Want to know how to manage your time and get more done effectively?
Creative entrepreneurs are known for abandoning the ‘traditional’ workday, for more interesting and innovative ways to earn a living. Most start businesses to pursue their goals are dedicated to their ideas, and obsessed with bringing them to fruition. But one part of being in business often becomes a headache, and that’s time management.
You won’t like to read this, but if you’re having trouble getting everything done, it’s time to create a plan and commit to it. I know, the word “plan” is probably giving your creative heart palpitations.
“I don’t like or want structure!”
“Planning is too restrictive!”
“I won’t have any flexibility!”
Forget the excuses, to be an effective entrepreneur, you need to have a general plan for managing your time. Rewire what you imagine when you see or hear the word ‘plan’. Think of it as laying out your vision for what you want to achieve, including goals and priorities, to ensure that you get there.
Do you have an honest understanding of how you currently use your time? We all perceive, use, and respond to time differently. Be conscious of your particular perceptions about time and how you use it. What’s your attitude towards time? When you are most focused and productive? Do a time audit and track your time to gain an accurate understanding of how you spend the hours of a typical day and week. For a minimum of two weeks, record how you use your time. Write down everything you do from when you first wake up in the morning to when you go to sleep. This will provide you with an honest overview of how you spend your time.
As a small-business owner, you’re responsible for overseeing every aspect of your business. It probably feels like your work is never done, but if you find good people and delegate the tasks you actively avoid, you’ll find time to enjoy dinners with your family. Start by writing out a full list of tasks that go into running your business so you can figure out how much you want to take on personally and what skills to look for if you decide to hire a subcontractor or an employee. Your list should include keeping track of cash flow (bookkeeping), client work, booking appointments, replying to emails and phone calls, marketing, networking, and whatever else needs to get done. Check to see how cloud computing can help, and decide which repetitive tasks can be automated, thanks to A.I.
Time blocking is the practice of dedicating specific time “blocks” for certain tasks and responsibilities ahead of time. Your brain needs guardrails, otherwise, you’re sabotaging your productivity with Parkinson’s Law, the adage that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”. So if your work expands to fill the time available, by scheduling every hour of your day you’re guarding against distraction while multiplying your focus. You may be thinking:
“That will take a lot of time and effort!”
“I don’t have the same schedule every day!”
“I’m bad at estimating how long tasks will take to do!”
Push those excuses aside, and look at time-blocking as a framework for thinking about your day rather than a set of laws you can’t break. Your days may not go exactly how you plan, but it should keep you on task, and a lot less likely to get distracted by something else because you’ll know that if you take too much time, it will push the rest of your schedule back.
Knowing your high-level priorities and goals will shape what makes it onto your schedule for the week and how you block out each day.
Create “bookends” for your days
Instead of jumping straight into blocking off your workdays, start with guardrails for your time outside of work. What’s your morning routine? How do you disconnect from work in the evening to make time for family, friends, and hobbies? You may want to include a half-hour “wind-down” period, followed by family time, an evening routine, and then personal time. These blocks are just as important as what you do during the day.
Set aside time for deep, focused work
It’s time to set aside 2-3 hour stretches of time for focused work each day. Everyone has their productivity cycle throughout the day. Some people are early risers, so they get a couple of good hours in before they have breakfast with the kids. Other people get focused in the afternoon. Block out whatever is typically your best time for productive work.
Set aside time for shallow and reactive work
Book bursts of time every day for email, phone calls, and apps like Slack or Twitter. They will happen anyway, so set aside time to make sure they don’t eat into other blocks.
Ask clients to book meetings with you via a scheduling app like Calendly. You can open your schedule only to the days and times that work for you. You can send your Calendly link to a client or embed the link on your website. They can pick a meeting slot and the event is instantly confirmed and added to your Google calendar.
Write down your daily to-do list (for work, home, and family/social) for the day and fit them into the appropriate slots. Time management experts suggest giving yourself 2–3 times as long as you think a task will take. Also, place buffers in between tasks, as there’s always that ‘attention residue’ that can take 10-15 minutes to get over. Maybe those buffer times lead to your breaks?
Yes, you need breaks. You’re not a machine! Aside from lunch, make sure you set aside time throughout the day for a quick stretch, a walk, and even coffee/tea to give your brain and eyes a rest.
If you’re a creative entrepreneur who regularly feels like you never, ever clear your To-Do list, time blocking is probably the best time management strategy for you. Try colour coding your blocks so that you can better visualize your time at a glance. Place certain colours on certain days and in certain time slots, based on urgency and your body’s natural performance cycle. Red could be for meetings because those are set and aren’t as easily moved around. Purple could be for those deep and focused creative work blocks. Light blue could be for those easier, more shallow tasks. Perhaps green could be for health-related tasks, like exercise. Experiment, and try putting different colours in different time slots. The most effective calendar is the one that works for your time, focus, and productivity. Remember, your business should be supporting your life, not the other way around.