Most of us go into business because we want to be our own boss, but we quickly realize we're not the only ones calling the shots. Our competitors, clients and new employees soon command our attention, and endlessly changing technology can eat up enormous amounts of time. Many of us also wrestle with portioning our time and focus between our obligations at home and the demands of our business. And it all gets in the way of building the business we dreamed of having when we first started out.
But time is reliably fair and doles out 24 hours a day to each of us. It's how we make the most of it that counts.
I've learned to better manage my time over the years through lots of trial and error. Just like every other entrepreneur, I'm pulled in way too many directions, and I often feel like a puppet on somebody else's string, jockeying my time between filming ABC's Shark Tank in LA, helping my young partners build their businesses and flying to motivational speeches in multiple cities. I also attend to the far more important and time-consuming job of being a good wife and mother to my two kids at home with all the obligations, decisions and chores that fall squarely on every mother's shoulders.
It’s not easy, but I cope. Here are some of the attitudes and systems that help me do it all.
Divide and Conquer
I divide my world into two parts—my business and my family—and I keep them totally separate. When I’m at work, my husband and kids and friends don't call. Everyone has my assistant's number for any emergency. I hyper-focus on my work at the office and what I’m there to achieve. When I get home, I focus 100 percent on my family. At night, I don't check emails or answer the phone—in fact, I plug my phone in the charger at the front door and retrieve it the next morning as I walk out the door. Years ago, emailing and texting were my enemies, distracting my attention and stealing the precious time spent with my delicious kids. Not anymore. I'm smarter. I divide my life into two parts.
Take Control of Your Time
I've learned to organize my time at work fairly well to accomplish the growth I care so much about. Without a good system in place, I'd feel like a jackrabbit jumping from one task to another. I've learned that control with a capital "C" is very important to me, and when I'm in control of my time, I feel secure and happy. I'm a morning person by nature, with enormous energy straight through until 1 p.m., when my energy dips to half-mast. So I schedule and tackle all my most important tasks in my window of productive time.
Master the To-Do List
I view my daily to-do list as the real deal in charge of my life and give it proper respect. And while I’ve tried different online to-do lists, I cannot work off of a to-do list that isn’t written or typed. The delete button never gives me the kick that crossing the task off a list gives me, so I put it on paper.
I make my to-do list before I leave my office at night, transferring items I couldn't get done that day. The next morning, I rate the items on my to-do list in order of importance: A, B or C. The As are where the gold is—the things that will move my business ahead and make me money.
I divide the list into three sections: phone calls, tasks and longer-term projects. No matter how long the list might appear, I find there are really only three to five A items on any day, and I do those first. On the road, I email items as I think of them to my assistant, and she adds them to the list.
My to-do list is usually too long, but what’s scary is when it's too short. That means I’ve been too busy to reflect. So I walk over to the public library two blocks away. The more time I take away from my desk to reflect, with a big yellow pad and pen in hand, the bigger the list grows, especially in the project area as I start to think of new opportunities I lost sight of.
Plan a Post-Travel Strategy
Business travel plays havoc with routine, simply because you lose days at the office, where work happens more efficiently. Emails and texts are a godsend when traveling, but I'm always deluged with an avalanche of old and new requests the moment I walk in the door. It's easy to fall into a knee-jerk reaction mode with no clarity as to what's really important and how to best catch up. So I make a list of everything coming at me, prioritize them and add them to my regular to-do list. That puts me immediately in charge.
Chunk Up Your Week
I like to chunk up my workweek into similar tasks on the same day, because it makes me much more productive. As past behavior is usually the best predictor of future behavior, I find it helpful to sit down each year with my previous year's calendar in hand. I try to identify repetitive work patterns to help me anticipate work and chunk up my tasks more effectively.
For example, last year, most of my speeches fell on either a Tuesday or Wednesday. That knowledge helps me plan my long-term meetings to avoid Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Most reporter interview calls last year came in on a Wednesday or Thursday, so I have time blocks in my calendars on Thursdays to anticipate those calls. I also plan my calls to clients, consultants and producers in the same time block when I'm at my desk anyway, because it's more efficient.
On Mondays, I focus on all my A-list long-term projects, delegating portions of them and following up before the week kicks into high gear. It's easier for me to get them done on a Monday; it sets the tone for the week. Chunking up my time into similar tasks gets me more bang for my buck and makes me far more productive.
Schedule Fun Days
I work hard, and I need to play hard to stay motivated, so I schedule fun days off well in advance to be filled in later. I schedule one fun day on a weekday each month. It's like having a little present waiting to be unwrapped. Fun is a top priority, so I’ve always vacationed eight weeks a year. I schedule all my vacation weeks in my calendar every June for the entire year. In tough business years, I took a subway to City Island every day and plopped myself down on the beach. In better years, I flew to a villa in the Caribbean. But I've always vacationed. I'll sometimes use a couple of weeks just hanging out at home, collecting my sanity, but mostly I go away with my family and good friends.
I've found the key to vacationing is crossing out the days in my calendar well in advance for the next 12 months to make sure my work revolves around it. There's the double pleasure of knowing I have all those vacations to look forward to while I'm slaving away at the office. Vacations keep me motivated, and I avoid the stress and burnout that plague too many entrepreneurs intent on building their business.
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