“Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.”
– Peter F. Drucker
All entrepreneurs share one thing in common: twenty-four hours in a day. The difference, however, is that the successful entrepreneurs manage their time in the same way that they manage their business—firing ineffective strategies, scheduling appointments for their most important tasks, and so forth. Without proper time management, we are doomed to be forever inefficient, ineffective, and ultimately frustrated at our lack of progress. Read on to see how you can manage your time more effectively to succeed in business.
Prioritizing and Planning
To find out what task you should devote your highest priority to, set a limitation for yourself: if you could only get one task finished per day, what would that be? If you have several tasks competing for your attention, pick one and create a tier of priority. Don’t be overwhelmed by the enormity of tasks, as there’s always something to do as an entrepreneur. Looking back over a previous year’s accomplishments, you’ll be able to say that you’ve accomplished something of merit for everyday you’ve worked.
There’s an old saying in the military: “Failure to plan is planning to fail.” In business, if you don’t know where your business is going, how will you know if you’re heading in the right direction or even how far to go? Though it sounds simplistic, take the first half-hour of your workday and plan your day. Reflect on the aforementioned one task as a “must” and assign more tasks as “maybe.” Time is a resource like money. Don’t be frivolous with it. Focus on your plan and stick with it to see results.
Have you ever started hundreds of projects, only the realise you’ve never truly finished any of them? One finished task is worth more than any number of “in-progress” tasks. Make it a priority to get things done, not “done enough.”
Just as you may make an appointment with important clients and contacts, try to factor in important tasks during specific times during the day. Regard these “appointments” as just as important to the success of your business as you would with high-dollar clients that demand your face-to-face attention. By dividing your day, you prioritize what’s most important, filling the gaps with lower priority goals to spend your limited time working effectively.
Focus On Your Focus
During a task, periodically ask yourself whether you’re losing focus. It can be quite easy to lose sight of what your original intention was, drifting off into minutia or getting distracted entirely. Having a to-do list to refer to can help you redefine what your focus should be and if you’ve reached it. Sometimes we can even be guilty of going beyond our goals and leaving out pertinent tasks that get neglected.
In addition to maintaining focus, use software that can block distractions, like Cold Turkey (http://getcoldturkey.com/) or FocusMe (http://focusme.co/), especially if you have a habit of finding yourself checking your personal social media sites. For physical distractions, try to set up a time to answer only pertinent business questions and resist the temptation to answer every incoming email, voicemail, text message, and so on.
Being able to identify when your business isn’t working is an essential time-saver for entrepreneurs. This can range from offshoots of your projects, or your entire business model itself. It can be heartbreaking, but being able to change course to greener pastures will make sure you don’t regret wasted time and effort. Of course, some efforts take time to develop and come to fruition, but give yourself a realistic deadline and stick to it. If you don’t achieve at least a significant portion, swallow your ego and modify your methods.
If you’re familiar with the Pareto Principle (http://www.pinnicle.com/Articles/Pareto_Principle/pareto_principle.html), then you should be aware of the fact that 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions. Take a look at your business plan and see where that 20% lies. Are you devoting your focus to this area? If not, change your habits to address these areas, as you’ll find you can essentially do more with less effort.
Instead of thinking of your office hours as being strictly for when you deal with business, redefine those hours as a time period for “planned interruptions.” Unless those planned interruptions beyond your office hours are absolutely critical, allow yourself the time to respond on the next working day. You can still work, but not having distractions can allow you to not jump from one task to another and lose focus.
When Do You Work Best?
Focus on when you feel the most engaged in your work. Some people find the night to be the most serene and conducive to engaging in work, while others enjoy the morning to feel connected to the bustle of business. For those with families, working without distraction during those small hours can mean the difference between a thriving business or a failing hobby.
The mark of a great leader is the ability to delegate. With only a limited amount of time during the day, entrepreneurs must spread their influence while reducing their workload. Determine your daily rate and whether it would be more productive to outsource/contract that labor to someone else. With recurring tasks, ask whether you’d be able to expand your personnel under your current budget—or, if having dedicated personnel would increase your budget. Experiment by taking advantage of online resources, like oDesk, Elance, and even Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and see how much value can be added to your business.
The Little Bits
Identify the wasted spaces of time during your day. Are there small moments that could be used more effectively? Twenty minutes per day is over an hour-and-a-half per week or nearly eight hours a month. The famed author Scott Turow wrote his first novel, Presumed Innocent, only using his morning train commutes to write, now riding high on international fame and multiple films made of his novels. By utilizing the little bits, we can add more value to our work that chips away at monumental tasks.
Is It Worth It?
Before beginning any task, try to determine what the worth of it would be, in terms of money and time. Don’t let seemingly-positive activities draw you away from what really matters. Learn to know when you’ve done enough of a task, like networking or market research, and focus on bringing revenue-generating tasks to the forefront of your to-do list.