The most valuable asset you have is time. If you’re a business owner, the most valuable asset you’ve got is your time and the time of the people on your staff. If you work for someone else, are thinking about being self-employed, or if you stay at home, time is equally precious.
I would argue that mastering your time is the key to success at work and home. That being said, here are three free tools that save me three hours each and every day.
This is especially important if you have a family, a job and maybe even a second job. This pretty much describes my life, and the only way I can handle it is to do one thing at a time. I just don’t have time to engage in time-wasting activities.
I have time slots set aside each day for each activity. When I check my email, that’s all I do. I also treat e-mail like I do paper. It’s been said that you are best served by touching paper only once, and the same thing is true of e-mail. In other words, I don’t let it pile up in my inbox.
Instead, I immediately answer my e-mail, delete it, or put it in a folder for someone else to deal with. Once I’ve gone through my e-mail, I make client calls. During that time, I don’t take incoming calls or review e-mail. One thing at a time eliminates distractions and lots of wasted time. Sweet-a-kimbo.
How to use this:
Steal my idea. Do one thing at a time and that’s it. Tell everyone you work with that this is your new method of operation. Kindly ask people not to disturb you during your day unless it’s an emergency. Stick to your schedule and, if you get distracted, get back up on the horse.
If you are at home, there is no reason why you can’t take advantage of the same technique. Just because you aren’t at work doesn’t mean you’re sitting around watching re-runs of “Gilligan’s Island” all day. If anything, there are more demands on your time than on those in the office.
Schedule your day and don’t let anyone or anything distract you unless it’s an emergency.
2. Accountability partner
I try to have accountability partners for different aspects of my life, and business time management is no exception. This is simply too important to ignore. I keep a spreadsheet on Google Docs for my accountability partner to review. On it, I note what I’ve accomplished and what I’ve yet to do. Just knowing my accountability partner has random access to this document keeps me motivated to get my work done on time.
How to use this:
Once you’ve written out your schedule, show it to someone you trust, like, and want to emulate (with respect to efficiency). Get feedback. Have you over-scheduled yourself? Have you provided enough downtime for yourself? Are you executing everything well? Meet with your accountability partner once a month to discuss how your plan is working.
You already know how important it is to track your cash flow. How about tracking your time?
I keep a spreadsheet open on my desktop. In that spreadsheet, I note how I spend my day. I’ve discussed that above. I also have day planning software which isn’t free, but is well worth the cost. The program I use is called Goldmine, but you can use Act! or anything else. This is a day timer, and it plans out what I need to get done and when.
The software blocks off times for client meetings and reminds me each day what I need to do. Nothing falls through the cracks this way. This is far more efficient than trying to remember or jotting things down in a notebook. I can easily synchronize my schedule with my Android phone so I always know what my schedule is.
How to use this:
Once you’ve taken steps 1 and 2 above, you have to keep track of what you are actually doing. Don’t guess… Actually keep track. This is what will help you and your accountability partner make changes to your schedule.
Bonus tip – DELEGATE!
I try to only do those things that only I can do in my business. For everything else, I try to hire people either as consultants, freelancers, or team members (staff). I look for the best people I can find and treat them well.
Here’s an example: I recently needed to renew my liability insurance for my small business. Rather than get all the quotes myself, I asked my assistant to get four quotes, review them, make notes and recommendations, and then provide me an overview. This is great because the woman in my office is really good at this kind of thing, and it saved me a ton of time.
I don’t try to do everything myself because I know I can’t. There are flocks of people who can do plenty of things far better than I can. It’s a waste of time for me to try to master all these skills, so I just delegate everything I possibly can and use my electronic day planner to keep track of who is doing what and I hold them accountable.
How to use this:
If you have the financial resources, hire people to take care of things that take too much of your time. There are plenty of people who use Craigslist to find a second job. Place an ad. They’re free, and you may just uncover a diamond in the rough. You might bring in someone to do the laundry, run errands, buy groceries… Whatever. The list is endless.
These are the 3.5 rules I use to manage my time. They allow me to run my business, write my blog, and lead a fairly balanced life. What tips do you have to manage time better? Please share your thoughts in the comments.