When you’re running your own business, your time is money. Now, you could argue that this is the case whatever your career; but as an entrepreneur the effects of poor time management are likely to be far more devastating than when compared with those impacting someone who is employed.
During my time in business I’ve learned a few hard lessons about managing my time well, and I will be sharing them with you in this article.
Use a digital calendar that can be sync’d across all of your devices
Trying to manage your time without using a calendar is like trying to travel across unknown territory without a map. Without one, you’re going to get lost. Using a well maintained calendar will allow you to keep track of exactly what you’re supposed to be doing and when. I find it best to use a digital one that sync’s automatically across all my devices (Phone, Laptop, Tablet) in real time, so wherever I am, I can look at my schedule and know where I’m supposed to be at any given time. Using something that sync’s across multiple devices will prevent you from double booking yourself by mistake; something that used to happen to me frequently when my calendars on my phone and laptop didn’t line up because I had entered an appointment on one device but not the other. Personally I use Google Calendar as my master, and then link it to my outlook calendar plus the calendars on my mobile and tablet.
Map out the week ahead
At the start of each week, write up a broad plan of things you would like to achieve, then allocate those things to specific days and times in your calendar. Putting things down in black and white like this will help you to hold yourself accountable for getting things done, as well as put a bit of time pressure on each item (I find this helps). Assuming that you know roughly how much time you need to spend on each area, this exercise will also help you to understand whether or not you can realistically fit everything in, or alternatively, whether you could potentially get additional things done.
Start your day with a list of critical tasks
In order to keep myself focused, I start each day by reviewing all of the items I’ve planned into my calendar. Then I write out a short to do list, starting with the two or three most pressing items and an estimate of how long each item should take me. I then attack the tasks one at a time, and tick them off as I complete them. Once I’ve cleared my list, I repeat the process with the next most pressing tasks. Personally I find using several shorter lists like this throughout the day much more effective that creating one long list in the morning. I find that long lists can often cause you to get distracted or overwhelmed.
Prioritise your tasks and stick to it
When creating your lists I find it helpful to go back through after I’ve written them, and make a decision on which tasks are the highest priority. I then allocate them a number indicating which order they should be done in. This may sound like overkill, but I find that if you do this and are disciplined enough to stick to it, you will avoid drifting between two or more things at once. Trying to multitask is as huge productivity killer, so avoid it at all costs.
Take short but frequent breaks
When talking about getting the most from your time, taking breaks might sound like the opposite of what you think you should be doing. However taking regular short breaks (particularly from office based tasks) will help refresh your brain and lead to greater productivity. I find that taking a 10 or 15 minute break every couple of hours allows me to step back and get perspective on what I’m currently working on. It also helps to stop the lapses in concentration that you will inevitably experience when trying to focus on something for several hours straight.
Put time limits on calls and meetings
If you’re like me then you will no doubt spend a significant amount time on phone calls or in meetings. It’s important to ensure that you place strict time limits on both of these things. In my opinion, failing to do so is one of the biggest causes of wasted time in business. Without time limits a conference call can often drift into a 2 hour long session of irrelevant or unnecessary back and forth. Imposing a strict time limit and agenda on every call and meeting will help you to cut out a huge amount of wastage.
Learn when to delegate
Something that is particularly relevant to those of you who are just starting out, is learning when to do things yourself, and when to delegate them to someone else (whether it be to an employee or an external supplier). It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking its most cost effective to do everything yourself in the early days. But this can often be a big mistake. For example, if you run an accountancy business, you can’t afford to be spending a week of your time attempting to bodge together you own website. When you add up the cost that lost time, you’ll probably find that it would have been much cheaper to get a professional to do it, plus the finished product would likely have provided much better value to your business.