How to Best Manage Your Time as Entrepreneur
Time management is one of the key skills entrepreneurs need to manage. When starting a new venture, there are a million things that need to be done and only 24 hours in the day, so effective time management plays an important role in determining how much gets done.
In this article, we examine 1) reasons for bad time management, 2) learning to manage your time: tips, and 3) learning to manage your time: tools.
REASONS FOR BAD TIME MANAGEMENT
Distractions come in all shapes and sizes. It could be something as simple as not having a specific work space, which means you’re putting up with noise or other people that distract you from work. It could be social media and the constant pull that makes people check their email and messages every few minutes.
When we give in to distractions, we’re taking our attention away from the important task at hand. Deliverables are no longer met, and the day gets wasted in a never ending litany of checking emails, replying to texts, and you cannot get a good rhythm going to achieve anything.
“They’re suckers for irrelevancy…everything distracts them.”
As mentioned earlier, multi-tasking can actually program your brain to get distracted much more easily. But multi-tasking may not be the boon many entrepreneurs think it is.
“When you perform multiple tasks that each require some of the same channels of processing, conflicts will arise between the tasks, and you’re going to have to pick and choose which task you’re going to focus on and devote a channel of processing to it,” says David Meyer, a cognitive scientist who has been at the forefront of research on how the brain deals with multi-tasking.
What his work has revealed is that the human brain is incapable of processing two streams of thought at the same time. It cannot simultaneously address two different actions, the way a computer can, making “true” multi-tasking impossible.
You might think that this isn’t true for you, but even when you’re talking on the phone and writing a list of things down, you’re actually switching between the two tasks. You cannot do both tasks at the same time. Meaning, you cannot carry out a conversation and make a list at the same time without compromising on one of them.
Procrastination itself is caused by many different factors: being distracted, not prioritizing, indecisiveness, fear and avoidance, or confusion. Everyone is given to procrastination, and sometimes it can be good to put a task off to handle it another day – after you’ve had some time to ponder over it. But habitual procrastination can result in nothing getting done, day after day.
Endless Lists of To-Dos
While lists can help prioritize the day, endless lists do the opposite. You know what that looks like. A list so long that nothing ever gets done.
Making lists is not difficult. The challenge lies in making lists that help you tackle tasks instead of making them overwhelming. The tools you use, and the way you manage each list can help make or break your day. Never ending lists can be a huge waste of time, not only while you’re making them but also while you’re trying to figure out how to get through them.
Badly Planned Days
It takes time to figure out the most effective way to utilize your day. Most people spend their entire day taking care of things as they come up, burning out before mid-day and while not having had a chance to address any important tasks. This is the result of not setting yourself up for success by planning your day out in advance, prioritizing the important tasks and taking care of them while you’re still fresh.
In CEO Logic: How to Think and Act Like a Chief Executive, C. Ray Johnson summarizes:
“Prioritizing is the answer to time management problems – not computers, efficiency experts, or matrix scheduling. You do not need to do work faster or to eliminate gaps in productivity to make better use of your time. You need to spend more time on the right things…”
LEARNING TO MANAGE YOUR TIME: TIPS
How you prioritize your day, or your to-do list, depends largely on your perception of what is more important. No one can tell you how to prioritize your time, and many people have to work this out for themselves. However, most people will agree that you can easily divide most tasks into three lists: urgent & important, important but not urgent, and neither important nor urgent.
Keeping this in mind, you can start planning your day around your priorities. Make sure your to-do list first addresses the urgent & important tasks, then those that are important but not urgent, and the fillers in your time can be the tasks that are neither urgent nor important (although some of these can be easily delegated).
Complete the most important tasks first
How many people start their day by checking their email, reading the news, and spending time catching up on social media? Most of us. Unfortunately, most of these tasks are not priority A in your list of things to do. The first you do, when you workday starts, should be whatever is most important to accomplish that day. If it’s writing a blog-post, then you should do that before you start catching up on news. Whatever the task, take care of it before you get bogged down or distracted by less important things.
Block off time for difficult tasks
Let’s say you have to spend a considerable amount of time thinking about a new company structure. This is something that is extremely important, yet most people will not think to schedule time off for this in their calendar. By blocking off X amount of time in your calendar for an important or difficult task, you make sure to address it on time and give it the time it deserves. You sometimes have to schedule appointments with yourself, where all you do is think or plan, to make sure you keep moving ahead in your career.
Schedule time for interruptions
Who hasn’t gotten a phone call in the middle of their day? Or had to talk to an employee about something that wasn’t previously planned in the calendar? Schedule time for interruptions during your day by setting aside one or two hours when you plan to return phone calls, answer emails, or deal with colleagues and employees without being dragged away from something important.
Address similar tasks together
Have sales emails to send? Draft and send them together. If you have writing to do, set aside a block of time to do all the research together. By grouping together tasks that need to be done in the same way, you save time. You’re thinking along the lines of let’s say sales emails, so by adding other similar tasks you’ll get everything done much faster because you’re already thinking about sales and how to improve sales emails. This means you don’t have to re-orient your mind back to sales later in the day or week if you take care of all similar tasks now.
Think ahead. Not just for long-term planning, but also prioritizing your week or day. On Friday, figure out the deliverables for the coming week, and write down a list of things you want to get done. Every night, between Monday and Thursday, sit down and plan the next day’s three most important deliverables. This way, you come into work knowing exactly what needs to be delivered that day, so you can get right to it.
Plan around your energy levels
Some people are best suited to taking care of creative tasks early in the day. Others like to address them when they’ve had time to settle into the day. Figure out when you’re at your best, in terms of how much attention you can give work. Maybe you work best after you work-out, or after you’ve had your morning coffee. Maybe you work best at night. Plan around your energy levels and get the most out of your day.
Delegating tasks that are priority three on your lists (not important and not urgent) is an effective way of getting more time back in your day. Besides these tasks, there might be other repetitive administrative things you can hire a virtual assistant for. Make a list of all you do in your work day, and make a list of all the things someone else can take care of (if trained properly). Then take out some time to train someone to take care of these things for you.
LEARNING TO MANAGE YOUR TIME: TOOLS
To-Do Lists: Any.Do
A multi-platform award winning to-do list app, Any.do allows you to create tasks, add deadlines, add location based reminders and even share lists with people. The interface is easy to use, and you can even dictate your to-do list. The app is available on Android and iOS, but you can also download a Chrome extension, or use the web interface (all of which are synced seamlessly). Free to use, but you can add additional features in the premium version. Any.do also works from within Gmail, allowing you to add tasks directly from the Gmail inbox window.
Evernote offers unique solutions to almost all kinds of note-taking. Available via the web platform, desktop or through your phone, you can create notebooks (which can contain hundreds of notes in them), add tags, and search seamlessly through all your saved notes. There are many ways to move to a paperless note-taking system using Evernote, with people using the platform to save all their invoices, archive emails, track recipes, and even keep a hold of all the research done on a project. Simply create a new notebook and start adding notes to it (even via email) in one click. Evernote is free to use, but you can upgrade to extra storage if you want to.
Due to the amount of content shared on social media, we often come across multiple articles we want to read but do not have the time to. Enter, Pocket. Available on smartphones/tablets as an app or via the web platform, you can keep a copy of all saved articles (in a simplified, reading friendly form) allowing you to read them when you have time. From within the app, you can share or email them as you wish. Adding articles is just as simple, on an iOS device, simply hold down while clicking on a URL and you get an option to save it to Pocket. A chrome bookmarklet gives you the same functionality.
While the default calendar in most people’s life is either their Google Calendar or their Outlook Calendar, Cal is a great option as well. It syncs seamlessly with Any.Do (so all your tasks with dates assigned end up in the right slots automatically) and allows you to import other versions of calendar (for example Google). The app is simple and easy to use, and also allows for a Facebook sync so you can add people’s birthdays.
Focus: Focus Booster
Focus Booster is a digital Pomodoro. Want to get through your list of tasks quickly? Use Focus Booster to track time spent on specific client’s tasks, or even get a little more focus in your day. It relies on the Pomodoro technique, which tells you to work for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. With Focus Booster, the app does this for you by setting a 25 minute stopwatch which resets after 25 minutes for a 5 minute break. There are both free and paid versions.
Email Management: Mailbox, Sanebox and Boxer
There are many different email management apps out there. Most people are perfectly happy to use the native Mail app in their phone, or use the Gmail app, but we’re highlighting three that allow you to get to Inbox Zero much more consistently.
Mailbox is a free, yet powerful app that allows you to add Yahoo/Gmail/Google App email addresses to a combined inbox. You can swipe right or left to archive, delete, add to list or have an email bounce back at a later time. This allows you to go through your entire email list in one go, marking important emails so that they pop back in your inbox at a time later that day (or week, or month) depending on when you want to get to them.
Sanebox is a paid app and software that prioritizes important emails, and moves un-important emails (based on your patterns of interaction with similar mails) to a folder you can address when you have more time.
Boxer has both free and paid versions and it allows you to add non-Gmail/Outlook accounts (for example, from your website host). While it doesn’t sync as well as Mailbox does, it has an impressive list of features, including integration with Evernote (swipe to send emails to your Evernote notebook) and other tags. You can setup what each swipe (right/left, long/short) does.
Figuring out the best tools and tips that help you better manage your time is a matter of trial and error. The way to start is by taking notes and working around habits, and then addressing which habits you need to change and which tools can help you change them.
Image credit: Visual.ly.
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