If you’re like most busy entrepreneurs, you just never have enough time in the day.
From the moment you wake, competing priorities begin to pull you into a thousand different directions.
It makes sense. You want to earn a great income doing work you love. You’ve set ambitious goals to make that happen. You’ve been encouraged to wear your always-on hustle as a badge of honor. This is life in the fast lane, right?
Still, though you’re always doing something, you can’t shake the feeling that you’re not making progress on the work that matters most. After all, being busy and being effective are not one and the same.
Now, imagine ending each day with a deep sense of satisfaction. A feeling of accomplishment. You’re edging closer and closer towards your goals. It’s all possible with the right time management strategies.
Get Clear on Your Priorities
Are your daily actions taking you closer to your goals? Or are you always adding points to a never-ending to-do list? Rushing from one urgent task to the next?
All too often, we consider this kind of chaos a natural part of chasing success in the modern era. Squeezing the last second out of every hour out of every day is how we get things done.
The problem is that if you spread yourself too thin, you won’t end accomplishing anything truly meaningful. That’s the core idea behind ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.
The authors emphasize their message perfectly with this ancient proverb:
“If you chase two rabbits, you’ll end up with none.”
There’s a better way. And it demands tough decisions.
Devote time to regularly reconnect with your goals. What are your hopes and desires? What scares you? Let your dreams and fears dictate how you spend your time. You’ll soon realize all tasks are not created equal. Consider a concept from Vilfredo Pareto, the Italian economist who came up with the Pareto Principle.
Pareto observed that 80% of Italy’s wealth was owned by 20% of the country’s population. Also called the 80/20 Rule, the gist is that 80% of your results are generated by 20% of your efforts. What’s the 80/20 in your business? Meeting new customers? Doing demos?
Here are some steps you can take to make sure your schedule matches your priorities.
Track your time
Review your time. Track your time over a week or two. Which activities are taking you closer to where you want to be? Use tools like Harvest and Toggl to get an idea of how you spend your days.
Human beings have a tendency to prioritize tasks if we think they’re urgent, in what’s called the “mere urgency effect”. So, when given a choice, we’ll usually put unimportant tasks with shorter deadlines, above larger, more important projects with longer timeframes.
It’s the sweet dopamine hit we get when we tick something off our to-do list, triggering a flood of positive emotions. The downside is that we might still be accomplishing very little. Think of those days that are dominated by responding to emails as they arrive in your inbox.
The best way to conquer the mere urgency bias?
Start by ranking your tasks according to urgency and importance. Here’s where a time management tactic like the Eisenhower Matrix can help. This method comes courtesy of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States.
The statesman had a lot going on. He was the Army Chief of Staff and eventually became the first Supreme Commander of NATO. Add in a stint as the President of Columbia University.
It’s no stretch to say he was incredibly productive during his lifetime.
Eisenhower lived with a simple approach:
“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
This is how the Eisenhower Method breaks things down:
- Urgent and important – tasks you need to do on the same day. Getting back to that unhappy customer on social media can’t wait.
- Important – important but not urgent activities that be scheduled. Think of things like developing your expertise, evaluating your business strategy, and brainstorming sessions
- Urgent not important – delegate these tasks. Certain emails and scheduling meetings fall into this bucket.
- Not urgent and not important – don’t do at all. Random internet surfing is one example.
When the dust settled after the Second World War, Japan’s car manufacturing industry was in crisis. Leaders at Toyota knew the Japanese industrial economy had to keep up with America if it wanted to survive.
An engineer at Toyota, Taiichi Ohno, recognized a problem. Replicating American manufacturing processes wasn’t going to cut it. Japan’s order levels were far lower than in America. They needed a different production system.
And that’s when Ohno came up with the philosophy that would save the Japanese car industry: just-in-time. The company would make “only what is needed when it is needed, and in the amount needed.”
The idea has since spread to computer hardware development and inspired the supply chains of the world’s biggest supermarkets.
How do you apply this approach to time management?
Just-in-time forces you to focus on only what you need for your current task. Whenever successful people tackle a project, they begin with the end in mind, writes Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Identify your intention before you begin.
Take online research for example. Let’s face it, it’s easy to get pulled down the internet rabbit hole. It doesn’t take much for YouTube videos or clickbait to sap hours of our time. Plus, research is piling up showing that information overload makes it harder for us to make decisions and keep track of information.
This and the harms that come with the Fear of Missing Out. So, if you’re doing research for a blog, meeting or presentation, limit your search to only what is necessary.
Use services like Evernote and Pocket to save interesting articles for later. Preserve your willpower and block distracting sites with a tool like Freedom.
Apply the same approach to social media. In Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport challenges us to examine why and how we use social networks. You can, for example, use LinkedIn to engage meaningfully with fellow professionals and customers, without losing hours to random scrolling.
The early bird gets the worm
The early bird catches the worm. It’s an old saying we’ve all heard before. Perhaps it’s endured because it’s true?
Morning people might be (according to some studies) wealthier, healthier, and more proactive. The reason might be simple. For most of us, we have complete control over our time in the early mornings.
To take full advantage of your mornings, productivity experts recommend kicking off your day with your most important task. International business coach Brian Tracy calls it eating the frog. The approach is simple, do your key tasks early on in the day. The upside is that no matter what else you do, you’ll still get to the work that matters most.
Time management tactics like these have been boosting productivity for centuries. Back in 1918, Charles Schwab hired consultant Ivy Lee to improve efficiency at his steel plant. The story goes that Schwab was so pleased with the results that he wrote Lee a $25 000 check.
Here is the method you use:
- Write down 6 things you need to get done the following day
- Arrange these tasks in order of priority (this is key)
- In the morning, start with the first task and finish it before moving on to the next task
It’s important to use this time for truly important tasks. Not for emails or checking social media. Remember, you will get to those tasks during the day, anyway.
How do you eat an elephant?
Large, complex projects are often daunting. Many times, we don’t know where to begin. Even if we have an action plan, it’s hard to carve out the time to get everything done in one sitting.
One answer is to split a major project into chunks.
Research confirms we perform better when we are closer to reaching our goals. By giving yourself smaller goals to push towards, you improve your motivation. The finish line is in sight.
The tactic may even help you do better quality work. This study showed students turned into their best performances at the beginning and end of a project. Participants typically slacked in the middle. By reframing those bigger projects as smaller tasks, you’ll always benefit from the high energy you have at the start of a task. You can, for example, put your marketing plan together over a full week, checking off a new section each day.
Use an app like Todoist and break down what needs to be done.
Notice how a simple activity becomes more and more complex the longer people work on it. We’ve all seen a 15-minute discussion turn into an hour-long meeting just because that’s how much time was booked.
That’s thanks to a phenomenon called Parkinson’s Law.
Cyril Northcote Parkinson first introduced the concept in an essay for The Economist. Parkison was poking fun at public sector inefficiency, but the first line of his essay still holds true today:
“It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. “
Fortunately, you can get this law to work for you. Give yourself a specific time-frame for a task before you begin. If you have been tracking your time, you’ll know how long it takes. Try to complete the task during that slot.
This might be a powerful motivator, too. See, we’re typically more driven when we attach a specific deadline to a project, according to a study entitled “The effect of digital learning, outcome, and proximal goals on a moderately complex task” by Seijts and Latham. Use a tactic like the Pomodoro Technique to focus without interruptions when you do this.
Use the Right Technology to Save Time
One of the easiest ways to save time is through technology. For instance, use automation to put every admin part of your business on autopilot. As a business owner, you probably wear many hats. These days, software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications make it possible to get all the help you need.
Here are a few services to consider:
- Calendly to schedule meetings
- Quickbooks, Zoho, or Freshbooks to manage your accounting
- Schedule posts using social media automation with a service like SocialPilot
- Automate customer services with tools like HappyBox or Groove or HubSpot
- Use electronic signing to make it easy to manage documents
Master Your Time Management and Reach Your Goals
Building something meaningful – a thriving business or fulfilling career – requires time, focus and consistency. We all have the same 24 hours in a day to work towards these goals. No productivity system or time management hack is going to change that. Still, modern life is hectic. Some days we’re constantly dividing our time between digital distractions and unexpected emergencies.
Thankfully, once we turn to the right time management techniques, we protect and respect our time. We get to the things that really matter. And suddenly, life feels a little less rushed, and a whole lot more rewarding.
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