I have personally learnt that letting your business take over your life is not worth the price. While I was building my first business, I confused being busy with being effective. This ended in giving me stress and poor business results. Luckily, I learned from my mistakes and I have decided to share some tips that I used to manage my professional life more effectively.
By definition, conventional time management is the systematic application of common sense strategies and techniques to help people become more effective in both their personal and professional lives. The intended outcome is to become more productive and work faster, while simultaneously decreasing the anxiety and pressure people feel in relation to time.
Trying to manage time effectively is a task that many people struggle with. Whether it is what time they should go to bed, what time they should wake up, or what time they should leave for work, it can become a difficult task.
"The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination." Albert Einstein
Managing time is all about analyzing what you are already doing. Sometimes you can be more efficient simply by grouping tasks into time-saving bundles. For example, you could drink your own coffee at home (5 minutes) rather than stopping at a café on the way to work (parking + ordering + paying + drinking = much more than 5 minutes).
There are several things that can be done in order to make your time more efficient. In practice, time management is a matter of good organization. For me, the solution was to set clear targets each day for the tasks that I had to complete in a certain timeframe. For instance, you can say that you will stop working at 8pm no matter what. Since the number of tasks to be performed hadn’t decreased, this meant that I had to be very efficient during the working day. It took me some time but I finally became much more efficient. The reward for me was more free time for personal activities. The following steps offer examples of how to manage your daily tasks efficiently.
- Make a TO DO list
All the tasks that have to be done should be listed and a time log should be established for each of them.
Critically question the task you have to do and your habits. In your time log, identify periods of time that might have been better used. Look at each work activity and decide objectively how much time the task was worth to you, and compare that with the time you actually spent on it.
Each task should be understood in terms of its importance and the degree of possible delegation.
- Planning and organizing
All the tasks have to be planned as functions of points 2 and 3. When you don’t plan, you always end up wasting time.
- Monitoring and evaluating
Your time management strategy should be monitored and evaluated regularly in order to detect points of improvement and adapt your approach.
A good practical exercise is to put the different activities in a matrix where their importance and urgency are represented on the x and y axes. An example is given in the following table.
After you put all the tasks in their corresponding quadrants, you can perform the following steps:
- Delegate all the tasks that can be delegated. Typically, actions in the Q3 and Q4 quadrants can be delegated, since they may not have to be done by you directly.
- Start doing the actions in Q1, starting with the actions that take less time. This quadrant should always be empty. This is the quadrant that generates frustration and stress, since its activities are both important and urgent.
- When all the actions in Q1 are completed, perform all the actions in Q2 (important but not urgent) starting again with the less time-consuming actions. The goal is to have completed all the actions before they become urgent. In this way, one will never experience stress and feel overwhelmed by time pressures.
- Then, only when Q1 and Q2 actions are done, do you start to tackle the actions in Q3 and Q4 that constitute the "not important” tasks.
The game becomes complicated because tasks change quadrants with time. An example is a task that is not urgent today but becomes urgent tomorrow. Thus, the matrix is a living object that has to be updated regularly. A good time frame to decide whether an activity is urgent is to set all the actions due by the end of the day as urgent.
In practice, the tasks in Q1 are the most stressful since they are urgent and important. In theory, if you deal with all the tasks in Q2 fast enough, you will never experience stress generated by the tasks in Q1. Thus, Q2 is the most important and you should keep as few tasks in this quadrant as possible.
A few practical tips
- All tasks that take less than 3 minutes have to be done immediately.
- Delegate as much as possible the tasks and activities that don’t have to be done by you (to reliable people, of course).
- Avoid perfectionism. Paying unnecessary attention to detail can be a form of procrastination and lead to a waste of time.
- Regularly redefine the quadrants and the tasks that are put in them.
- Fight to be productive rather than busy. Busyness occupies all of your time and gets less work done. Productivity occupies less of your time and gets more work done. So, if you complain of being too busy, you are probably doing something wrong.
- Remember that busyness kills business. Busyness gives us less time to think, hope, and dream. In business, busyness does not need to be the status quo. Avoid it!
- Take time for yourself. I guard my private time fiercely. Activities such as spending time with my family, going to the gym, and reading are non-negotiable priorities in my week.
- Never let your business overwhelm you and have time become your master. This leads to lack of productivity and poor business.
- Make sure you always keep some blank spaces in your diary. Whatever you do, make sure you systematically make time for yourself. I realized over time that these empty slots in my agenda were absolutely necessary in order for me to do my job.
- Fight procrastination as hard you can. My way of reducing procrastination is to look for accountability. Being accountable makes me do things efficiently.
- Plan your next day. Create an action plan for how you want the next day to go. What are the major objectives/goals you want to accomplish? When will you do them during the day? The key is to be proactive, not reactive.
- Always start the day with the activities that take most of your energy, since this is the time when you have more of it. This can involve calling a difficult client to negotiate your proposal.