If there are only 24 hours in a day, how is that some people seem to get so much more done than others?!
Truth be told, being a successful entrepreneur is as much about time management as it is having brilliant ideas and great industry connections. After all, if you can’t get a handle on your time, how can you expect to ever reach the goals you’ve set for yourself and your business?
If you aren’t as effective as you could be when it comes to time management, it’s time to take charge! It is possible to learn good time management, by simply following these three steps to capturing and managing your time:
Step #1 – Analyze your current time allocations
Think about how you’d approach the process of setting and sticking to a budget. You wouldn’t just say, “I’m going to be better with money from now on.” Instead, you’d track your current expenditures, look at your total income and decide how to allocate your funds in a way that enables you to meet your financial goals.
Time management can be accomplished by following the same process. Before you can begin to implement good time management, you need to know where your time is going – and the only way to do that is to track how you spend your time.
There are a number of different ways to do this. If you’re tech-savvy, you can use internet and mobile apps designed to bill clients for work completed. For example, the BlackBerry app called “Hours Tracker” and iPhone app “OfficeTime” could easily be repurposed to suit this process by setting up “projects” for each type of activity you undertake (for example, checking email, watching TV and productive work on your big goals).
Alternatively, if setting up projects and tracking time digitally sounds like too much work, simply carry a notepad with you for a few days, making notes every time you switch tasks.
After a few days of tracking, take a look at your overall time allocations. Are you surprised by how much of your time is being spent on administrative tasks or unproductive activities? Do you see how each of your individual “email check” adds up to a significant time suck over the course of the day? Spend some time categorizing the different activities you’ve tracked using the “Urgent versus Important” matrix to get a feel for how well you’re currently capturing your time.
Step #2 – Align your “time budget” with your business priorities
Now that you know where your time is going, take some time to analyze how well these allocations match up with the goals you’ve established for your business.
For example, suppose you plan to launch a new product at the end of the year. Based on the items left on your to do list, you estimate that you’ll need to commit at least 30 hours of productive time each week in order to reach your goals. However, after analyzing your time, you see that you’ve only been spending – on average – 20 hours per week on focused, goal-oriented work.
Just as a budget that spends more than it takes in won’t work, a time management plan that calls for more focused work than is currently occurring is doomed to failure as well. If you find yourself in this position, you’ll either need to re-allocate more of your down-time to project-oriented work or lower your goals and aspirations to better suit the amount of time you do have available.
If you aren’t sure how much time you need to allocate to productive work in order to meet your business and personal goals, you may also need to invest a little time in adding time estimates to your “to do” list. Although it might seem time-consuming, knowing how much time you’ll need to accomplish each task on your list can be invaluable in building the motivation needed to finish each priority.
Step #3 – Use tools to track your time
At this point, you should have an idea of how you’re currently spending your time, how much time you’ll need to meet your business objectives and how you should be re-allocating your time in order to achieve these goals. The final piece of the puzzle is to take advantage of technological tools that will help keep you on track with your new “time budget”!
There are hundreds of time management tools on the market, but the following options deserve special mention here:
- Browser extensions – There are two browser extensions in particular you should be using: RescueTime and LeechBlock. RescueTime works in the background, estimating how much time you spend on productive activities online versus looking up cute kitten pictures. LeechBlock, on the other hand, enables you to block access to websites altogether if you simply aren’t able to say no to these images.
- Productivity timers – Using the Pomodoro technique (in which 25-minute work sessions are broken up by short breaks) can be a good way to crank out your productive hours. The online FocusBooster and MyTomatoes tracking tools can both help you to use this technique effectively to meet your business goals.
- Goal tracking websites – Beyond the mechanics of time-tracking, you may also find it helpful to use a goal tracking website to stick to your new time allocations. Joe’s Goals, which provides simple day-to-day task monitoring, and LifeTick, which offers “bigger picture” goal tracking, are two great options for staying on track with your overall goals and time budget.
Finally, keep in mind that good time management is an ongoing process. Like any good monetary budget, you’ll need to check in periodically in order to be sure your current time allocations match your business priorities and that you’re using tracking tools effectively in order to capture and manage your time.