We all have the same 24 hours in the day. No-one has a superhuman way to life hack the actual number of hours we all experience, but working in a way that helps you to get the most out of that time allocation can make things go so much easier.
Whichever way you slice it, life can get “noisy” – social media, emails, Skype calls, blog posts, marketing, admin, meetings, accounts and more all go into the mix as a solo entrepreneur and small business. Accounting for time can often go out of the window, and as a self employed mum, time juggling is an ongoing theme (hence my keen attention to tips and hacks!). Effective time management is a key skill to master whether you work for the man or you are a lone ranger in the hills of self employment, but as an entrepreneur when time is a precious commodity, a few tips, tricks and hacks can go a long way.
Pre-planning – start your day the right way
Preparing yourself the night before with a list can help to kickstart your brain into getting on with the important stuff. I write down in a lovely Moleskine book my list of important tasks and calls to make/emails to write in the evenings, so as I have my morning cuppa I can see what lies ahead. I also have a back up of tasks and jobs to do scheduled into my iCal so I can move things around in the week and see my time cohesively, but for me nothing beats ticking off some jobs with a lovely ink pen to feel that I am getting somewhere. I loved this post by Forbes about 5 things successful people do before 8am, and I really think that mapping out your day is such a crucial step to get your day off to a productive start.
Don’t check your email first thing!
This can be such a hard habit to break, but I honestly feel that if you dive straight into email you lose the traction of actually GETTING SOMETHING DONE at the top end of your day. Leave it until at last mid-morning if you can, (or, even better, until lunchtime) so you can use the morning to be a superhuman productivity ninja before new demands come and take you off on a tangent. If the idea of this really and truly brings you out in a cold sweat, then use an app like Awayfind to ensure you can see if a super urgent email pings in so you can jump on it.
Schedule your social and don’t let it control you
Plan scheduling your social media updates into your day, as you would any other task, and remember that if you are a ninja, it can take just a few minutes. Unless you live in a cave, social will form some part of your marketing strategy, so building in time for it makes more sense than hoping it will go away or doing a half hearted effort and feeling time strapped. Unless you entirely outsource this (and unless you are a large company, I don’t suggest that you do entirely outsource it, as knowing your customers at grass roots level is so important as a small business), make time for it, get efficient with it, and do it.
That said, don’t get sucked into the labrynthine world out there and procrastinate if you are on a tight schedule – make time to explore in your day, it’s good for idea generation, but don’t let yourself get pulled off task.
Do the crap, irritating stuff first
Getting a few 5 minute, irritating jobs done at the start of your day can not induce a smug feeling of accomplishment, but also paves the way for a more productive back end of the day as the larger tasks aren’t overshadowed.
Working mindfully is a superhuman trick to save time and be clear on your direction. Taking time to reduce the chatter in your brain will help you plan efficiently, focus on priorities, and work calmly.
Map and track your time
Tracking your time is important in the creative industries where a service is sold by the hour, such as design and copywriting etc. Although I don’t advocate that this is the best money making model (more on that later), ensuring you are working to the time you quoted for is important to make sure you aren’t dithering over a layout and losing money. As a designer and copywriter, knowing how long something should take is part of the job and something that grows with experience, but tracking time is also a personal way to make sure you are working to the budget, and staying focussed. I have a variety of income streams, so I track time using Yast to keep a log of how much time I actually spend on each client when blogging or consulting for them. I also track the time I spend writing my blog posts, marketing my courses and classes, doing accounts, admin, emails, social media planning and scheduling etc so I can get a true picture of where time goes in the day and make necessary adjustments. Time is often spent differently to the way you intended to spend it, so a truer picture is really beneficial in keeping track of your working day.
There are a wide range of apps out there to record time as you work, or you could go old school and use printed timesheets or Google doc templates to mark it all down. Recording time acts in a feedback loop too, so you can double check that the slots you allow for tasks are in fact enough, or you run the risk of overpromising and under delivering. We need to be accountable certainly to ourselves as an entrpreneur, and make sure that our empire is being built in the right way and not being wasted with hours and hours on Buzzfeed….
Use resources to get you focussed and set up smart working habits
Surely this is just common sense for the superhuman entrepreneur- working smarter and designing smart workflows is a way better way to invest your time than going the long tail route. As I have already written on this, the smart thing to do id to point you in the direction of those posts so you can peruse at leisure:
Build in time for the unexpected
Being prepared for a curve ball will make is so much less irritating when one is thrown. If time is tight for a deadline, build in a contingency plan. I can guarantee that if I am on a deadline either one of the Minis will be ill, my Mac will self combust, or there will be a family emergency that requires my attention. I can also guarantee that nothing will go smoothly so, with that in mind, I try to build in time for the balls ups and have plans B, C and possibly D in place. Option E involves couriering in the Green and Blacks.
Be organised but stay flexible
One of the biggest learning curves for me in business both as a solo entrepreneur and as a Senior Designer and manager of teams has been to stay organised but remain flexible; no matter how much you plan your day or your project, you can guarantee that something will rock up to throw it out of kilter. Be prepared to move things around on your calendar, to re-schedule meetings or events, and to re-negotiate requirements. If I have a deadline looming then I re-schedule networking catch ups for another time; similarly, if work is taking longer than usual I re-prioritise other thing on the back burner.
Value your time!
Placing a value on your time will help you to stay focussed and spend less of it lost in the online quagmire or doing work as favours. Whether or not your exchange time for money or you are building an online empire of automates products, that there thing called time still needs to be spent in some way. Spend it wisely! I love the Marie Forleo video on ways to say no when people want to pick your brains; I allow a very select few people freebies on my time, and as I began getting asked to coach peope so much I then set up my Pick My Brains offer. Be wary of spending all your time with networking “catch up coffees” which have a value of course, but can also be real time drains.
Build in down time
Thsi is obvious but so hard to do sometimes. Cranking up the to do list is actually counter productive; sometimes you need you go fallow for a whole day, evening, weekend, month, whatever it takes. Signs that you are over frazzled include the inability to care, common mistakes being made, lack of energy, mental fog and stagnant ideas, and depression. Go easy, tiger – you need to speculate on time out to accumulate those genius ideas.
Question the need for a meeting
Meetings are time black holes. Do you really need to meet with that client or colleague and waste a day in travelling, or could you Skype and get on with more work in your day? I am not saying meetings aren’t needed, sometimes nothing can replace human interactions, but there are so many occasions when they can be approached differently. I totally agree with the guys in from 37 Signals who wrote in their book ReWork that meetings are toxic – they really can be prime time drains on tour valuable time, so really question the need for them and make tech work in your favour!
This is something I will be covering later on in a separate post, but sometimes the best thing you can do for time management is to outsource the things you are crap at. If doing the accounts makes you cry and you spend half the week wasting chargeable hours adding up numbers, then outsource it! If you can’t design for your life but need a leaflet, for goodness sake outsource! We aren’t all good at everything, and playing to your skills whilst using others for theirs is a MUCH smarter use of time.
So, how is your time management working for you? Do you map your time, and if so how do you do it? Have I missed anything off the list? Do let me know how you manage your time in the comments below, we can learn from each other by discussion.