Anyone with experience building up a business or running a successful one can tell you it takes a lot of hard work and long hours. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, your time truly is your money. So, whether you are nurturing a startup through its development phase, trying to grow an existing firm, or working on a merger, you need to make time management one of your strengths.
There are actually two parts of time management for business owners. You need to maximize use of your time and make sure what you are doing is the right thing for the future. Think about athletes. They train to build skills, stay conditioned and operate at their most efficient. They also have an eye on the next competition or, depending on the sport, a series of them leading up to their ultimate goal.
The same is true for you; there is maximizing your day-to-day effort and managing time to prepare for tomorrow, with no let-up on either front.
Using Time More Efficiently Daily
Time management is a challenge for any professional. Research shows that, on average, only 60 percent of work time is actually spent working productively, and 80 percent of interruptions at work are trivial. So, avoiding distractions and misuse of time is key.
Here are some steps to take:
- Plan for tomorrow’s work today. Maximizing your tomorrow starts with preparation today and planning the upcoming day. Do not bother with a comprehensive To-Do List. They are deceptive in not indicating effort involved or important. Additionally, more than 40 percent of items on to-do lists are never done. However, other studies have shown that planning ahead causes your subconscious to work on insights and ideas while you are asleep. Accordingly, before you leave work for the day or before bedtime, make a list of five to eight things that you want to accomplish the next workday. (Make a separate list of the two or three personal tasks that need doing.) The idea is to be realistic about your priorities and what you can accomplish versus creating an overwhelming list that can leave you feeling stressed and unsuccessful.
- Set aside dedicated times for email. Some people check email, texts or even social media constantly throughout the day, repeatedly breaking their concentration and progress. Time management experts recommend turning off notifications and answering emails a few times a day or, if clients or bosses expect quick responses to requests and texts, five minutes every hour. Yes, there are times when you are waiting for an answer for your current project, but most things can wait a little while before being answered.
- Monotask, aka handle one task at a time. Stop trying to multitask; odds are it is not working for you. Only 2.5 percent of people can multitask and do each activity effectively. The rest of us cannot satisfactorily handle multiple tasks that require attention at once. Your ability to get things done requires being able to focus on one task at a time, whether for an hour or merely the next five minutes. To do so, try to set up a work environment that allows people to focus and perform one task at a time. Even committing to brief monotasking periods can make a difference in your productivity.
- Protect yourself from distractions. Try to isolate yourself to work on your high-priority tasks, whether by coming in ahead of everyone else, closing your office door, using a conference room or working from home. Having protected time to work on tasks that require focus, creativity or clear analysis can make a huge difference.
- Give yourself a break. No one can go full out all day, every day. Likewise, staring at the monitor does not make major great ideas suddenly appear on the screen. Take breaks away from your desk to marinate your thoughts, make plans with a friend or just get some rejuvenating fresh air. However, do not allow breaks to distract you from work for too long. Set a timer for five or 10 minutes and then get back on task.
- Anticipate possible disruptions and have contingency plans. A recent Harvard Business Review article talked about a new approach to time management – Contingent planning. Contingent planning calls for considering the possible disruptions or interruptions you may face that day and have plans in place should they occur. It requires more foresight than traditional time management, because it requires looking back at previous successes, interruptions or issues to anticipate what might happen and how you can best address situations that may arise. However, on days when the interruptions were high, regular time management planning (like to-do lists) was ineffective. So, the authors recommended engaging in contingency planning when you expect to be interrupted a lot.
- Be flexible and responsive. No matter how much you plan or make lists, events and interruptions will foil them. Rather than preclude the need for better time management, it reinforces it. “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower once noted. Time management is not a rigid, hour-by-hour activity schedule; it is a plan that requires consistency and, most days, flexibility.
Time Management For Today And Future Orientation
Companies are often too busy with today to maximize and plan for tomorrow. An MIT Sloan Management Review piece equated them to “surfboard riders who have neither the vision to see the new waves coming nor the ability to ride them.” They operate in crisis mode, cannot take advantage of opportunities or enjoy a decent ride, but missed riding the best wave.
Larger companies often benefit from having a chief executive officer (CEO) and a chief operating officer (COO). The CEO serves as the leader and concentrates on the big picture and long view. The COO is the manager charged with hands-on control to make sure things go well. In small to mid-size organizations, however, the same person wears both hats and, most likely, other hats too.
Entrepreneurs and business owners need to make sure their time planning includes increments of time to think about the future and how to prepare for it. Leaders in organizations need to make sure they are managing the coming waves while riding the current one.
Everyone grapples with time management issues, but greater awareness is the start of improving results. Whether writing down tasks, setting time for emails or other time management techniques, developing a methodology that works for you is the first step to improving your productivity and focus.
Odds are that today’s preparations will be imperfect, but they will at least point you toward achievements tomorrow. If you are struggling to manage your time, HJR Global can help you with the development of those skills. All you need to do is reach out via their website for advice on good time management expertise for the future.
To read more insights from HJR Global, check out our latest blog post here.