How can it be the middle of September already? Summer is well and truly behind us and after a pretty insane start to the month with a new Prime Minister and new King, things are just starting to return to ‘normal’. Queen Elizabeth served us well for so long and it feels like a bit of a shock to lose her constant presence. No wonder some of us have been struggling to get back into a routine! It’s almost as if our time management muscle has lost its tone, making it a struggle to get our structure and focus back.
That said, this isn’t the only time people need help with their time management.
Curious to find out just how much of a problem time management is for business owners, I recently ran a LinkedIn poll. The results showed that 48% of people said time management was the biggest thing holding them back! What’s more, a survey I ran part-way through last year revealed that time management and focus was an ongoing problem for many respondents with nearly 35% of respondents saying they need help with both topics.
Sadly, none of us are born with time management skills. If only we were! You might be one of the lucky few who had time management training with a previous employer. Or maybe you’ve read up on time management in one of the many self-help books written on the subject.
However, if you’ve not had training or the opportunity to read up on time management, you’ve probably just had to find your way and learn from experience. Just think of those students pulling all-nighters in the days before their dissertations are due. Perhaps you were one of them!?
Time management tools for everyone
Because time management is such an evergreen topic, I have lots of tools and tips that I use with my clients and their teams time and time again. Here are my favourites. Use them and I PROMISE you’ll find it easier to manage your time and find a better work life balance.
1. Start productivity tracking to identify when you are at your most effective
When it comes to effective time management you need to start with the foundations, just as you would if building a house. By this, I mean that understanding when you’re at your most productive can help you plan your workload more effectively. It will also help you avoid falling foul of energy and motivation slumps. Here’s how you do it…
At the end of each day, make a note of your motivation levels, what you have achieved and how effective you have been together with any comments about things that may have influenced your productivity. For example, did you have a broken night’s sleep or a couple of G&Ts the night before celebrating your friend’s birthday? Or maybe you fitted in some exercise before starting work? What did you eat or drink in the day? If you have a team, it can be a really useful exercise to do together.
Do this and you will start to see trends that show when you are at your most and least productive. Perhaps you’ll confirm a lifelong belief that you are a morning person and do your best work before lunch. Or maybe you’ll discover that by Thursday afternoon your productivity takes a nosedive.
With this knowledge, you can start to plan your time and work when you are your most effective for each task. For example, use your most efficient and creative time to tackle the tasks that need a lot of focus. In contrast, use the times where you are easily distracted to book in client calls or attend networking sessions. And of course, recognise where you need a break to chill out or exercise. Life is about balance, after all!
2. Use your calendar (for everything!)
A calendar can be your business’s secret time management weapon if you change the way you use it. No doubt you and your team use your online calendar for meetings, phone calls and the odd personal appointment. The old-school among us may keep things separate with a paper diary for personal items and an online diary for work. But I’d like to encourage you to keep everything in one place!
With your new-found understanding of your productivity (see point 1), use your calendar to schedule everything that happens during your working day, whether it’s work related or not. Try block booking your diary to include:
- admin time
- client work
- time to work on projects for your own business
- client and supplier calls
- your lunch break
- personal appointments
- time for exercise
- domestic chores and errands
- time with family and friends
By doing this, you can start to plan your time more effectively. You’ll also quickly understand if you’re allowing yourself enough time or overcommitting yourself. For instance, is one hour a week enough for your work admin or should you allocate more time? Are your client calls really taking one hour, or do they drift into one and a half hours?
3. Keep focused
Using your calendar as a time management tool has another pleasing side effect. It helps reduce the chances of procrastination and cuts the risk of distraction. Seeing your working day planned out in plain sight makes it easier to assess whether distractions such as wandering into your garden for a bit of weeding or popping to get a coffee with the team are really appropriate. It also helps you identify whether or not you have capacity for new projects or clients that you’d otherwise feel pressured into accepting.
4. Start the night before
This tip might sound counterintuitive at first. How does focusing on something a day ahead of time improve time management?
The answer? It’s all about helping your brain focus.
At the end of each working day, write down three important things to complete first thing in the morning. It’s a good idea to include tasks you typically procrastinate on, normally the ones that you don’t enjoy. Naturally, you’ll need to create a block of time in your calendar for these tasks.
You’ll find that writing down this list takes the weight off your subconscious. This helps your brain relax a little more during the evening so you’re in a better place the next day. It also makes things easier when you start work. Instead of going into autopilot, or wasting time wondering what to do first, you’ve already decided to focus on a set priority. And that leads me nicely onto the next point…
5. Eat frogs for breakfast (figuratively, of course!)
What’s the first thing you do when you start work in the morning?
I find many people open their laptop and then start working through their emails. All well and good you might say, but the problem with this is that it can quickly drain your time (and energy), especially if you’re responding to them as and when they come through. So, how about doing things differently?
Brain Tracy is a self-development expert who popularised the idea of ‘eating your frog’. He was inspired by Mark Twain, who famously said ‘If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.’
With this in mind, instead of going straight to your emails, schedule two blocks of time each day for this purpose (as per point 2). You can then start your day by eating those frogs, which ideally you will have identified and written down at the end of the previous day (see point 4).
Remember, your frogs will be your worst tasks and should always be done first thing in the morning.
This works in two ways:
- It helps focus your mind in the morning so you’re immediately productive.
- Because you’re doing the toughest (mentally), most important thing first, the rest of the day feels easy in comparison.
This time management technique works for most things. One of the examples I often share is that of mopping my kitchen floor. It’s the job I hate almost more than anything. So, I now do it every other Monday morning at 7.30am. This means it’s out of the way allowing me to concentrate on everything else I need to do. Even better, by the time the caffeine from my morning tea has kicked in, the job is finished!
Will improving your time management skills make you more effective?
Have a go at these time management techniques and I can almost guarantee you’ll start achieving more. With the right support you can find enough time in the day to do almost anything. As Miles Davis once said, ‘Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.’
Could you and your team do with improving time management and focus? Then get in touch with me to book a free 30-minute call. I can help you increase your productivity with 121 coaching and individual or group training that’s tailored to your specific requirements.