One of the most important, but often overlooked, success tools at our disposal as entrepreneurs is how we choose to manage ourselves. Let’s face it: We all confront endless demands just about every day, yet our time and energy are limited. How can we possibly deal?
Time management is different for everyone, and you’ve got to choose the method that fits with the way you like to work. Here are three approaches that might work for you.
Eat the Frog
Sales and productivity expert Brian Tracy popularized this approach. Most of us have tasks that keep getting pushed off today’s to-do list and onto tomorrow’s. Usually, these are tasks that overwhelm us because either they’re massively huge and time-consuming or they’re things we just hate doing. It could be sorting and scanning all the expense receipts you’ve been throwing in your desk drawer for the past eight months (I plead guilty), calling a customer who’s late on his payment (again), or putting together your marketing plan for the coming year.
To get those tasks off your list and actually finished, Tracy advises starting each day by doing the most unpleasant thing on your to-do list (i.e., “eating the frog”), so you get it out of the way. Once it’s over, you’ll have a feeling of accomplishment even if you don’t get anything else done that day.
Does eating the frog work for you? While the concept makes sense to me in theory, in reality, if I know I’ve got to start my day doing something ugly, I procrastinate and find every excuse not to start working.
If you’re the type of swimmer who prefers to gently put one toe in the water at a time, as opposed to diving straight off the high board, this approach might be for you. The theory here is twofold: First, everyone needs a little “warm-up” or “ease-in” time before diving into the main agenda. Second, if you’re gearing up to tackle a big, daunting project, a few small “wins” before you start can put you in a more optimistic, confident mood to take it on.
Using the ease-in approach, you select two or three tasks that can be done quickly, involve no roadblocks and will leave you with a sense of accomplishment. This could include little things you’ve been putting off, such as signing up for an e-mail newsletter or quickly sorting the expense receipts from last week’s business trip. Pick tasks that are unlikely to expand or present unforeseen complications (for instance, sending an e-mail, while it might seem like a quick win, can rapidly snowball if you get sucked into reading all your e-mail).
Make sure that right after you cross those few tasks off your list, you dive into eating that frog. Otherwise, you can easily get caught up in distractions so you never get to the main items on your to-do list.
Tony Schwartz promotes the 90-minute approach at his website The Energy Project. Essentially, the 90-minute approach means planning your day so you start with the most important task (i.e., eating the frog) but working on it for only 90-minute stretches at a time.
Why 90? Schwartz says research has found that’s the optimal limit for how long humans can focus intensely on one task. During this time, you should turn off e-mail, let your phone go to voicemail and close your door—whatever it takes to prevent interruptions so you can focus.
At the end of 90 minutes, take a break. Important note: This doesn’t mean a break to surf the Web or look at Facebook. It means physically getting up from your desk and moving around—whether that’s a walk around the block, doing some deep breathing or meditation or listening to music on your iPod for 10 minutes. The key is to get your mind and body out of work mode.
If you want to go back to what you were working on after the break (that is, if you haven’t finished your frog), go ahead. Many entrepreneurs might not be able to focus in 90-minute stretches all day, but you can probably fit in at least one stretch in the morning. (If you can’t swing 90, Schwartz urges to at least try 30 minutes.) The main point Schwartz makes is that trying to “power through” at maximum energy all day is unrealistic and self-defeating. By taking breaks to recharge, you’re working with—not against—your body’s natural rhythms and you’ll get more of your to-do list done.
How do you like to eat your frogs—in one big gulp, in a few bites or in lots of little nibbles? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo: Think stock