English real estate entrepreneur William Penn famously said, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”
For most entrepreneurs, time always seems to be in short supply. The tasks on your daily to-do list – from making products to meeting with customers – could probably fill an entire week.
How can you make the most of your limited time? Here are 10 tried-and-true time management tips to help you boost productivity and reduce stress.
1. Determine what is — and isn’t — working.
If you can’t seem to make progress on your to-do list, time management experts like Vicki Norris recommend taking a step back and assessing what you do well. Do you have a good invoicing system? Do you return messages promptly? Write down your efficiencies and then look for ways to incorporate them into other areas of your business.
Norris, co-owner of < a href=”https://www.restoringorder.com/” target= _blank”>Restoring Order, a professional organizing company, also suggests making a “not working” list that spells out your frustrations. Is your workshop a mess? Are you constantly misplacing supplies? Identifying your trouble spots is the first step toward fixing them.
2. Set goals.
One of the keys to being productive, according to clinical psychologist Nancy Musarra, is having clear, attainable goals. “Every day, write down three small goals you can achieve on your way to achieving an even bigger goal,” she says. “Under each goal, list all of your to-do tasks so you can actively move forward toward accomplishing that goal. Check off each task as you complete it, so you can see your progress.”
Always put your goals on paper, too. “Putting your goals in writing allows you to clarify and simplify them,” Musarra explains. “Having written goals will help you avoid focusing on vague or unspecific goals, which are ultimately unattainable.”
3. Ditch the distractions.
Avoid anything that can cloud your focus on the task at hand, whether that’s email, phone calls, social media or distracting background noise. Research has shown that it can take as much as 25 minutes for you to mentally re-enter a task after an interruption, according to Allyson Lewis, time management expert and founder of The 7 Minute Life.
The Internet – an essential tool for your business – is also one of the biggest time-eaters. Hopping from site to site will prevent you from completing important tasks on time, Musarra cautions. To stay on-task, try using concentration apps such as Anti-Social, which blocks distracting social media sites, and StayFocused, which limits the amount of time you can spend on certain websites to maximize your productivity.
4. Create a productivity zone.
Removing clutter from your workspace is the first step toward creating an efficient work environment. Then comes the organizing. “Keeping your supplies organized is essential to saving time – and time is money,” explains designer and Master Tailor Jean Salata.
Having a designated place for everything will save you valuable time – otherwise spent searching for receipts, paperwork, inventory and so on. Check out “Creative Sister’s Artisan Workshop Makeover” for tips to help you organize your creative workspace.
5. Use time management tools.
There are loads of time management tools available to creative professionals, from Google Calendar to online task management services such as Todolist and Dooster. Many of these tools are cloud-based, allowing makers to access and collaborate on tasks from almost anywhere. One organization tool is Evernote, a cloud-based app that lets you create to-do lists, record reminders, snap pictures and capture project notes while you’re on the go. Check out these “10 Must-Have Tools for Time Management” for more ideas.
6. Be a planner.
Time management is all about mind management, explains time management expert Helene Segura. Once you realize you’re in charge of managing your day – not the clock – you’ll be well on your way to managing a productive business.
Many time management advisors agree that a good way to get the results you want is to map out each day. Whether it’s the night before or first thing in the morning, decide which tasks need to get done that day and how long each one will take.
7. Schedule everything.
Once you’ve identified your must-dos for the day, carve out specific time slots for each of them. (Try not to spend more than the time you’ve allocated for each task.) Doing so will help you stay focused and productive.
“Working out of my home, it’s easy to get distracted,” Salata admits. “So, I work on a schedule, whether it’s in the daytime or after a regular job in the evening. You have to be disciplined enough to work during a given time to get a project completed on time.”
It’s also a good idea to schedule your most important tasks when you’re most productive, whether that’s soon after sunrise or late at night.
“Managing time is essentially managing your priorities,” says educator and arts administrator Eleanor Whitney. One way to conquer the clock is to follow the 80/20 rule, which is that 20 percent of your activities will account for 80 percent of your results. By applying this principle, you can eliminate your least productive activities and focus on the really important stuff – especially during your peak busy times.
9. Take breaks.
Downtime gives you the mental space you need to think, refocus and recharge. So don’t overextend yourself. Most time management experts agree that learning to say “no” when your plate is full will help reduce stress and keep you from burning out.
10. Keep learning.
Time management is a skill you can hone with experience and good advice. Make time throughout the year to consult online resources, tools and books that can help you become an efficiency time management guru. Here are a few to get you started:
- “The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer” by Helene Segura.
- “The Ultimate Guide to Time Management Systems for Creative Entrepreneurs” by Brittany Berger. (Available as a free PDF.)
Key tips and takeaways
- Make a “not working” list to identify trouble spots in your business. Then set goals with daily to-dos so that you can track your progress.
- Plan every day in advance to make sure you tackle priority projects.
- Take advantage of digital time management tools and concentration apps – designed to weed out distractions and keep you focused.
- Schedule breaks! Being productive takes time to refocus and recharge.