You probably don't have time to read this. And yet, if you're like many business owners, you probably have to read this because you're in need of some work efficiency tips.
After all, who isn't? According to a 2018 report by the U.S. Travel Association, 705 million vacation days go unused. You could argue that's because everybody's so busy and not managing their time well. (The report used an "online survey from January 4-23, 2018 with 4,349 American workers, age 18+, who work more than 35 hours a week and receive paid time off from their employer.")
If you had the time to read more statistics, I'd throw more at you, but nobody needs convincing that time management is a problem. So let's get to it.
1. Ditch time management altogether.
Wait, what? I'm reading an article about time management in business, and now I'm being told not worry about ways to manage time?
Well, no worries. This is still about work efficiency. Dave McKeown is the CEO of Outfield Leadership, a Laguna Beach, California-based business leadership consultancy. He often works with time-swamped business owners to help them focus and develop their teams.
“I teach my clients that attention management is becoming much more important than time management," McKeown says. “We've essentially given anyone the ability to interrupt us at any point in the way that they want to."
So if you really want better ways to manage time, you may need to come up with rules or policies to make it harder for people to interrupt you, says McKeown. He suggests doing that in three ways:
- Narrow the number of communication channels. “Rather than allowing email, text, calls, Slack messages and water cooler conversations all to be valid routes of communication to you, it's important to narrow them down to two or three that you can have the most control over," he says.
- Assess ruthless prioritization. “When you get an interruption, rather than immediately responding to the ask, practice ruthless prioritization on the urgency and importance of it," he advises. "If it can wait, let it wait."
- Operate with a "delegate or do" mindset. “Once you've assessed the priority," McKeown says, "you should quickly decide if this is something you can delegate or something only you can do. Most leaders tend to be bad at this one and hold on to too many items rather than delegating them out."
2. Block time for certain tasks for better work efficiency.
Nick Gonzalez is one of the owners of Linville Team Partners, a mid-sized commercial real estate brokerage in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
On Sunday nights, to ensure better work efficiency in the days ahead, he tries to plan his week ahead “into blocks of similar activities." On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Gonzalez shows properties and runs any out-of-office errands. Tuesday and Thursday mornings are strictly for prospecting and cold calling.
“By creating these blocks or chunks of schedule you can maintain control of your calendar while still meeting the needs of your clients and employees and co-workers," Gonzalez says.
But whatever schedule you come up with, you need to stick to it, he stresses.
You may still find yourself somewhat overwhelmed, but for those of us who appreciate not lurching from one type of work to something completely different, it may be easier to manage your schedule this way.
“Remember the days of being in school with eight classes per day, each about 50-minutes long?" asks Stephanie Thoma, a networking strategy coach in San Francisco. “It seemed that it took that amount of time to really get in the flow of a project or discussion."
Like Gonzalez, Thoma likes the idea of blocking a lot of time for tasks.
“I'm in favor of having fewer tasks per day to focus on, ensuring that I can enter a flow state and get them done in a shorter period of time," she says.
If you end up with extra time, you can always start on the next day's tasks. That's true work efficiency.
3. Budget your time, as well as your money.
We hear all the time how you should be relentless about budgeting and manage your cash flow. Well… you could argue that you should be using the same types of strategies with your time to achieve more work efficiency.
For instance, Regina Barr, founder and CEO of Red Ladder, Inc., an executive coaching and consultancy in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, handles her time that way. She creates annual goals with corresponding work plans that have weekly, monthly and quarterly breakdowns.
“I learned early on in my career that 15 minutes of planning at the front-end saves an hour at the back-end," Barr says.
So just like you watch every penny, ask your where every second of the day is going. That said, people do need breaks. Wasting some time is inevitable and perfectly reasonable. But, yes, most of us could probably could benefit from a time budget.
4. Find time management tools that help you.
How would you grade yourself on work efficiency? If it's a B, C or worse, maybe you need to use more tools to help you manage your time.
Barr uses software such as Dropbox, Google Docs and Basecamp to share documents and manage tasks with her support team or clients. And she uses Doodle to schedule meeting dates and times with large groups of people.
“It eliminates back and forth via email," she says.
She utilizes Outlook Calendar, so she can color code, well, everything, such as times she has meetings, what days to pay invoices and when she'll be traveling. And, since she likes visuals, she also uses a large dry-erase, at-a-glance calendar.
5. Remember that time management is your process—and there's no right or wrong way to do it.
What one person does to be productive may not work for you, and what you're doing may be heresy to others. That doesn't matter. What does matter is looking at how you spend your time every once in awhile and asking yourself, Could I be doing this better?
I learned early on in my career that 15 minutes of planning at the front-end saves an hour at the back-end.
—Regina Barr, founder and CEO, Red Ladder, Inc.
Joy Gendusa is the founder and CEO of Postcard Mania, a $58 million direct marketing firm based out of Clearwater, Florida. Gendusa is also a fan of blocking time for work efficiency, but if she's working on something and she gets interrupted with a task, “I just do it. I don't put it off until later. I don't add it to a to-do list. I just handle it completely, so it doesn't come back to bite me."
That said, she only drops everything for a new task if it'll take her less than 10-15 minutes. If it's going to take longer, then she adds it to a to-do list.
Interrupting work flow makes sense for her. And if you think it'll make sense for you, try it and see for yourself!
Don't worry so much about whether or not your habits for work efficiency are off the mark. If you want to ditch meetings, ditch them. If you think meetings make your company more efficient, keep them.
When it comes to time management in business, what matters is that whatever you're doing works for you and your company. And on that note, I'll let you go. After all, you have other things to do.
Read more articles on productivity.
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