Mastering the fine art of time management can make or break your small business. Whether your challenge lies in finding enough hours in the day to get it all done, or in strategically delegating tasks to subcontractors and employees, the following guide will help you get more done without losing your mind.
1. Accept the Inbox
Successful time management begins by giving up the false notion that you can somehow get it all done if you just work hard enough.
The truth is that you’re never going to get it all done – and neither is anyone else! No one dies with an empty inbox, and realizing that is actually a key component to getting more done.
Once you stop stressing about finishing everything, and realize that a new project or task will always take its place, you can begin to relax and enjoy the present moment. And the more present and focused you are, the less time each individual task is going to take because you are giving it your full, undivided attention.
2. Learn to Differentiate
Learn the difference between clock time and real time when scheduling your day. There is a difference between absolute time and mental time, as well as a difference between how long you think things may take, and how long things actually take.
While clock time is absolute – an hour is always 60 minutes, no more, no less – “real time” or mental time can shift depending on what’s happening that particular day. That means that your attitude and mental perceptions can color how fast or slow the day seems to be going, how much time it feels like you have to complete a particular task, and how stressed or relaxed you feel while carrying it out.
When cultivating time management skills, focus your energies on navigating the waters of real time. Your thoughts and perceptions have a much more powerful impact on the way you experience time than any clock ever could. Worry less about minute to minute productivity, and focus instead on the way you’re thinking about each task that needs completing.
3. Track your Time
Time management is all about developing an intimate understanding of how you spend your day, minute to minute.
Start by tracking how long things take you, keeping detailed records for at least a week. You could even use a time tracking app, many of which include the ability to create specific notes about how you’re spending each minute.
Think of time tracking like starting a new exercise regimen or food program. Only by getting crystal clear about your current habits will you be able to make changes to those habits. You’ll be surprised at how long things actually take you once you begin to investigate your current schedule. (“Whoa! I spent how long checking my email?”)
Once you’ve tracked your time for a week, create a graph or chart to help you visualize where you’re spending the majority of your time and where you can make adjustments.
4. Schedule Non-Activities
Most people think about time management in terms of activities – finishing projects, writing emails, creating marketing materials and attending meetings. However, time must also be scheduled for “non-activities” such as brainstorming, impromptu conversations with colleagues, and yes, even good old fashioned thinking.
But how can you anticipate how much time you’ll spend or need to spend thinking every day?
After tracking your time for a week, you should have a strong idea of how much of your day is typically dedicated to non-activities. If you find that your non-activity number is low when compared with time spent completing tangible activities, you may actually need to increase your downtime.
Allowing yourself ample time to prepare for and decompress after activities helps you to remain focused during said activities, thus decreasing the overall amount of time each task takes to complete.
For example, if you have a blog post to write, you might spend a third of your time brainstorming, a third researching and a third doing the actual writing. Without the brainstorming element, you’ll be diving into your project without any direction and are likely to need more time to complete it than you would had you mentally prepared.
It’s also important to allow yourself to decompress between activities. Rushing from task to task and checking off to-dos like a frantic Energizer Bunny is a surefire way to burn out and drastically reduce the quality of your work. It’s better to get less done and get it done well, than to complete everything under the sun in a sub-par fashion.
5. Go Above and Beyond
Once you’ve tracked your time and determined what you need to complete a particular task, over-schedule yourself. Think of yourself like that one client of yours who has seriously turned chatting into an Olympic sport. Just as you allow some extra time (okay, a lot of extra time) for his conference calls, give yourself plenty of time to complete each and every task, even the ones that are usually quick and easy.
This time management trick ensures that you’ll never feel behind schedule, and will most likely be ahead of the game throughout the day. Because you’ve accounted for the inevitably of interruptions, unforeseen events and the ups and downs of your own energy levels, you’ll be able to meet the goals of each day without feeling stressed.
Being on top of your to-do list will also create positive feelings and make you feel more productive, which in turn will help you get more done.