Time management, a way of life not a timetable

I have seen a lot of articles about time management and the one thing that strikes me most is the way that people seem to view ‘time management’: a set of processes in a timetabled or allotted format, to be put in place in order to get more done each day. I even saw one article which suggested that you precisely estimate how long it would take you to complete each job you had to do that day!

Ok, as small business owners we all know that there are usually more jobs to do in a day than there are hours. AND we know that having a schedule and a plan is the sensible way to approach busy lives and successful businesses. No arguments there! But we all know that in reality, schedules can be medium to loosely held guidelines and nothing more. We still all want to know how to get the most use out of each day, making ourselves the most productive we can be. But HOW???

You must, however, realise that I am not saying you should use time management techniques simply to overload yourself with gazillions of tasks each day. What I am saying is, if you already have a lot on your plate then having a ‘time management state of mind’ will make life a little easier for you and more organised. If something takes longer than it should then don’t despair, carry it over to the next day.

Here are few practical ideas on how to integrate time management techniques into your daily routine, without the need for obsessive scheduling and timetables. If you take care to implement these techniques, or even just one of them, you may not immediately save hours in your day but you will start to become more focused and organised and therefore work more efficiently and therefore more quickly. End result: you be able to fit more into your day.

1: Take ten or fifteen minutes at the beginning of each day, get a notebook specifically for this, and make a list of jobs or tasks that absolutely have to be completed that day. Then, add on to the list things you would like to accomplish that day. This will focus you on what you HAVE to do and what you would LIKE to do. This enables you to prioritise and sets clear goals in your mind for that day.

Sounds simple but if you do this every day, whilst having your morning cuppa, you can stop wasting time trying to remember everything! This is part of the time management state of mind. Not having to remember everything (because you have it written down!) clears your mind and enables you to really focus. When you focus, you work more efficiently and things get done more quickly. See, where I’m going with this?

2: Once you have your list for the day, group the different items together. For example, if two of your tasks for the day are in a similar geographical location then group them; if they are similar kinds of admin tasks, again group them.

I know you are thinking, “How dumb does this person think I am?” Not dumb, just overloaded! These simple and seemingly obvious techniques clarify in your mind the things you have to do and how you are going to achieve them. This brings us back to you being more focused, more efficient and… you know the rest!!

3: Now you have your task list, take five minutes, finish your cuppa, mull things over. Check your email and then close your mail program down.

So many people are hooked on their email and as soon as a message comes in they have to read it. Believe me, I’m one of them and closing down my inbox is one of the hardest things I do each day – but I do it and it lets me get on with my day. I then let myself check it once more at lunch and then again one hour before I finish for the day. If I know a client is sending something over then of course I keep an eye out for it – but for the most part it’s breakfast, lunch and dinner, if you like!

4: Back to the task in hand! Another technique I find extremely useful is: do one thing at a time.

I know – SO simple. But you’d be surprised how often we get overwhelmed at how much we have to accomplish within a given period of time and then we try to do three things at once – or more. But it doesn’t help and it can lead, more often than not, to not getting anything done properly and having to start all over again. If you take one thing at a time, 1: it doesn’t seem so overwhelming especially if it is a big project; 2: you can give that task your full attention; 3: you will be less likely to make mistakes and 4: you will get it done more quickly.

Yes… we’re back to that. But can you see how these simple techniques, ideas or suggestions, whatever you want to call them, if you do them every day, let it them become part of your way of doing things, your will start to work smarter – that it better, more efficiently, more quickly, accomplishing more things in the same amount of time. [This sentence is REALLY long and I couldn’t follow it! I would possibly change it to] But can you see how these simple techniques, ideas, suggestions – whatever you want to call them – will help you to work smarter, accomplishing more things in the same amount of time. And you can see that they aren’t time-consuming complicated techniques, just simple things that WILL help.

5: Take a break, when you need a break.

This is analogous to eat when you feel hungry. We are brought up to believe in three square meals a day and no more. This is not actually a natural state of being. Neither is working three or four hours straight, taking a lunch break and working for another three or four hours. Just as you should really eat little and often, you should work when you are feeling the most productive. Ok, you could say this is an excuse to do nothing, but I’m hoping that if you took the time to find this article, then you are not the sort of person to laze around all day! (Well maybe once in a while!)

And tie this in with doing one thing at a time. When you have completed one task, if you are feeling a little fatigued or are about to do something completely different, get up, stretch your legs, pop outside for a breath of fresh air – anything that gives you a break and clears your mind. You will find that when you sit back down you will feel more able to crack on and get the next thing on your list done.

6: And finally back to point one! At the end of each day, take another five minutes (with a cuppa if you choose) and go through your list.

This is the fun part (for me anyway!): cross off everything you got done that day. I always think it feels really good to sit down at the end of the day and see what you actually accomplished. You may be pleasantly surprised. You probably won’t have crossed everything off, but hopefully you will have completed your critical tasks. Don’t start the next day’s list now, wait until the morning, when you sit down to do that day’s list and carry things over then.

So, you have crossed off your list, you are done for the day, now give yourself a mental pat on the back and do something just for you:, a glass of wine, a beer, a bath a quiet half hour, a walk , pop round a friend’s house for a chat – anything that is for you and you alone. You might not be able or have time to do this every day but as long as you make time for yourself at least once a week, then you will be all the better for it.

Well that’s about it I guess. I hope these techniques seem valid and that you give them a try. If you do, and you implement them every day, make them a part of how you do things; you will wake up one day and notice that you are more organised, more efficient, more effective and most importantly, less stressed. Feel free to get in touch and let me know how these techniques have helped you, if they have helped you and any suggestions or additions you may have discovered.