Do you often wish you had more minutes in your day? We have so many demands on our time that we’re frequently stressed from trying to manage them all. Instead of trying to manage all those demands, focus on managing your time. Here are some of our best time management techniques and tips to get you through the week.
Prioritize and protect
Not everything you have to do is of equal importance or urgency. Our natural tendency is to want to deal with whatever is in front of us at the moment or to appease whatever “squeaky wheel” is nagging us. By doing so, we end up spending a lot of time on little things and neglect the big things we really want to accomplish.
Time management guru Stephen Covey built his whole approach around one simple idea: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Rather than respond immediately to the latest crisis, communication or complaint, note them down on a to-do list and determine later in what order you will address them or to whom you will delegate them.
To ensure you have time for that, use the time blocking method to portion out your day and your week. As the name suggests, this method involves setting aside blocks of time to attend to certain tasks or activities. For example, you could set aside 30 minutes at the beginning or end of each day to review your to-do lists and prioritize what you will do that day or the next. Block out time for meetings; for responding to phone calls, emails and texts; for attending to business matters; for marketing and networking; for goal setting and goal monitoring; and, of course, for projects and project-related activities. Don’t forget to set aside blocks of time for other things in your life, like family, friends and self-care.
Time blocking not only helps to protect your time and to reduce wasted time, but it also reduces stress that can arise when we feel like we should be doing something else while we’re engaged in another task or activity. Like the to-do list, time blocking gives you permission and confidence to say “I will attend to that later,” knowing that you’ve already made time to ensure that happens.
Whatever way you prefer to manage your time, there are a number and variety of tools and apps to help you do so. Some are more visual, and some more text-oriented. You may prefer to use a daily planner with color codes for different tasks and activities. Or, you could use one of any number of time management software products or smart device apps – most allow you to create reminders, so you can “set it and forget it” until later. Some people like to use both. The important thing is to use them consistently and make them part of your daily routine.
Routinize and repurpose
The idea of following a routine is somewhat abhorrent to creatives, but there is something to be said for not having to reinvent the wheel all the time. Most of us have some sort of morning routine to help us get up and going without too much dawdling. Similarly, we may have weekly routines to help us manage household chores efficiently, like when we do the grocery shopping or the laundry.
Creating procedures and processes for your business establishes routines for you and your team so you or they don’t have to stop and think each time what they are supposed to do, or how they are supposed to do it, or whose responsibility it is, or who to ask if there is a question or problem. Routines not only increase efficiency and productivity, they also help to reduce stress and errors that can arise when team members are unclear about what is expected of them.
Similarly, there’s something to be said for the old saying, “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” You don’t want to produce copycat designs, but why not repurpose office documents like spreadsheets, schedules, standard communications, client instructions, reports, etc.? Keep the format and refresh the data or information. You’ll save time and streamline your operations to focus on what really matters.
When all else fails and you find yourself in a crunch, outsource. The rate you will pay will be a fraction of what your time is worth, and you will free yourself up to attend to those urgent and important items that require your experience and expertise. Another time-saving tip: Line up outsource and freelance resources in advance, so you can tap into them quickly when needed.
If you’re thinking you don’t have time to manage your time, do this little exercise. Go over what you did last week. How much time did you spend on the things that really mattered for your business, your clients, your family, and your life? How much time did you spend on little things, on things that could have waited, on things someone else could have done, on problems that didn’t need you to solve them? You’ll probably be surprised, and maybe inspired to be more proactive to safeguard your time.