You don’t need more time to get your work done. You need better time management strategies.
Your business runs on time. It’s what you need to start, create, and finish projects for both yourself and your clients. So, the question is: How do you make the most of your time so that you’re maximizing profitability?
In this article, we’ll discuss those strategies available to help you manage your time more efficiently, but first, let’s quickly look at some fundamental aspects of your business that may be costing you time.
Save yourself some time
Any freelancer or business owner knows that a lot goes into running a business. You’ve got administrative overhead as well as project and client operational costs that you need to manage; Lots of little things need attention to keep your business running smoothly.
There’s a delicate balance between managing your business and getting work done, but ideally, you need to spend a lot more time getting work done because that’s how you get paid. So where can you trim some of those business management tasks?
Start by asking yourself these questions:
What is it that only I can do?
I’m sure you’ve heard before that you should delegate. Maybe you’re a control freak, or maybe you just don’t know how to delegate, but let me help you: When you ask yourself what is it that only you have the ability to do, your priorities come into focus. All of those other things on your to-do list you can potentially farm out to employees, contractors, or even temporary help.
Don’t waste your time on tasks that someone else could do for you at a lower cost.
Understanding cost of opportunity
Let’s say you’re a realtor and need a website. You could do it yourself, spending hours upon hours trying to find the perfect template, learning how to use WordPress, and figuring out how to launch the darn thing. Or, you could do what you’re brilliant at — selling houses — and hire a professional web developer to handle your website. In the time it’d take you to do your site, you could’ve closed just one sale, hired a developer, and still had money left over.
Heads up freelancers and small business owners: the same principle applies to you. If you can hire it out for less than the money you’d make working for that time, do it. That’s what I call cost of opportunity.
Is this a repetitive task?
There are so many things we do over and over every day. Things like scheduling meetings, processing your inbox, invoicing clients or paying contractors. Wherever you have repeated tasks, look and see if there’s a way you could automate aspects (i.e. using Calendly to schedule meetings or Zapier to trigger actions from one app to another).
You can also bundle certain tasks instead of dealing with them as they hit your desk. For instance, every Friday I log into Quickbooks, balance my accounts, send invoices, and pay contractors. Instead of logging in multiple times a week for each task, I do it all at the same time – that’s a system. That’s a process. It doesn’t have to be complex – just look for ways you can maximize your efforts on those repetitive tasks.
Do I even need to be doing this?
This might seem like a no-brainer (why would I do something I don’t need to do??) but I guarantee there are little time-wasters that are a part of your routine. Maybe you do these things to avoid a task you don’t want to do or maybe it’s something you do just because you’ve always done it.
You don’t need to check your email every 5 minutes. You don’t have to obsess over every last detail. You don’t need to micro-manage your team.
Try it: If you write down everything you do during your work day, every day for one week, I promise you you’ll identify some activities where you can either improve your efficiency or ditch it altogether.
Below are 6 proven time management strategies that have worked for my business.
Plan how to use your time
Once you’ve shed some of those time killers, let’s take a look at some ways you can best spend the time you do have.
1. Prioritizing your to-do list
In the past, I’ve used the Covey Time Management system. I don’t use the actual planner anymore, but there are some basic principles I still use. The idea is to organize the things on your to-list using a “time matrix” made up of 4 quadrants:
- Important & Urgent (immediate and important deadlines)
- Important & Not Urgent (long-term strategy)
- Not Important & Urgent (time-pressured distractions)
- Not Important & Not Urgent (low-value activity)
Looking at your to-do list, sort them into the quadrants appropriately. Spoiler alert: The only tasks you should focus on fall into the first two.
For instance, if you’re launching a new website for a client on Wednesday, then you sure ought to be taking care of final details and prepping that site for launch. That’s both important and urgent.
You’ll also have things on your to-do list that aren’t necessarily time-sensitive but are still important. Things like planning the direction for your business over the next 12 weeks or updating the services page on your website. Those things are important, but it’s okay if you don’t get to it today. A warning, though: if you leave those things in the “non-urgent” category for too long, they’ll eventually become urgent.
You want to live in quadrants 1 and 2. Quadrant 3 is where you find easy ways to waste your time – things that seem urgent but aren’t important (i.e. responding to a Slack notification or getting stuck on a call you don’t need to be on). Other people will try to make their problems urgent issues for you. Don’t let them.
The final quadrant is one that you never want to live in (during work hours at least). If there’s something on your to-do list or one of the time-wasting culprits we talked about earlier, ditch it.
Using the 4-quadrant paradigm, you can organize your to-list by those things that are most important to your business. You know, those things that ultimately generate income.
2. Scheduling your day
You’ve got your to-do list sorted by priority. Now let’s look at how you tackle your day.
Create a routine
My first recommendation is to establish a routine. There’s no right or wrong method – do what works for you, but whatever you go with, try to stick with it.
My routine goes something like this:
- wake up + coffee
- work in the morning (from home)
- exercise at lunch
- work a couple of hours in the afternoon
- go to store/run errands
- dinner with my husband
- wrap up any small tasks and get my to-do list ready for the next day
Optimize when you schedule what
Are you more creative in the morning or late at night? Use those times to schedule writing, or other creative tasks. Do you get sleepy after lunch and have trouble concentrating? Use that time to buckle down on a mindless task that doesn’t require you to think too much (but is still needed for your business!).
The bottom line? Different tasks require different mental energy and frame of mind. Try to fit those tasks into your day when they most make sense based on your energy level.
Maximize your productivity
3. Utilize time boxing
Raise your hand if you’re a multi-tasker. If your raised your hand, you’re throwing away time. Hands down, one of the most effective time management strategies I use is time boxing. The fundamental principle goes like this:
Every task, regardless of size, comes with ramp up and wind down time. Every time you switch tasks (even to do something really quick) you’re pulled out of your current context and it will cost you time to get back into it. – Quit Interrupting Yourself
Set aside a chunk of time per task and see that task through to completion before moving on to a different job. You’ll be amazed at how much more you get accomplished – seriously.
4. Eliminating distractions
Remember quadrants 3 and 4 above? These are where distractions live, and you have to make a conscious choice to avoid them.
Here are few specifics I’ve found helpful:
- time box like your success depends on it (it does)
- manage email at planned intervals (typically 3x/day)
- close social media apps while working (Skype, Twitter, Slack, etc.)
- set boundaries by controlling how and when others can have your time
If you work from home, also choose an environment where you won’t be interrupted. If your family is at home during your work hours, minimize distraction by communicating its importance to your family. It’s impossible to get rid of every distraction, but you know what the usual culprits are. See where you can get rid of them (I’m not saying get rid of your family… get rid of the distraction. ;)).
Track your time
Let’s say you’ve done all of the above, and you have the best intentions for a productive day. One of the ways you can gauge your success (as well as refine planning for the future) is to track your time.
5. Use time tracking to scope future projects
I have a tendency to chronically underestimate the amount of time it takes me to complete a task. If I quote a flat-bid for a project based on an inaccurate amount of time it’ll take me to finish the project, I lose money.
That’s why it’s critical to know how much time you’re truly spending on those income-generating tasks. That data can help you more accurately scope future work, but you’ll never have that data unless you start collecting it now.
I’m not going to lie: time tracking is tedious. But time tracking is a better alternative than losing money. There are lots of free and inexpensive time tracking tools available. Find one that works for you and use it!
6. Getting real about where you spend your time
I think I’m so productive and efficient, yes I do! But then I get a weekly report from RescueTime, and I realize that I spent a lot more time in my inbox and less time in my code editor than I meant to. Each week I take note of that information and use it to make a better plan for the next week (and to make me more aware of where I’m hemorrhaging time).
Time is ticking
It’s so easy to waste time, and it’s truly a discipline to manage your time effectively, but it’s a discipline that pays off. Planning and maximizing your time at work translates to better profitability. As a side bonus, it creates extra space in your personal life, too.
Wouldn’t you rather be off doing your favorite hobby than checking your email? Manage your time better, and that’ll be you!
If you want to dig in further on this topic, here are some of my favorite books related to time management and productivity:
- What’s Best Next by Matthew Perman
- Getting Things Done by David Allen
- Manage Your Day-to-Day by Jocelyn K. Glei
You might also enjoy: How to Write Emails That Don’t Suck