It's Friday, and I still have 10 tasks on my “to-do" list...oh no! Does that sound like you?
If you are anything like me, your to-do lists tend to get longer during the week, not shorter. I may check off one task and then add two more, so it seems like I’m never actually getting anything done--when in fact, I’m being quite productive. I live by my lists! My phone memos are mostly full of lists of things that I'd like to get to "someday" or when I have "extra time,” which doesn’t exist by the way. But then there is the PRIORITY list. This is the list of things that must get done this week--either today...or tomorrow...or by the end of the week at the absolute latest! I’ll talk more about how I choose what gets added to this list later, but since you're probably short on time, let’s jump right into defining time management. But first, you might want to grab a pen and paper.
What is time management, and why do I need to work on it?
Simply put, time management refers to making decisions about how you spend your time. And making good decisions about how you spend your time should lead to you living a more productive, less stressful life. With the persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic, time management has taken on an entirely new meaning for millions of working parents. Before the coronavirus pandemic, approximately 4% of Americans were working from home. In June 2020, that number increased to 40% (Fundera). Not only are you managing your schedule, but that of your entire household. If you and your spouse are both working from home, your time management load may have just doubled. Not only do you need to keep track of all of your own meetings and deadlines, but you also must plan around your spouse’s meetings too! Add to that your children who are attending school online from home, and the challenge has just multiplied exponentially!!! I started working from home full-time in 2010. So, I’ve been managing my time, including balancing home and work life, for the past 10 years. Regardless of your familial status (e.g., spouse, kids, etc.), the basics of time management remain the same.
So how do you get it all done? I am going to share with you my top five time management tips. Though this is a blog for entrepreneurs, these tips can apply to anyone who is working from home.
Five Time Management Tips
Do what you can when you can.
Ask for help.
#1- Let's start with making lists.
I live by my lists. So naturally, making lists has been the way for me to ensure that I accomplish everything that I set out to do. My list this week included tasks such as: returning a phone call to a potential client, sending an email with a new sales promotion and running online ads. This is just a small snippet of my list for the week, but I will use these tasks to illustrate how I implement the other time management tips. I suggest making a list at the beginning of each week, or whatever day you are reading this. Only include what needs to be done today, tomorrow and by the end of the week. Save the long-term tasks for another list (i.e., those phone memos I mentioned earlier). You know that pen and paper you grabbed a moment ago? Go ahead and take time to do this right now. This will help you with my next tip.
#2- Set deadlines.
Setting deadlines is going to help you with what comes next. On my list of three tasks, I already had a deadline set for returning the phone call (i.e., I always aim for returning phone calls within 24 hours), so that was a no-brainer. I wanted to send the email to promote my online course ASAP, but definitely by the end of this week. And I should have found someone to run my social media ads a long time ago, so that should be done no later than Wednesday. After you’ve set deadlines for each task on your list, move on to tip #3.
The process of prioritizing includes assigning an importance to the tasks you need to complete to help you determine what needs to be done now and what can wait. The items on my "someday" list slowly make their way to my priority list when I decide that it's time to act on them. The things that are on my priority list are those that either have a deadline set by someone else (e.g., clients or business partners) or important things that I need to get done to reach my goals or help my family (even though they have their own lists). From my list of three tasks, I prioritized them like this:
Call potential client (good customer service is imperative to a successful business)
Send email promotion (aim for Tuesday)
Hire ad manager (set for Wednesday)
One way to prioritize tasks is based on the deadlines you’ve set, but you can also prioritize the things that impact other people or that have negative consequences if you put them off. Think about what the consequences will be for not getting something done. If I hadn't called this potential client, not only would I potentially be missing out on future revenue but I could also give my business a negative image. On the other hand, there was some wiggle room in finding someone to run my online ads (since I’ve been running my own ads until now). When you think about prioritizing your to-do list, there are things that are more important in life than just getting through your list. For example, my family ALWAYS comes first. If a family member needs my attention, I can always make a phone call (or write this blog post) later. When you are prioritizing, make sure that you don’t neglect the things and people that you value the most. This leads to my next tip.
#4- Do what you can when you can.
I’ve always been a night owl, but now more than ever since having a child. Not only do I produce some of my best work late at night, but it's also when I know I'll have a long period of uninterrupted time to focus. Even though it's late, I usually feel energized and excited about checking those tasks off my to-do list. Don't get me wrong, there are some nights where I forsake my lists so I can get some sleep. But you have to know what works for you and when you will be most productive. It's a waste of time to just stare at a screen and reread the same thing over and over because you aren't focused. It's also not best practice to try to multi-task either. Just think if you are working on five things at once, how much of your attention are they each really getting? And if you've done a little work on each task, you're left not actually accomplishing anything, which means your to-do list has not gotten any shorter. Just focus on doing what you can when you can. And what you can't do now will have to wait--unless you can ask someone else for help. Which leads us to tip #5 (you guessed it)...
#5- Ask for help.
So why isn't this #1 on the list, you ask? Well, if you're an entrepreneur like me, there are only so many things you can actually get help with. After all, it is your vision, and you need to play a major role in carrying it out. For example, if you are having someone run ad campaigns for you, you need to make sure that they know what you are “selling.” If you are providing a professional service where you work with clients directly, they want to talk to YOU, not a virtual assistant. And writing messages to your loyal followers- can anyone else really do that for you? Though you may not be able to delegate certain tasks, you CAN ask for help at home so you can get through those quick tasks that have been lingering on your to-do list since last week. Maybe your mom can watch the kids for a couple of hours or your spouse can do the homework check tonight. If there are things that you can delegate-- do it! Know your limits. It's OKAY to ask for help. As an entrepreneur, I know what it's like to be a one-woman show. But recently I've been outsourcing tasks where I can to save myself some time.
No matter who you are, no one can actually add time to their day. But, I hope these five time management tips will make you feel like you have.
If you have developed any tricks to manage your time well, I'd love to hear from you! Share your time management tips below.
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