Whether you’re a small business owner, a freelancer, contractor, or however else you might work, you are in charge of how you spend your own time. As such, it’s easier than you might think to spend in some particularly unproductive and unhelpful ways. Learning about time management is crucial if you want to keep results coming in, keep clients happy, and keep ahead of the ever-rolling tide of work coming in. Here are a few tips and tools you can use to better manage your time.
Know what you do and don’t have to work on
Having less work to do is a relatively easy way to make sure you have more time for the work that matters most, right? But it is really that easy or wise to take things off your plate? Simply speaking, you won’t know until you try it. To-do list apps like Todoist allow you to list out all of the tasks that you have to do today. What’s even more important, however, is that you have a to-don’t list, Determine the things that don’t need to be done today, at the very least, and set it aside. If you just start working on whatever catches your mind first, then those other tasks might be lingering in the corner of your brain. Actively making the decision to not do them today means you’re less likely to fixate on them.
Prioritize your work smartly
How do you decide which tasks you do focus on today, and which you don’t? More importantly, what do you do first and focus the majority of your energy on? The Priority Matrix is a very helpful tool based on a traditional time management exercise. It involves listing out what you want to get done and then ordering them by which is most important (vital to core processes and functions in the business) and which is most urgent (which you have the least time for.) Once you order your tasks like that, it can become a lot easier to identify what you should be working on first and foremost.
Break your day up into blocks
Don’t think about building your day around what specific task you want to finish by what time. Instead, you should make sure that you are spending at least some time on each of the tasks that you have decided to work on today. One way to do that is to break your day up into individual blocks of time. Assign your high-priority work tasks to those blocks of time. If you think that a task is going to demand more time, assign more than one block to it. Planning your workday out in advance like this makes sure that you’re not stagnating on any task that requires your attention that day.
Plan out your projects
Do you find yourself having a difficult time figuring out how much time, exactly, a project is going to take, or when you might see some progress on it? Workflow mapping tools can play a huge role in helping you get a better idea of that. Using workflow mappers like Lucidchart allows you to plot every step of any project that you’re writing on. It might be hard to fathom how long a project will take, but it might be easier to estimate if you can break it down into its component steps. This way you can better plan when you’re going to work, as well as give yourself the ability to set deadlines effectively.
Do prep work ahead of time
If you have work to do in the future, you should start by identifying what steps you can take to prepare for it before it’s time to actually sit down for it. If you have a big project that you’re planning for, see what prep work you can do ahead of time to clear up any potential roadblocks of bottlenecks that might appear. If you can address the questions and challenges of the work before you get started, you’re less likely to find yourself stressed because you’re trying to untangle the knots in your work while also trying to do that work. Identify the problems and come up with solutions in advance, then have them ready to implement by the time you’re working on the project.
Don’t let appointments surprise you
If you work with a lot of clients, then you might regularly schedule appointed meetings with them to discuss their needs, ongoing projects, additional work, as well as closing on leads. It’s essential to make sure that you’re kept fully aware of what appointments you have, even a day or two in advance, and tools like Coach Calendar allow you to do that. Effective scheduling is key. Without it, it’s easy to be late, to miss meetings, or, in the best case, to come to meetings unprepared because you didn’t get the notification ahead of time. Appointments with clients should be a top priority item on your schedule and one that you’re given plenty of warning about, so make sure you have the right tools for it.
Know when you’re productive
We all have different times of the day when we work at our most productive. Some do it right out the gate, at the start of the day. Others like to burn the midnight oil. While you should make sure you keep your business accessible during peak hours to make sure you can be reached by clients, you should avoid scheduling any work that is overly demanding outside of the times that you are most productive. For instance, if the hour after lunch is a slow one for you, you should consider making that the hour in which you do some essential busywork, such as checking your emails and cleaning your inbox.
The tips and tools above are just the start. Effective time management requires an organized and disciplined approach to work. You need to be able to consistently apply the recommendations above for them to really start doing you some favors.
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M.E.L. is an attorney and small business entrepreneur whose mission is to help professionals conquer the workaday world with style and poise.
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