When you first set up your business, did you have great plans to work on your business but now find that the majority of your time is spent working in your business? If you find this to be true then you will be more than aware that long-term projects and planning activities have a tendency to be placed on hold at times while you put out fires and deal with unexpected interruptions. Actual management of your business is often fragmented and very low in real productivity.
There is a simple approach to solving this time management problem which is guaranteed to work for you, once you commit to it. This approach is based on prioritisation of tasks and only involves four simple steps:
Step 1: Create a ‘to do’ list
Make your list as complete as possible by including both long-term and short-term tasks – include everything that you have to do in a business day regardless of its importance or urgency. Include time for making and receiving telephone calls, checking and sending emails, as well as time for conversations and ad hoc meetings. Once you have this list completed you will then need to assign each task into one of the following four categories:
- Urgent and Important – items that are critical to the business and have a deadline attached
- Important – items that are important but do not have an immediate deadline
- Urgent but not Important – Activities that “just arise” such as telephone calls or meetings which are not related to your Category 1 or 2 projects. These tasks are urgent only because they need to be handled immediately, but are not really important
- Not Urgent – Activities that are not important and do not have to be completed by any specific time
Your list should be maintained in one note book to ensure your notes, work agenda and “to do” are in one place. This will keep you efficient and allow you to find that one phone number without having to look for the post-it not you wrote it on!
In order to move to Step 2 you will need to put the above completed list aside for a day.
Step 2: Track your real workday!
Throughout the next day, without referring to your ‘to do’ list, make a note of everything you do and how much time you spend on it. This will allow you to find out where your time actually goes.
When your working day is complete go back to your ‘to do’ list and compare what you have actually done during your day with what you rated as being really the most urgent and important tasks before you. If you’re like most people you’ll have spent far too much time on activities you have judged to be Category 3 and 4 and consequently far too little time on those activities and projects that really matter. Experts vary in their estimates of how much time we waste each day but it’s safe to say that by being more efficient we can gain an extra 5% to 10% of effective time in our working day.
Step 3: Prioritise and Restructure your time
Start by taking the prioritised ‘to do’ list and make an estimate of how much time every Category 1 and 2 item will require for completion. Relate these to any deadlines or completion dates that may apply and calculate just how much time you need to spend on these items each day.
For example, you may have a major project that needs to be completed in ten days and will require approximately fifteen hours of your time to complete. You should block out uninterrupted time to accomplish this task within the deadline and don’t let others schedule meetings which clash with this time. A tip when prioritising your time is to act like a consultant and decide if you are spending the majority of your time on “billable” or “non-billable” work.
Step 4: Develop your schedule
As outlined above, once you have allocated the time required for your Category 1 and 2 items, go to your calendar or diary and block out the necessary time you need to complete these tasks within the deadlines required.
As part of your schedule development you will need to review everything that is in Category 4 and delete or delegate as many of these tasks as possible from your list.
Things you have put into Category 3 can be handled on an ad hoc basis when time permits, but only when you are sure that everything in Categories 1 and 2 have received sufficient attention.
With the above completed you have a better understanding of the time you will need each day to accomplish your tasks. In order to stick to your schedule you must ensure that you do not over-commit your time which can only be achieved by learning to say “no” to others until your important projects are completed.
A further tip in relation to your schedule is to allocate 15 to 20 minutes at the end of each week to plan your week ahead. This will allow you to finish your working week knowing that you are prepared for the following week.
Once you begin working in this new way you will find that every day is more productive. You will be tempted to find excuses to make exceptions for one reason or another. Do not allow this to happen. Taking control of your day will not be easy at first, but stick with it and you will be hours ahead every week. These hours will then allow you to work on your business, its development and future growth.