It’s not easy running your own business and the early years are the most difficult. Until you have others to whom you can confidently offload important tasks you’ll find that most of the time you’re heading up every project yourself and that the working day just doesn’t provide enough hours to get everything that needs doing done. If you’ve any hope of maintaining a healthy home and social life – not to mention a successful business – then you need to get an effective time management strategy in place as early as possible. The following list of time management tips and techniques should help you find your way. Of course, everybody works differently and no one time management strategy will work for everyone. You should therefore experiment with different methods to find the one that suits you best. But remember: whatever techniques you employ, self-discipline is the key – don’t confuse a poor time management plan with one that you’re just not sticking to!
Before you can decide how much time to allocate to each of your many tasks you need to give each a priority. This is made easy if you use Outlook for emails (part of Microsoft Office) as you can create new tasks, color code them for importance and set deadlines for when they have to be accomplished. If you use Gmail or another webmail program then it’s a little more time consuming but well worth it: write yourself an email containing a description of each task you need to accomplish. You can then sort these emails into special purpose folders named, for example, ‘High Priority’, ‘Medium Priority’ and ‘Low Priority’, or number them or… you get the idea. Prioritizing your recurring tasks in this way helps you work out how much of your working day/week/month to attribute to them. Special projects can also be prioritized in this way and slotted into your agenda where you can fit them in. Which brings us to…
Along with prioritization, scheduling is at the core of time management. While it may seem like a waste of time initially to laboriously type in each task and schedule it, the benefits will make themselves very clear, very quickly. In addition to, there are computer based tools that you can use to help schedule tasks. There is our own robust scheduling tool, SimplifyThis—which ties together appointment scheduling with invoicing. Additionally, both Outlook and web based email programs have calendars where you can create one-off or recurring events. You can use all of these to schedule your tasks – and also classify them in terms of their priority.
Start with the most important activities, scheduling them for when you’re at your most alert and productive, and work down. Then by viewing your day/week/month at a glance you can easily see which tasks you have coming up and where you have gaps for lower priority jobs.
Get into the habit of over-estimating how much time it will take to get things done. If you feel like you’re ahead of schedule you’ll bounce effortlessly into the next task whereas finding that you’re constantly overrunning could send you into a spiral of despair. As with most things, good time management is mostly psychological, so give yourself a break. Speaking of which…
Yeah, I know: ‘How can not working possibly save me time?’ right? Though it sounds counter-productive, taking regular breaks away from the computer or phone can seriously boost your productivity. Study after study has shown that people work best for short periods of intense concentration – not over marathon corn-snack and cola fueled sessions. So get away from the office frequently. Go for a walk, cook yourself a meal, bathe your kids – whatever it is that will help relax you and get your focus back.
More perceptive readers will already have noticed that this has become a theme of this post. But this point doesn’t just mean use your smart phone to access your calendar while on the go – though that is a good idea and will make sure you keep in touch with and update your schedule while away from the office – it also means that you should always investigate ways to save yourself time with technology and endeavor to use it in a smart way.
You’ll work out your own time management adaptations as you go along but it must be stressed again: effort is required. Be disciplined and stick to your schedules. Don’t forget to update your calendars, tick off tasks that have been completed or give yourself time away from the desk. It’ll be worth it. Like all of life’s important skills, good time management requires considerable effort to acquire but once there, is almost impossible to lose.
Jamie Griffiths writes for Approved Index – the UK’s leading B2B directory and marketplace. They’ve helped thousands of small and start-up businesses find top suppliers for anything from telephone systems to PR consultants.