For the majority of us, time seems to be the enemy.
Every small business owner I talk to is struggling to find the time to do it all. Juggling everything from projects and clients to sales, business operations and even social media… it seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.
I am talking from experience, honestly there are days that stress me out so much that I keep jumping from task to task. I don’t even get to finish any of them because I am trying to get everything done on my list for the day and it is a mess! Can you relate?
In this week’s article, I wanted to tackle the big subject that is time management and how to master it to be more productive because that’s what we all want, am I right?!
I have done so much research on it recently and I want to share some of the techniques that I learned. It seems fair to say that it is one of the pillars of being a successful (and productive) business owner, and when you add remote designers to the mix, it becomes essential!
Today, we will discuss the following:
+ Being busy vs being productive: understand the difference + Assessing how you spend your time + The power of goal setting over hourly tasks + Must-have tools to maximise your time and increase your productivity levels all day + Delegating to be more productive
Ready? Let’s jump in!
BUSY VS PRODUCTIVE: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
We all love to feel busy, let’s be honest, it makes us look like we are accomplishing so much. Truth is, most of the time, we’re being busy but not productive; we’re not getting any of the most urgent tasks done.
We’re only human, we start something and get totally side-tracked with something else, so much so that we might only realise hours later that we didn’t stick to the damn list!
The most productive and efficient people are those that “own their day” versus letting their day own them.
Check out this article by Forbes that goes deep into what you can expect from a busy person who just looks busy vs the productive one who gets things done.
To be productive, you need to be in control of your days, own them. That’s why scheduling, planning and knowing exactly what tasks you should be focusing on every single day will ensure that you are in control of your time.
In the next sections of this article, I discuss the importance of assessing how your time is spent and tools you can use to help you plan your day. With that in mind, there are a few things you need to grasp first:
01 | FOCUS ON ONE TASK AT A TIME
Don’t try to get everything done at the same time, you’ll end up with 20 unaccomplished tasks. Focus on your 5 most urgent goals (daily, weekly or monthly – it doesn’t matter), one after the other, and do not start anything else until these are marked as completed. Have a read through this article about Warren Buffett’s “2 List Strategy”, it explains how to maximise your focus and master your priorities through story-telling.
02| MASTER YOUR CALENDAR / LISTS
I always rave about how much I love writing lists. I feel like it gives me more understanding about what needs to be done today, what can be done later, and what can be done if I have time but isn’t urgent. Also, the feeling I get every time I can add a tick mark makes me twice as motivated. Do it whichever way works for you, whether it is a bullet point list you write the night before for the next day, a digital planning app or a physical planner… Find something that you can follow.
03 | Eliminate distractions
Distractions are the enemy of productivity. We stop half-way through a task to check our instagram, play with the dog or chat with a friend on Whatsapp. Well, they all add up and make you waste tons of time throughout the day; not only that, but you also interrupt your focus and it is harder to get back to it! Be ‘in the zone’ and stay in it for a set period of time (see section about tools where I discuss timers)
ASSESS HOW YOU SPEND YOUR TIME
Before we go into planning, I want you to assess how you spend your time. In the next couple days, write down everything that you do in a day in 15-minute intervals. Every time you stop working to check your phone, every time you switch between tasks instead of sticking to your list… Write it all down! Only go back to it after a few days and assess how your time was spent.
Try to calculate how much time you wasted being busy but not being productive. This number might surprise you! Now, do you still think your days are too short? Does it make more sense why you have to grab lunch on the go or why it seems that you don’t have time to workout?
Assessing how you spend your time should be the first thing that you do before following any other advice. Be honest with yourself, unless we actually write it all down, we won’t fully realise where our time goes. Will you do it?!
I want you to also notice when you are being the most productive, when you’re getting a lot of work done, when you have the most energy and creativity. It is key to understand how well you work at different times of day.
Being my own boss has the advantage of being flexible with my schedule; I know what time of day I am the most efficient to write articles, to get creative tasks done, even when I have the most energy to exercise.
GOAL SETTING vs HOURLY SCHEDULING
I have a problem with most scheduling tools and planners.
Most physical planners I look at are set up hourly. Of course, it can be handy for meetings (although, I am totally capable of writing the time myself!) but I don’t believe that it is realistic to set hourly tasks.
As an interior designer working with clients worldwide, I receive emails from clients in the middle of the night and wake up to see that my day is going to be disrupted by something urgent I need to do for a specific client.
It is unrealistic for me to plan my days in such a strict manner because I know there is absolutely no chance it is going to happen the way I’ve planned it out.
So, how do I plan my days exactly?
There are different ways to set goals.
I was just reading today about something called the Eisenhower Box to be more productive and eliminate time wasting activities. It looks like this:
All these techniques we read about online are easy and I think people enjoy them because it gives them a sense of control. It sounds pretty easy, just write inside the boxes, and stick to it.
I don’t use this technique (I just read about it!) but what I do is somewhat similar.
Each week, I set about 5 weekly goals – they don’t have to be done on a particular day but they need to be done on
that week. They are important but not urgent. Each week, I also have a small list of personal or less important tasks that I’d like to get done; unfortunately, I’m still having trouble getting these tasks done and I find that I move them week after week.
Each day, I also have a small list of 2-3 URGENT tasks that definitely need to be done by the end of the day, it could be answering client emails, working on a particular project or writing a newsletter.
If you follow this principle, you will get your most urgent tasks first and then tackle the rest with whatever time you have left that day.
I am putting together the design for a planner that is more goal-focused and that includes everything a young entrepreneur needs on a day-to-day basis (including social media because who doesn’t monetise through instagram these days?!).
By the way, this would fall into my weekly ‘less important’ list, and something that is constantly being pushed back! I need to improve my time management on this list, clearly!!!
TOOLS TO HELP MAXIMISE YOUR TIME & INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY
Ok, you now know what being productive really is, you took a better look at how you spend your time and also learned about goal setting. There are great tools that you can use to maximise your focus and increase your productivity. The following list includes tools that I know and have been using. There are plenty of other tools out there worth checking out so do your research and pick whichever works best for you.
01 | ANY.DO APP (free and paid versions)
It is a planning app that works both on phone and desktop.
You can easily plug in any task for the day, add reminders at a specific time if needed, and the feature I like most is that it is connected to whatsapp. Every time a task pops up in your mind (let’s be honest, most of us spend plenty of time on whatsapp), just text the said task through the whatsapp chat and Any.do will add them directly to your calendar. Cool right? I believe you need the paid version for this to work.
Another cool thing is that Any.do checks in with you every morning, giving you a full review of the tasks for the day and you have the possibility of “snoozing” for a couple hours, move to the next day or just delete it.
Lastly, you are able to do “focus” sessions where a timer starts on your phone and you cannot look at anything else without stopping the timer. It makes you eliminate the unnecessary distractions, no checking your instagram now!
02 | THE POMODORO METHOD
Pomodoro – Tomato in Italian.
It’s a technique meant to teach you how to work with time, instead of struggling against it. It works with a simple timer that works in 25-minute increments with 5 minute breaks between each session and 15-minute breaks after 4 ‘pomodoros’.
There is even a full course that teaches you how to master the technique.
> Learning to understand how many pomodoro sessions you need to complete a full task.
> Learning to “protect your pomodoro” from any external distraction.
> Learning to set up your day in x number of pomodoro; this will give you a precise idea of how many hours you need to complete x number of tasks and how much time you have free.
Even if you don’t complete the course, you can reap the benefits by using the pomodoro timer (Tomato One on Mac) – I’m using it right now to get this article done!
03 | OLD-FASHIONED PEN AND PAPER
With hundreds of planning applications out there, my favourite still remains the old-fashioned pen and paper. I can quickly organise my day with sections that work for my personal schedule, highlight the main goals if I’m feeling fancy and tick one task after the other as I complete them.
When I don’t have paper on hand (while travelling for example…wait, what is travel again?! Jk, thanks covid-19), I like Evernote – a notepad that you’ll get on most phones and that sync across devices!
DELEGATING TO BE MORE PRODUCTIVE
If you read the above section about Goal Setting, you’ll remember the Eisenhower box; notice how one of them identifies items that are “urgent, but not important”. These are tasks that need to be done but that don’t need to be completed by you, they can be easily delegated to someone else.
They can also be tasks that you don’t have the skills to complete and, in that case, delegation makes even more sense.
This article says: “Delegation is a powerful skill to master and a useful one to possess. Effective management and growth as an entrepreneur rely on the ability to delegate and do so effectively. The most obvious result of delegating or outsourcing is that there are now more people working on the same list of deliverables, thus improving turnaround time and productivity.”
As a business owner, it’s important that you pick carefully what tasks are worth your time and attention span. Identify the ones that someone else can get done for you and delegate accordingly. That way, your daily focus will be on the tasks that are the most urgent and important for you and your business.
In today’s world, everybody is always so busy with work, family, gym, and the list goes on. We all struggle to find time to complete the most important tasks we set ourselves to do each day, week, month and even year. The expression ‘time flies’ couldn’t be more true!
With a little research and practice, there are proven ways that you can maximise your time and increase your productivity levels all day.
Start small, assess where your time is spent and how much you are being distracted by external factors, being aware is the first step to success.
Then slowly shift the way you organise your time, use tools if they help you stay on track and see if you can get more done.
Small changes lead to big results.
See you next time!
Kristell Valentina Mouriès
Director, KVM Design