Step 7: Put Time on Your Side
Editor’s note: This is the seventh of eight installments for SUCCESS’s 3rd annual Start Small Win Big entrepreneur challenge. Check out last week’s installment.
What time management strategy works best? Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question—only you can. Each of us must figure out our own strategy for managing our time. My two business partners and I each manage time in completely different ways because we have completely different job functions, responsibilities and personalities.
So how do you develop your own time management method? Just as a successful diet starts with facing the truth about how you normally eat, improving your time management skills starts with understanding how you’re using your time right now—and what’s not working about that.
Your homework is to choose and use a system for tracking how you spend your time this week. Take account of business and personal time—sleeping, exercising, preparing meals, getting ready in the morning included.
Your time-tracking system can be as simple as setting a timer on your phone to go off every 30 to 60 minutes, then using a pen and paper to jot down what you’re doing. Prefer a more “high-tech” method? You can use various online apps to track time, like Toggl, a free app that lets you easily track just about anything. (Bonus: If you like it enough to keep using it, the free version of Toggl works for businesses with up to five people and offers time tracking for unlimited projects and clients.) Also note how you feel as you’re completing tasks. Frustrated? Efficient? Bored? Panicky?
If you’re still not sure where all your time is going, install the free RescueTime app. It runs quietly in the background as you use your computer and mobile devices, tracking time spent on various apps and websites. (Be prepared to face the brutal truth that you’re probably watching way more cat videos on YouTube than you think.)
At the end of the week, review your time log. You should be able to spot plenty of hidden time-wasters. You’ll also notice patterns, such as the times of day you’re most (and least) efficient. Finally, your emotional states during the week will give you a clue as to what duties you enjoy and which you tend to procrastinate on.
Armed with this information, you can structure your time so as to take advantage of your high-energy periods, eliminate time-wasters and avoid the pitfalls that make you less productive. For instance, if you regularly get a lot done from 8 to 10 am, but end up “goofing off” from 3 to 4 every day, schedule an exercise break, walk-around meeting or even a quick catnap to re-energize you. If you always procrastinate on big, important projects by finishing small, unimportant tasks first, break the big stuff down into small steps so it’s not as intimidating.
While you don’t have complete freedom, as an entrepreneur you do have more freedom than most employees to plan your days in a way that works for you. Make the most of this opportunity, and you’ll soon be much more productive.
Share in the comments below: After time-tracking your activities all week, what surprised you most about how you spend your days/hours/minutes? Armed with this info, what do you plan to do to be more productive?