Often feel like there just aren’t enough hours in a day? You’re not alone! New business owners are always running in a million different directions, commonly taking things one crisis at a time. Even worse, while they’re still finding their feet, every ‘fire’ that needs putting out feels like it could reduce absolutely everything to ash. And it’s exactly this overwhelmed mental state that leads to burn-out. So, stick with us as we guide you through how to reboot your routine, and manage your time better.
It’s always useful to tackle a problem with as much information as possible: kick off your time-management revolution by spending a week just observing how you spend your days. Try not to change your habits at all, and record every tiny detail as you go. We suggest combining a paper diary (for non-digital activities, like making a cup of tea) and download an app to track everything else (an app like Toggl).
Look at how you really spend time
Look at your week’s report, don’t judge or criticise, just be open and objectively identify:
- Pure Time-Gobblers: everyone has their weaknesses, they just need to be enjoyed when appropriate. So, for example, if social media sucks you in, use an app like SelfControl or RescueTime to block enticing pages. Or if you tend to get chatty, schedule lunch with colleagues, and avoid office banter with noise-cancelling head-phones.
- To Be Delegated: look for tasks that you’re underqualified for and take too long to complete (outsource an expert), or tasks you’re overqualified for and don’t need to control (it doesn’t matter if you’ll do them faster, you need some low-cost help).
Clear your mind, forget about the daily practicalities for a moment, and ask yourself: “Where do I want my business to be in 6 months, a year, 2 years?” At this stage, your hopes may be quite general, which might be part of the problem – it is vital to break them down and translate them into actionable goals. Most experts agree that effective business objectives need to be SMART, that is:
Specific – the goal is clearly defined
Measurable – the progress can be quantified
Attainable – ambitious, but possible
Relevant – helps to achieve your big dreams
Time-bound – set a due date
Once you have a list of constructively defined objectives, break each one down into its own mini to-do list of incremental steps that build towards reaching the final goal. For some, it‘s useful to break targets down into roughly 25-minute chunk tasks: a bite-sized unit of time which can be easily scheduled and flexibly rescheduled. This makes it effortless to mix tasks from different core objectives that will engage your brain in a healthy variety of functions throughout your workday. We recommend Wunderlist and Todo Cloud to sync items across devices and easily share lists with your team.
Using your master to-do list from above, you’ll need to decide what gets done when. This doesn’t have to be a Sophie’s choice – some goals may feel equally important, or totally incomparable, and that’s okay. Most entrepreneurs have families and complex personal lives, which will often rightly take precedence – so, add any regular personal responsibilities and commitments to the master list too. You can prioritize according to urgency, or importance – in fact, a balanced approach combines a bit of both, guided by your instincts and values. Still can’t rank your priorities? Try the Eisenhower Method.
Take your master to-do list, in order of priority, and group your activities into task categories – e.g. e-mails, creative/content, phone-calls. Some experts suggest only attempting to tackle 3 to 5 relatively important strategic items per week, so you don’t feel swamped. Others alternate between ‘Focus Days’ (big picture stuff) and ‘Buffer Days’ (admin), in order to maintain a healthy balance.
Either way, always schedule into your week:
- Free time (uninterrupted) – a top priority for your sanity, your ability to think creatively and inspiration for innovation.
- The unexpected – the sky falls all the time, so plan for it and don’t allow it to derail you.
- Schedule your schedule – reassess and update your schedule often, and allocate sufficient time to plan your week in advance.
- Time for strategy – don’t just stay in survival mode all week. Reconnect with your business’s core purpose, and keep evolving, brainstorming and adapting.
And no matter what you do, don’t multitask! Neuroscientists have proven that multitasking can actually reduce cognitive function and memory – so, the trick is to segment your activities into categories, and stick with one type until it’s done.
Cut the Fat
Automate wherever you can: take advantage of technology that is a good fit for your business, and you’ll save many hours. The first and most important consideration for time-efficiency is always your point of sale software and how it integrates with your accounting system. But, beware of ‘shiny object syndrome’, where every new tool or app is a distraction, systems are changed too often, and over-automation creates procedural clutter, and stifled creativity. Keep things simple and intuitive, and stick with it.
Learn to say NO to anything that does not help you move closer to achieving your goals, or could be adequately handled by someone else – don’t do things you don’t have to. And by extension, limit Meetings to the absolute minimum time and frequency required. Rather manage projects using apps like Trello or Asana to always keep your team connected and transparent.
Get in Your Zone
Everyone knows the feeling of their genius zone – those days when for some reason, your work seems a breeze, you’re energised and confident, yet calm and focused. If you have no idea how to access this mindset on demand, try to recreate that same space by thinking carefully about your environment the last time you had turbo-charged productivity. Or, consider our tips on how to plug into your best brain, whenever and wherever:
- Exercise and/or Meditate – it’s simple, feed your brain and mood as often and as much as you can.
- Cultivate a Sanctuary: Schedule a weekly slot to declutter your workspace, and a daily inbox cleanout.
- Avoid Distractions: Schedule time to check your phone and social, then leave it alone.
- Listen to your Body: everyone has different times of day when they concentrate better, so pay attention to your body clock and plan your most challenging and important work around your own, natural rhythm.
- Keep a Notepad: If you think of something you don’t want to forget, don’t let it distract you – write it down and get back to work.
Avoid Your Employees: learn to separate your business from your work, and put boundaries in place that foster healthy expectations with your team.
So, everything’s in place, and all you have to do is use your precious time as efficiently as possible – no pressure, right? Here are our favourite tips to help you perform:
- Try the Pomodoro Technique: It’s really simple and freakishly effective – work in 25 minute chunks, with a 5 – 10 minute break between sessions.
- Tickle your Brain: Listen to classical or calming music (no lyrics), meditate for a few minutes before you start working, or try something like Brain.fm – music engineered by neuroscientists to elicit brain activity for optimal concentration.
- Done is Better than Perfect: Once you’re proud of it, it’s good enough and you should keep moving.
Reflect on your progress
Make time to review your progress and celebrate what you did manage to accomplish (preferably with your loved ones) – if you get everything done on your to-do list then you’re probably an alien! So, be kind to yourself, as Salvador Dali said: “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” Take things one step at a time and you’ll be amazed at how much momentum you can amass in no time at all.