As business owners who strive for a balanced life, we are all looking for the most efficient way to manage our time. We look at the latest apps and the best planners. The latest technology, while new and shiny, sometimes helps and sometimes doesn’t (especially when it’s not working as it should).
One of the biggest challenges is adapting our time management methods to changing circumstances. It seems that just as we find our rhythm and get a handle on managing time and efficiency, a new struggle emerges to throw everything off. Life is constantly changing. Time management skills that worked last week might not be so effective this week. The way you manage your business this year is probably different than last year.
Growth is change, too, which adds a new level of demands on our time. So, even as frustrating as change is, it can be such a good thing!
Regardless of the growth and changes, here are a few strategies that might help. I’m sharing my own personal tips that work well for me. They have been tried-and-true, long-standing methods that have helped me be efficient and effective.
Make a Plan
Time management means making a plan for your time. So, make time every day to plan for the next. It helps keep you stay on top of everything that needs done and will give you a much better idea of what must be done today or right now. At the end of each day, spend 15 minutes planning for tomorrow. By taking the time to plot out tomorrow at the end of your day, you’ll have an accurate accounting of what still needs done. And walking into your office knowing you have a plan of action for the day will help with the overwhelm. What’s the overwhelm?
It’s that feeling you get when you walk into your office knowing that your to-do list is miles long and you don’t know where to start.
Take control of your to-do list by assigning yourself tasks for tomorrow. And tomorrow, do it again. Pretty soon you’ll discover that the list has dwindled and has become more manageable.
Equip Yourself to Succeed
Everyone has different equipment needs. What makes you the most successful? Eating lunch outside when the weather is gorgeous? Taking a walk to clear your mind? Eating breakfast at your desk while reading your email? Eating breakfast before you get to your desk? Putting dinner in the crock-pot before you go to your office? Whatever you need to do to be successful, take the time to make it happen. Include it in your plan for the day.
And then stick to the plan.
Set aside a block of time for email, returning phone calls, internet research, and other similar types of work. Turn off the email notification sound so you aren’t tempted to check your email every time it dings. Silence your phone when you are working on a project. You don’t want interruptions to prevent you from doing your best work. And each interruption means hitting a reset button on what you were doing. It means taking more time to review what you’ve just completed so you can continue.
Block the time and then stick to those blocks. Be sure to assign times to each block (so answering emails is from 8:30 a.m. to 9:15, and returning calls is from 9:15 to 10:15 or whatever works for your schedule). Schedule these times as if they are appointments. Identify what is high-priority and what can wait, and then start each time block with the high-priority work. Then, if you run out of time for the rest of the tasks, schedule them again for the next day.
Give yourself time for loose ends, too. Often throughout the course of our day, a situation changes shifting something that was low-priority to high-priority. Block out time toward the end of your day that’s dedicated to addressing those tasks. It will help you stay true to your time blocks for the rest of the day.
Interruptions are inevitable. There are going to be interruptions every day. So don’t be surprised by them. Instead, plan for them.
You’ve already prioritized your tasks and your day with time blocking. When you reach a time block filled with tasks that require your undivided attention, then plan for it with a Do Not Disturb sign. Put it on your door handle, and then shut the door. Turn your phone to silent or shut the ringer off on your landline.
It’s vital to your business to have uninterrupted time so that you can focus on what is in front of you. Having this time could mean delivering a better product, better customer service, or even discovering something new that will positively impact your business.
Try not to feel guilty for taking this approach to guarding your time. Time is the most valuable tool you have in your tool belt. Don’t loan it out without good reason.
Begin with the End
This is by far my favorite time management tip. Allow yourself five minutes before every call or task to determine the result you want to attain. Get an idea in your mind of what success looks like in each situation. Put it into words, visualize it—know success before you begin.
Then, after you’ve completed your call or task, take five minutes to determine whether you achieved your desired result. If so, congrats! If not, what was missing? How do you implement what was missing into your next call or activity? Or did your idea of success shift? Were you successful in an unexpected way?
Think about it! Figure it out. The more you can begin with the end in mind, the better chance you have of reaching your desired goals.
This is by far the most challenging tip. But, effective time management starts with managing ourselves. Letting go and ignoring your phone, social media, email—it can send even the most zen into a panic when they think about all of the notifications they’ll find.
But the bottom line is that sometimes you need to disconnect from your cell phone, email, instant messaging, Facebook, and every other form of social media. Try doing this for an hour during an important project. You can do it! You’ll be glad you did.
By taking time to disconnect, we can engage more readily when we are reconnected. It allows us space and time to recharge. The quality of your communication will go up as a result.
One Step at a Time
Final tip—don’t implement all of these new time management tips in one day! Pick one each day or every other day. Find what works for you and do it! Give them all a try and build your own routine that works well for you.
Don’t forget that flexibility is important, but don’t sacrifice time you don’t have to give for the sake of flexibility. Be intentional.
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