TIME IS WHAT WE WANT MOST BUT WHAT WE USE WORST.
~ WILLIAM PENN
We all struggle with managing time. We all feel that we don’t have enough of it. We all would LOVE just a few more hours in the day, right? Honestly, though, I really don’t think that would do any good. We would just find more to do that would overflow into those extra hours.
The very first thing we need to do is change our time mindset.
You own your time; it does not own you.
You can use your time as a tool for your benefit, or you can be a victim of it or constantly fighting it.
You get to choose how you see your time and how you use it.
Here are some tips and tricks for using, owning, and managing your own time.
1. Set and Protect Firm Work Hours
Create your work hours and stick to them. It’s easy to let clients dictate which hours of the day you’ll work from week to week. Make an agreement with your family that you’ll stick to a certain fixed schedule. to. Be firm with your clients and stick to these timeframes. It’s okay to make an occasional exception, but always start with the assumption that the client will be respectful of the constraints on your time.
2. Time Block Your Day
Deciding ahead of time (preferably the day before) how you are going to structure your work day will help to not feel lost and will position you to batch your tasks. For example, break your day into 1) client time, and 2) administrative time.
Try to schedule all client meetings on certain day(s), phone calls on certain day(s), and personal appointments on certain day(s), so that your daily time blocking becomes built into your overall schedule.
Here’s an example of a 6-hour admin work day:
9 – 11am: 4 pomodoros (draft blog post, create 4 weeks of social media content)
11am – 12pm: exercise and lunch
12 – 1pm: email and return phone calls
1 – 2pm: 2 pomodoros (design flyer)
2 – 2:30pm: social media time (commenting and interacting on your page, on other pages, and in groups)
2:30 – 3pm: prepare for the next day (top 3 priority tasks and time blocking)
Or, a client-focused day:
9am – 12pm: client appointments
12 – 1pm: lunch and break
1 – 2:30 pm: client appointments
2:30 – 3pm: prepare for the next day (top 3 priority tasks and time blocking)
3. Batch Like a Boss
Jumping around between completely disparate tasks in a short time period takes more energy and time than grouping all tasks that are similar in type. For example, paying bills, designing a marketing flyer, running errands, and meeting with a client all in one morning is very taxing on your brain, your time, and your energy levels. Studies show that every time you switch between disparate tasks (and different types of tasks), your brain has to switch gears. The secret answer to this is Batching. Batching tasks means grouping like tasks with like in order to minimize brain distraction time. Segment out your time so as to complete categories of tasks together.
Some grouping examples: 1) client-related, 2) administrative (marketing, accounting), 3) personal (making appointments, meal planning), and 4) errands.
Planning out your week ahead of time will help you keep like tasks with like. You could also consider keeping a running list somewhere of each of these categories. Then, when you have a free 15 minutes you can simply look at your list and knock out 3 personal to-do items.
4. The Pomodoro (Tomato) Technique
The Pomodoro (“tomato” in Italian) Technique was invented by Italian Francesco Cirillo, who used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer when he developed this method of focused task completion. This technique is super helpful for getting those things done that require focused attention (writing a blog post, designing a flyer, creating a business process). It’s also a great way to make sure you’re giving yourself regular breaks.
Here’s how it works:
- Prioritize the most important tasks you need to accomplish.
- Close or hide everything that you don’t need (email, social media, phone) in order to complete the first task. I find it helpful to put on headphones and turn on motivating or background music – this helps to create an environment of focus.
- Decide on what your “break time” will look like. I like to think of this as my reward, so I make it something fun – checking a favorite pulp website, browsing Facebook, grabbing a snack, doing some jumping jacks 🙂
- Set a timer for 25 minutes and focus solely on the first task on the list.
- When the time is up, set the timer for 5 minutes and do whatever you’ve set as your break time fun.
- Set your timer again for 25 minutes and begin another “pomodoro.” When you finish the first task on your list, simply check it off and move on to the next one.
Begin with two sets and try to work your way up to 4 pomodoros in a row, then take an extended (20-45 minute break). Not only does this technique help you get super focused work done, it also begins to retrain your brain on the most efficient way to get things accomplished. We tend to be so distracted and distractible and live in a society that believes (wrongly) that multitasking is the answer to getting a lot of things done. We need to reprogram ourselves to block out distractions and focus on one quality piece of work at a time.
5. Always Tie up Loose Ends
Nothing is more of a time sucker than leaving the loose ends of a project (or a meeting) for later. Your thoughts are still critically fresh immediately after the project. Buckle down and give it that 15-20 minutes to complete all paperwork, and update your scheduling, CRM, and accounting systems. Send off any emails you need to send (or at least add them to your task list!). Then, you can leave, knowing that you don’t have to hold anything in your mind. Juggling loose ends in your mind is a huge energy sucker.
6. Stick to Meeting Time Boundaries
When you respect your time, your clients will, too. And if they don’t, well, tough. They probably don’t respect their own time. Address the concept of time right away at the beginning of a meeting. Have an agenda for your meeting, confirm the length of the meeting, and review what you’re going to cover. You could even have the agenda printed out and cross things off as you go — this is a very visible, tangible sign to the client. If you know your client socially or they tend to be chatty, state clearly that you will take care of business first, then chat.
7. Do ONE THING at a time and say NO to balance
Okay, so that’s kinda two things.
Here’s where I give a shout out to one of my inspirations: Gary Keller’s book, The One Thing, is a must read. I know a lot of us will tell ourselves when we’re overwhelmed, “one thing at a time.” But the thing is, this is really what we should be doing ALL of the time. As much as we like to think we can do multiple things at once, we can’t use the front of our brain for more than one task at a time. We can do the dishes and sing a song at the same time, but this kind of “multi-tasking” doesn’t work for the kind of focused, productive tasks that we need to be doing in order to move our businesses forward. When we are interrupted from a focused task, it actually takes an average of 23 minutes to get back to a task!
So, the key is to really prioritize ONE THING. What is your ONE major priority for your business this month? This week? Today? For the next hour? In the next 15 minutes? There are going to be other things that come up, of course, that you need to address. But when you’re faced with a decision about how to plan or use your time, your one thing decision should guide you — what ONE THING can I do right now, such that it will make everything else easier or unnecessary?
You can use this same line of thinking in your personal life. I try to use this technique to focus on my son when I’m with him. It is not productive for me to be checking email and playing blocks at the same time. I’m not going to read and write a quality email, and I’m not spending quality time with my son. If I have adequately time-blocked, then I know that I have 2 hours of work time after he goes to bed and I can check email and write a quality response at that time.
In every hour that you have available, you can either do two or more things okay, or you can do one thing really well in one hour and do the next thing really well in the next hour. And even though it seems counterintuitive, you’ll actually be more productive, as it will be higher quality work.
This is not easy — it really takes a lot of discipline because we are pulled in many different directions – we have so much coming at us at once. And we’re constantly trying to “balance” everything — work, life, family, parenthood, social time, sleep, eating well, exercise, school activities, vacation, date nights, home projects, etc, etc, etc.
I got totally overwhelmed just making that list.
I truly believe that we will all be freer if we give up the lie of balance. We are not able to be and do all of these things well on any given day. It’s just not possible. And we are exhausting ourselves trying to do the impossible. We must allow ourselves to kick ass at work on one day (or for a whole week)! And for that day (or week) maybe the kids and the husband see less of you, and you’ve either planned meals ahead of time or they fend for themselves (and they do the laundry and cleaning). You’re tipping the scales toward work in order to really focus and put everything into creating something amazing. And when you’ve finished and successfully completed high quality work, then you can counterbalance for the next whole week and be completely mom and wife.
This ONE THING model creates so much more freedom, time, and energy. And you can be more successful and productive with less stress and overwhelm. I challenge you to free yourself from the lie of balance and focus on one thing.
8. Treat Your Business to CEO Dates
We tend to spend so much time IN our business, we often neglect working ON our business. Planned CEO dates are vital. If you don’t already, start thinking of yourself as the CEO of your business — you may be the one doing all the work, but you also need to be the one that sees the big picture. Since it’s very difficult to do both at once, we need to set aside time to put away the work and just look at the big picture.
I suggest doing a 2-3 hour session once a month and 15-30 minutes per week. This is when you pull out your annual plan, your 90 day plan, your weekly goals and check in with your business to see where you are.
Ask yourself: Are you making progress toward your goals? Are you moving more quickly or more slowly? What’s working? What’s not? What do you need to do differently? Then tweak things and keep moving forward!
9. Avoid the Email and Social Media Time Pit
Oh, how we can waste time in email and social media! The problem with this is that when we allow email to dictate what we do, we are allowing others to decide what we do with our time. Do you decide where to spend your time or do others decide for you?
Schedule specific times for email and social media during the day and do not leave these open on your computer when you are working on other things.
Turn off notifications on your phone for new emails and social media apps.
10. Embrace Process Automation
Do you find you do a lot of the same tasks over and over again? Sit down and brainstorm things you do on a daily or weekly basis.
Can anything be automated or batched together or only done once per month? Are you manually reminding clients about appointments by phone, text, or email? Set up an automated scheduling system. Are you creating invoices from scratch or depositing checks? Can you automate that with a bookkeeping application? Do you have forms that you’re printing and then scanning? Can you eliminate the steps and do it all online?
I am far from being the perfect master of my time. Some weeks are better than others. Sometimes I have a great, focused, productive day of time blocking and pomodoros and other days I allow myself to be distracted by social media all day long. But the point here is not perfection, it’s progress.
It’s time to take action!
- Identify your biggest problem areas of time management.
- Try one or two techniques at a time and see what makes the biggest difference to you.
- Then, try to stick to doing those. The most valuable changes we make are those that become habit.
Do you have other favorite go-to time management tips? Please share!