all the interruptions. Do you see what I’m getting at: your time is being consumed by others, you’re not in control of it, they are.
Rather than letting these events consume your day, think about ways you can control your time instead. Some good ideas include the following:
- Use a telephone answering service or assistant for incoming calls
- Don’t respond immediately to every single email (see our next tactic for more on this)
- Gently educate your family and friends to avoid the casual ‘drop in’ during certain times
- If you have staff, make it their responsibility to greet and handle visitors (i.e. use a ‘gate-keeper’)
- If you don’t have staff, find a way that works for you to ‘block-out’ good stretches of time for priority work
Now, using approaches like these is all well and good but you don’t really want to appear to others as a stone-cold unapproachable grump. So, the final trick to making this time-control work without annoying others is:
- Set aside specific times each day or week when you will handle random new tasks and enquiries. This way, when something comes up, you can delay it to later on when you have this set time available for emergent tasks. By being available, but at a delayed time, people soon get the idea and gradually you find that they begin self-adjusting to your own preferred schedule.
2. Set specific hours to manage your email and stick to that schedule
OK, there are hundreds if not thousands of posts online talking about the various ways of managing your email. Concepts such as tagging, inbox-zero, buckets, only-handle-once, etc… I reckon I’ve tried most of them over the years and there is one thing I found to be the most effective. It’s got nothing to do with the what, i.e. the tools I use or the techniques I follow. These things I believe are purely personal that vary depending on unique tastes of the individual. What this effective approach focuses on is the when, i.e. the times I dedicate to processing my email.
Before I take you through the tactic, let’s stop and have a look at a little scenario. Back in the olden days before email everyone got their mail in physical form via packages delivered to their letterbox. Setting aside the general delays and costs of this old snail-mail system, there was one very efficient aspect to it… the mail only got delivered once a day. Depending on your own schedule, you would usually have a set time (only one) each day where you would walk to your mailbox, pick up the mail, open it up and then handle each item. This worked really well since for the remainder of the day you wouldn’t have to deal with the mail again; you could spend your time doing other things.
Today however, email turns up sporadically within moments of the person hitting send. You could get email at any time of the day. Many people fall into the trap of regularly, or even continuously, checking and handling their email as it comes in. Can you imagine how silly and inefficient it would have been back in those old days for someone to continuously interrupt their day to walk out to the mailbox, check for mail and then bring it to their desk for processing. Well, to be honest, that sort of thing is just as silly these days. The only difference is that there are now fewer steps you need to take to look inside the mailbox and open the message.
So – the one thing that will certainly free you up and let you focus is to pick a set time or times during the day to manage your email. It may be once in the morning or the afternoon or both, or something else. Whatever works for you is fine; it really doesn’t matter specifically when. But what does matter is that you minimise the frequency and once you have set your time stick to it.
3. Tighten up your calendar
It goes without saying really but if you want to be better at managing your time, then make better use of your number one time management tool – your calendar.
The most successful people in the world are very strict on their calendars. Have you ever tried to get a moment with someone very high up in an organisation or someone that is very successful in what they do? You’ll most likely have to book in an appointment with them at a set time and if you miss it, too bad, you’ll have to reschedule another one. They do this deliberately so they can stay in control of their own time.
It can take a while for us to learn how to use a calendar effectively but that’s ok, it’s not really a natural thing. As children, our time is essentially free and it isn’t until we go through school and get our first jobs that we have to start being a bit more careful about timetables. But if you want to really be efficient and get the most out of your day, you’ll eventually need to get good at this.
So what do we mean by ‘tighten up’? Basically, this means making sure that your days and hours are deliberately planned out in advance and that you’re not running your days in a loose free-flow mode. Remember tactic number 1 above: ‘control your own time, don’t let others demand it from you’, that’s what this is all about.
I won’t try to prescribe what you do when and for how long. That much is up to you and depends on your own scenario. What is important is that you plan it in advance and give yourself enough time to focus when you need it. That way, you can get through things each day in the way you think works best.
An example of one way to do your planning is as follows:
- First, decide on what calendar tool you are going to use and get it setup properly. Personally, I like to use an online calendar that lets me sync between all my preferred interfaces (i.e. between the web app and my mobile phone).
- Next, take your average week and enter in any recurring activities (i.e. things that you do every week at the same time).
- Continue this for other things that repeat on any other time scale (i.e. fortnightly, monthly, annually).
- So, now that this is done, have a look at your week… is it fragmented? If so, see if you can block things together to give you larger chunks or blocks of free time. It is this free time that you can then allocate to your own priority tasks that will help you get closer to your goals.
Now this is done, all you need to do is keep your calendar tight and tidy. Once a week, say on a Sunday, have a look at your week ahead and verify any new tasks for the week. Each day, double check your schedule and make sure you are going to stay in control.
By following this tactic, I guarantee that you’ll be able to reach your goals a lot faster.
4. Turn off notifications and alerts during business hours
Picture this scenario. You’ve sat down to work on something you think is really important but you know is a bit challenging for you. Beep beep… new SMS comes in and you look at it… oh goodie, you’ve just been invited to a party on the weekend. Ok, back to work… beep beep… a new email comes in… oh, those latest sales figures are not what you were expecting… hmmm, deal with it later… beep beep… new tweet, cool, someone likes what you said and they reposted it… beep beep a new Facebook notification beep beep activity on a mobile app, etc…
There is absolutely no way you can focus and get anything done properly if you keep letting yourself get interrupted by notifications and alerts all the time.
It is very hard to tune out though, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Studies have shown that these sorts of notifications trigger gratification responses in our brains and it is physically quite pleasing to get them. You’ve got to watch out however, if left unchecked continuous response to notifications and alerts have the potential to become the modern day business person’s
crack internet addiction. You risk becoming like the dogs in the movie ‘Up’ that go nuts anytime they see a squirrel.
Do yourself a favour and turn off all your alerts and notifications during business hours. Just like our tactic for email management, pick a specific time or times for when you will pay attention to this sort of stuff.
For bonus points, turn this stuff off as well when you’re with your family. Trust me; they’ll appreciate the fact that you’re giving them your undivided attention. Years from now when you’re old and grey and everyone has moved on, you’ll also look back and be thankful you didn’t waste those precious moments looking at your phone/pc when you could have been spending the time with your loved ones.
5. Tune out from broadcast media
Mainstream news, tabloid media, radio, general blog posts, broad podcasts, TV shows, movies, etc… This sort of material is great when you want some down time or you’ve got some free time to use at your leisure. But if it’s productive business growing activities you want to focus on, then this sort of gear is going to do nothing but chew up and waste your time.
In terms of news, you’re going to hear about something important through your friends, family or people you come across. The rest of it is probably not going to do much in terms of helping you expand your business.
Regarding general radio, podcasts and blog posts, unless there is a specific tactical reason for you to follow a specific content source then this material is essentially a form of entertainment for you and should be treated that way – consume it when you’ve dedicated some non-work time to it.
In relation to this sort of material, your time is probably better spent targeting some very specific tactical material closely related to your industry and your current priority tasks. Once you have narrowed down what subset of content you will pay attention to, set aside specific time(s) each week to read/listen and update yourself.
Think about it this way, if you’re a startup, entrepreneur or small business owner and your goal is to grow your business to a specific point, then do you really have time to waste on consuming non-essential media? Sure, give yourself some downtime when you need it but make it a treat or reward and keep your time balanced more toward your business goals.
6. Proceduralise and automate whenever possible
When you do something for the first time in your business, you’ll probably find yourself figuring it out from scratch. Do it a second time, or more, and you will want to ensure you’re following some sort of script so you can do it quicker each time. As you keep repeating something, you’ll find there may be things you can do to tweak the script and get things even more efficient.
What I’m describing here is writing down a step by step procedure, i.e. a recipe for a business activity, that you can refer back to whenever you need to recall how to undertake something in your business.
You might think it is an overhead to write things down, that you know in your head what to do, but that sort of thinking is a trap that will hold you back in the long run.
This sort of approach has two immediate benefits. One, you’ll reduce the amount of time it takes you to undertake certain tasks yourself. Two, once you get into a position when you are ready to outsource the activity to someone else, you have a documented procedure for that person to follow. They’ll be able to do exactly what you did in the same way, and you’ll now confidently have a large block of new time freed up.
Now, once you have things written down, you might find that there are certain tools available that can help you automate part of your procedures. For example, these days you can set automatic renewals/payments on certain products and services you purchase in your business. Another example is the excellent set of tools out there that you can now use to automatically send out emails based on templates/content you have written – these are great to help automate parts of your business marketing and support activities. With a bit of research you may find that there are many things you can automate in your business like this.
7. Keep your head clear by having a way to capture random thoughts for later
Have you ever being in the middle of something, or in a conversation with someone, and a new idea or thought popped into your head. Have you perhaps been working on a task and then found there was something new you would need to come back to?
This sort of ‘interruption’ can really affect your flow if you let it. So, a good way to handle it is to have a way to acknowledge new thoughts, ideas and tasks, get them recorded somehow, and enable yourself to get back into what you were doing as fast as possible.
For me, I have two tools that help me keep my head clear. One is a place to remember things and the other is a place to track things.
The place to remember things for me is a notebook. I keep a very large, single/centralised repository of all my ideas, thoughts, notes, references, materials, research, etc… The tool I use for this is Evernote.
The place to track things is a task management tool that lets me prioritise, manage and then close off business tasks for specific contexts. There are plenty of options in this space – you can use simple ToDo lists, or more full-featured workflow tools. I prefer to use Jira for my business related tasks since it lets me customise the workflows as needed and I can use it collaboratively with my staff and business partners. For personal things, another option is Trello. It offers up similar but more simplified functions as Jira.
8. Get better sleep
There are countless studies that prove beyond doubt that our cognitive effectiveness declines the more tired out we are. Pulling ‘all-nighters’ was, debatably, an ok approach to getting things completed on time back in your high-school or college/university days. However, this sort of approach has no place in a smart business. Sure, you can get more time by staying up late and working long hours into the night but in reality all you are doing is reducing the quality of work you produce and taking longer to do it.
Importantly, the more often you leave yourself without proper rest, the more long term damage you are doing to your overall health. This sort of thing can take its toll on you physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. It can impact your business and personal life. It can affect your relationships with others. In the long run, it’s just not worth it.
So, put simply, give yourself ample opportunity to be well rested each night. Start each day on a full tank of energy and you will be so much more productive in your business both immediately and over the long term. The time that you do assign to business related activities will be used in the most optimal and efficient manner.
9. Deflect, divert and delegate
Three words that can get you significant results.
Deflect: when someone asks you to participate in what you perceive to be of little value to your business growth, politely thank them but decline the offer. For example, being asked to attend a meeting or event without a specific agenda, business purpose or relation to your current strategic goals.
Divert: if something comes up that you believe may be important but you’re just not ready to focus on it right at this point in time, try to divert it to a later point or switch it into something that is more related to what you are doing now. For example, if a supplier asks you to sit in on a demo of one of their new product/service offerings, ask if you can do so another time. And if they are somehow related to what you are working on now, see if you can switch them onto assisting you with your current activity.
Delegate: Simply put, get someone else to do the activity you are working on. This approach works best out of all three when it comes to gaining more time. You essentially get the entire duration of the activity you were working on back. There are essentially two ways to delegate… one is to assign the work to your own staff if you have them, and the other outsource is to a service provider. We’ll go into the pros and cons of each approach in a future topic.
10. Focus and Prioritise
Multi-tasking is over-rated when it comes to managing your time. Sure, you might be able to get through a few things at once but really, you’d probably get through them a lot quicker if you worked through them one-by-one. The reason why is due to the cost of context switching. Each time you switch from one task to another, and then to another you take a little bit of time to get your head into the new thing. For example, you need to take stock, and remember what you were doing/where you were up to. Added up over a day or a week, you end up losing time overall on all this context switching.
Instead, try to give yourself some focused and dedicated time to work through a specific task from start to finish. Your mind will be thinking about that topic and all the material related to it for the duration.
Related to this is the concept of prioritisation. In your business and the current strategy/goals you are working towards, there will be a certain priority order from most important to least important. This priority order can either be obvious and explicit or it can be more implicit. For example, if your current goal is to get a new website for your business, one of the most important tasks would be to ensure you purchase and register the domain-name. You can be pretty sure that deciding on the colour scheme for that new website is of lower priority relative to the domain name in this context. Working through things in priority order is a very good way to make best use of the available time in your business. Doing this will get you toward your goals faster.
Give It A Spin
So there you have it, 10 smart time management tactics and strategies. Really, the true value that you get from implementing any of these tactics is not the time itself but rather, what you can do with it. Ultimately, what it boils down to in business is the ability to focus and get more valuable things done.
We’d love to hear about your success stories with these time management tactics and strategies. Try a few out and let us know how you go.
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