Running a business can be overwhelming for entrepreneurs because of their limited time: answering phone calls, attending client meetings, responding to emails, and solving technical problems.
Mastering time management skills is essential for your business’ success. Time is a perishable commodity and, once lost, cannot be recovered. Whether it’s meeting a client to close a business deal or preparing a product launch, time is a key factor deciding whether your business succeeds or fails.
The reality is no one can add more hours to their day. Instead, we have to master the art of effective time management. Thanks to fast advancing technology, we now have artificial intelligence to help us save time.
Here are other time management tips you can use to effectively master your time and increase productivity.
Applying Effective Time Management
We all have the same number of hours during the day. However, it is not uncommon to find people who do more work compared to others.
This is because productive people are good at managing their time. Even if there are looming deadlines and client pressure, high achievers rarely fall short of their schedules.
What exactly is time management? Well, it refers to how you plan on controlling the amount of time you spend performing specific activities on your to-do list. Effective time management helps you get more work done in less time.
You won’t have to work harder to achieve your goals, you just have to work smarter. Some of the benefits of good time management include:
- Increased efficiency and productivity.
- Reduced stress, which improves the quality of your life.
- Improved profitability as a result of increased productivity.
- Improved self-esteem.
- Achievement of your set goals.
Once you know how to manage your time properly, you will definitely accomplish more.
Outsource Non-Core Work
It is important for business owners to understand which tasks they can outsource to outside staff; tasks that are urgent but not important. Outsourcing non-core work to other professionals is an effective way for businesses to master time in their day-to-day operations.
For example, administrative duties are usually time-consuming; although, they do not lead to profits and growth. You can outsource these duties, so you have time to focus on important areas of your business, like sales and marketing.
Thanks to the internet, it is much easier and affordable for businesses to now delegate tasks to skilled professionals. With just a click of a button, you can assign tasks to skilled freelancers anywhere in the world. There are a number of websites connecting clients with freelancers; the most popular being Upwork and Freelancer.
Once you have outsourced your routine tasks, you will have more time to focus on growing your business and improving your products and services.
The 80/20 Rule for Time Management
If you have been to a business class, you will know about the 80/20 rule. In time management, the 80/20 rule, or the Pareto Principle, involves completing 80 per cent of tasks using 20 percent of the time you’ve got.
This principle advocates delegating tasks that are just as time-consuming and less revenue building than others. This is so you can focus on high priority tasks which bring in more money to your business.
When prioritizing things to do, remember your energy levels and productivity tend to fluctuate during the day. For you to successfully achieve the 80/20 rule, you need to focus on completing essential tasks when you are most productive.
For most people, it is early in the morning. You have to find out which part of the day you’re most productive before you can apply this rule.
Manage Energy, not Time
One method to managing a productive work day is to manage energy rather than time. If you know you’re more productive in the morning than you are in the afternoon, plan to accomplish more work requiring the full extent of your competencies in the morning. You can later schedule work that doesn’t need as much brain power to accomplish when energy levels are low.
Using this method relies on understanding at what points in the day you are optimally prepared to work. According to Alex Pang, the best-selling author of Rest, people are most productive when working in four hour intervals. If he’s right, make sure to schedule your important work within the four hours you’re at peak performance.
Find Ways to Automate Tasks
A survey showed that business managers spend 68 percent of their time doing administrative tasks.
It’s a lot of time for something that doesn’t directly contribute to a company’s growth.
What’s the solution you ask? It’s artificial intelligence. AI now automates many business processes including administrative tasks. Chatbots, for example, can handle thousands of queries a day without involving humans. Bookmark’s AiDA (Artificial Intelligence Design Assistant) also designs websites within minutes, taking away the most painful process of creating a website.
With these tasks out of the way, your time is free to do other, more important work in growing your business.
Also, artificial intelligence is expected to be used in finding solutions to complex business processes. This will reduce the time used in making business decisions, therefore improving efficiency.
According to the survey, 78 per cent of business managers said that in the future, they will trust advice they get from artificial intelligence systems in decision making. In addition, you can also find time tracking apps that are AI-powered which helps business owners complete essential tasks on their to-do list. These time tracking tools are effective in helping you achieve your goals.
How to Avoid Distractions
Time wasters such as Facebook and other social media networks are considered the worst killers of productivity. Unless you are using it for business, it is best if you avoid them during working hours.
Time wasters do not come from technology alone. It could also come from colleagues and family who demand your attention.
If you are busy, it is important you learn how to say no to people who want your attention. Once you have completed important tasks, you can address their concerns.
A bonus tip: schedule your tasks and prioritize them. When you want to do everything on your to-do-list, it will only leave you feeling overwhelmed. Identify the high priority tasks on your list, colour code tasks to your style, and tackle them based by the importance of their colour. Finishing objectives of a colour set will give you a sense of accomplishment and energy to do more.
Controlling and mastering the time you do have isn’t rocket science, but it does take a lot of willpower enact. After all, it’s so much easier to give in to distractions; it’s also tempting to do the easiest things first and put off the things we really need to do.
Important aspects of your business such as making sure your website has a responsive design, or making sure your ads are converting, should be at the top of your to-do list. One thing is for sure: as an entrepreneur and small business owner, it’s up to you to manage your time well.
Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work: Switching Costs
Most people agree multitasking is an important skill one must possess to succeed in life; however, there’s also a downside to multitasking.
In a multitasking study, four young adults were challenged to switch between different tasks such as solving math problems or classifying geometric objects. The researchers noticed testers lost time when they switched between tasks. The tests started off simple and became more complex. As tasks became more complex, researchers noticed testers took significantly longer to switch tasks. This is also true for the time it took them to switch between tasks that were dissimilar.
In a separate study, results showed the the costs of switching can be seen in patients when they needed to take time to remember at what point they entered into a specific task or when deciding which task they should change to.
Both of the studies deem switching between tasks to be under the human executive control process. In this process, there are two distinct phases that must be active before patients are required to switch tasks. The first stage called “goal shifting”, which is motivational in nature, allows a person to drop one activity in favour of another. The second, complementary, phase “rule activation” turns off the previous goal’s rules and activates a new set of rules. Both of these cognitive processes take time in order to deploy a task switch.
The actual cost of switching between a single task is small; however, the cost of switching between multiple tasks add up to large amounts of time. Even though the idea of multitasking can seem like its efficient, in reality, it’s not always true. If you multitask too frequently, you’ll find it’ll take longer to complete tasks. It has been purported multitasking can cost you 40 per cent of your productive time.
How to Prioritize Like a Pro
David Allen’s Brain Dump
In Getting Things Done, David Allen’s famous productivity book, he outlines a strategy called the brain dump. People have been using this method and finding great success, so see for yourself how well it works.
In a brain dump, you are tasked with getting out some pieces of paper and sprawling them over a desk. Take out a pen and begin writing down all the things you want or need to complete. This can be anything from getting your laundry done to finishing a blog post.
Do this at home on a Saturday or Sunday. It’s recommended to do this activity on the weekend because you’ll need multiple hours. Keep your lists on your desk over the course of a couple hours and revisit them whenever you think of a new task to add. After you’ve completely purged yourself of all potential tasks you can think of, you’ll feel a weight off your shoulders. You’ll also find your list adding up quicker than you expect.
As a neat side effect of committing all your tasks to paper, you’ll find it’s easier to focus on your day-to-day. There’s no more clutter in your head from listening to inner monologues reminding you to remember duties; instead, you’ll be able to concentrate on a single tasks because you already know “that” task is already on your to do list.
Moving on to organizing your list, begin by categorizing tasks by how complicated they are. Can you complete them in and of themselves or are they dependent on other completed tasks before they can be realized. Sort your list into actionable “individual” or “group” (reliant on the completion of other task items) tasks. The next step involves taking the individual tasks and rewriting them to their own list. Give them a time-frame and complete the ones you can complete in less than an hour. We’ll tackle the group list next.
Take your group list and break each group task into their constituent parts. Break them down to the level of individual tasks and write that in a, you guessed it, new list. You can, then, work off this new list in order to incrementally complete group tasks. Distilling a complex task into a system of simplistic steps follows the same productive method of creating individual items.
Having expanded complex tasks into simplistic steps will lengthen how they appear. A single complex task can contain many steps, so don’t be put off by how many steps are actually involved. Understand these tasks will take hours to complete. The next step in this process is to decide which complex tasks need to be immediately taken care of and which ones can be delayed. For the delayed tasks, make a new list and title it “Someday.”
By now, you should have multiple lists, each with its own purpose. Organizing your tasks through this method will clear all clutter from your brain and give you a precise framework on how to complete your tasks.
A final note: brain dumps are useful at the end of a week. In the time frame of a month, you’ll accumulate many tasks you need to accomplish in work and life. Try indicating which task is for work and which is for life. This can help you determine which task types are more pressing.
Ivy Lee Method
Ivy Lee was a successful businessman in the early twentieth century. He was recruited by Charles Schwab, one of the richest men in the world at the time, to improve the efficiency of the company he ran, Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Lee agreed and dramatically increased productivity for the company, after only spending 15 minutes with each executive. Now, you’re wondering, “what did he say?” Well, it went a little something like this:
At the end of the work day, Lee would task each executive to write down six of the most important tasks they would have to accomplish for the next day. He limited them to six tasks maximum. Next, these six tasks would need to be prioritized in order of their true importance. After the tasks had been numbered for the next day, as soon as an executive came in, they would have to work through their list focusing on a single task. After completing a task, they would move on to the next task until the list was complete. Then, they would repeat the process for the next day.
That’s it. There’s no secret beyond its simplicity. In fact, its simplicity is what makes it so effective. When you focus on a single task, without fail, you begin the task by finding your bearings and organizing a way to complete the task. Once you begin tackling the task, your mindset changes to one more in tune with focus, leading you into a productive rhythm. This rhythm is what you can call a “flow state.” It’s the point in an activity where you find you’re progressing intuitively. This state cannot happen if you’re constantly switching between tasks because you’re resetting your mindset back to the first stage.
Not only does Ivy Lee’s method help you limit the overall amount of tasks you have to perform, but it also eliminates the pain of starting up a task. As soon as you select your top task, you are unable to stray until you finish the task. There will be no switching between tasks midway. By limiting all possibility of distractions caused by contemplating switching between tasks, you can give your mind one item to give all your effort to and mitigate the effect of switching costs.
Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States, created a matrix for categorizing which tasks he should prioritize at any given instance. He sorted them into four categories based on their importance and or urgency.
According to Eisenhower, important tasks contribute to long-term initiatives. The most important tasks are not immediate; however, some can be. On the other hand, Eisenhower believes urgent tasks are ones that require immediate attention.
Beginning with priority level one tasks, try to spend most of your time focusing on them. Plan your work and actions for this priority level in advance, so you can be more productive when working on tasks. These tasks should also be done personally and as soon as possible.
Priority level two tasks call for start and end dates. These types of tasks will comprise the large majority of your work. By planning a calendar and allocating set times to complete important but not urgent tasks, you’ll easily complete tasks. These tasks should be completed personally as well.
Priority level three tasks are urgent but not important. They require immediate attention; however, you can outsource them. If you find you’re spending too much time sorting between priority level three tasks, not directly advancing your mission, delegate them. If they can’t be delegated, move them to priority level four.
In the least impactful category, priority level four, most tasks won’t provide actual value because they are not important or urgent. These tasks should be dropped if they don’t advance your mission. With that said, we all have times where we encounter these types of tasks. In that case, dedicate five percent of your time to them.
Plan Down Time
The last tip in this post is dedicated to giving yourself breaks. That’s right. You read that correctly. Giving yourself time to do nothing, anything aside from work will boost your productivity when you come back to work.
Allowing for downtime will give you reprieve from all of the work already on your plate. If you push through your duties day after day, you will burn-out. No one can focus at 100 percent all day, every day. Think of your brain as a battery: sometimes you need to recharge. Even the energizer bunny needs to recharge. Understanding when to give yourself a strategic coffee break will give you the energy to focus more when it counts.
Whether you are beginning your journey as an entrepreneur or you have long been one, these tips will help you save on time and let you focus more on the important things for your growing business.