Time Management Hacks For A Smoother 2019

Clock hanging among a flurry of words about time.

I wanted to share this information with you because one of the biggest daily challenges that entrepreneurs talk about struggling with is how to fit in the greatest number of tasks each day given the finite number of hours there are in which to do them, without feeling overwhelmed.

What better way to mark the arrival of a new year than by talking about Time?

Time management has become a bit of a cliché in the personal and professional development worlds, but the fact of the matter is that mastering this soft skill of being able to organize, prioritize and accomplish the tasks that you need and want to perform for your business and even for your personal life (work-life balance) is essential for leading a productive and stress-free existence now and in the future.

With the arrival of 2019, I thought it would be a good idea to offer a few of what I consider to be “best practices hacks” for maintaining control over the time that you spend working.

This issue came to my attention recently as I found myself faced with a bit of the same downtime that happens every year around the holidays with regards to coaching. When I am working with clients, the tasks that I have to perform on a day-to-day basis pretty much get done on autopilot. Everything is largely structured around preparing for the client, being with the client and then attending to the details involved with updating the client’s file afterwards. This flurry of activity creates momentum for attending to such things as administrative, planning and marketing tasks.

But, with the holiday quiet spells, I notice that my productivity patterns shift. I tend to be most creative and prolific starting at about 4 pm when I would start brainstorming, researching and writing, working oftentimes until way past 1 am. The early part of my days get spent on tasks like emails, organizing documents, creating systems for infrastructure, social media work and the like.

Working non-stop into such wee hours of the morning on such a regular basis finally concerned me, so I set out to learn more about my natural rhythms and ended up consulting an online test to find out what my “sleep chronotype” was.

A “sleep chronotype” is how a person is “hard-wired” for productivity – it’s your “inner schedule”, your “master biological clock”. It’s a term coined by sleep expert, Dr. Michael Breus, PhD, author of The Power of When, and by answering a few of his short questions, you can learn how to work with your body and not against it when faced with issues of how best to manage your time around your business and certain social obligations.

Dr. Breus gives the chronotypes names like, dolphin, wolf, bear and lion and he goes into detail about what percentage of the population tends to fall under which chronotype and what specific activities each type tends to perform best at different times of the day.

My sleep chronotype is “dolphin”. I experience spurts of productivity throughout the day, with the bulk of my best work occurring in the late hours of the night. To my relief, this analysis confirmed for me what I had felt all along – that I have been appropriately maximizing my energy and time during my working hours, and not shortchanging myself on the amount of sleep that I need. WooHoo!

I wanted to share this information with you because one of the biggest daily challenges that entrepreneurs talk about struggling with is how to fit in the greatest number of tasks each day given the finite number of hours there are in which to do them, without feeling overwhelmed.

Let’s be honest. Not everyone is capable of waking up at 5 am every day, or of blowing through their entire to-do list before noon. Some “experts” even prescribe doing away with to-do lists and replacing them with “accomplishment” lists, instead. I call these “rapid-fire”-style methods for time management.

No doubt you’ve likely tried some of these methods, if not all of them, as a way to stay on top of your responsibilities – and these methods do, indeed, work for some, but my experience has been that unless your natural body rhythm is in alignment with these time frames for productivity and you are left-brain dominant, then only frustration and disappointment will ensue when your well-intentioned, long-term time management plans come up short three days in.

The discouragement that you will no doubt feel and the avoidance behaviors that will undoubtedly follow will hurt your business and ultimately, your bottom line, and you deserve better than that.

Some flexibility is needed in this area to allow for everyone’s individual capacities and creative energies. Everyone needs their own entry point into this time management maze.

That’s why I’ve devised these hacks for the above prescribed methods that you can both tailor to suit yourself, as an individual, and your style, as an entrepreneur.

Take The Sleep Chronotype Test

The first hack that I formally recommend is to take the sleep chronotype test by Dr. Breus. (In the interest of full disclosure, I do not have any professional or personal connection to the good doctor. I simply believe that this is a valuable resource that needs to be shared.) You can take the test here.

Learning about your sleep habits inversely teaches you about your habits during your waking hours – showing you how you can maximize your energy and time. Having this knowledge will give you a good framework for implementing the other hacks that follow in this article.

Along with finding out what your sleep chronotype is, I recommend taking a more analytic approach to accomplishing your tasks and managing your time on a daily basis than the “rapid-fire”-style methods recommended by others. This analytic approach can be summed up as: organize, prioritize and monitor.

Organize

Whatever your sleep chronotype, the work has to get done. Within the framework of your natural rhythms, it makes sense to begin the process of managing your time by getting an overview of ALL of the things that you need to do before diving in and beginning any one of them. Why? Because you need to know HOW MUCH TIME each task will require to accomplish and you’ll want to know how much of an IMPACT each task will have on your overall picture for the immediate future – if any – otherwise, focusing on it would be a waste of time.

Generate Lists –

Generating lists is always a great way to get your thoughts out of your head and into a form that makes them more quickly actionable – whether you use paper, your computer, your phone, tablet or a napkin.

I have found that there are two types of lists that work well in helping you to manage your time effectively. One type of list, I call a “White Board” list and the other, an “Action Steps” list.

The “White Board” List:

The “White Board” list is the list that contains items like your overarching goals, the projects that you have going on, and the plans that you have that you want to set in motion. This “White Board” list can act as your “task compass” – giving you a sense of in which direction your day-to-day activities are headed.

For example, you can put your products and services (pre-existing and future), projects centered around creating content, personal development activities, plans for building up your business infrastructure, marketing strategies (pre-existing and future) and so on, on this list. This is your “Big Picture” list.

This list can be vertical or horizontal. I prefer to start with a vertical list and, as I prioritize, I switch to a horizontal layout, with columns beneath each item within which I can easily list detailed tasks.

You can attribute deadlines and time frames for when you would like to ultimately have the work around these goals, projects and plans completed.

Try to keep this “White Board” list visible at all times as a constant reminder of where your time is (or should be) always going.

Next, The “Action Steps” List:

Now, out of this “White Board” list, you can create a more detailed “Action Steps” list for each goal, project or plan – as I started to mention briefly above, when I suggested creating columns…

For example, let’s say you want to build up your business infrastructure. What would that entail? Do you need to research and buy or download new software? Learn more about existing software? Finally sit down and enter data? Create a system backup plan? Synchronize technology?

From just one “White Board” item, you naturally generate a neatly ordered series of “Action Steps”, otherwise known as a “to-do” list, for yourself to work on within that specific area of your business. This list can be updated daily as you check items off that you have completed.

From there, it’s just a matter of following through… or, is it?

Prioritize

Prioritizing is a relatively simple matter at this point, where you decide which task on your “Action Steps” list you should do first, and then, what should sequentially follow. The criteria that I recommend using for making such a decision is IMPACT. By asking yourself, “What impact will accomplishing this task before all the others have on my Big Picture plans for this area of my business?”, you will be able to zero in on exactly what your next 24-work hours will likely consist of.

In staying with our infrastructure example, here’s a possible scenario for how this could play out:

Let’s say that you know that you have client leads that need organizing for the email campaign that you plan to launch within the first couple of weeks of the new year, but you’ve been procrastinating because the task gives you a headache, and besides, everything else is pretty much under control.  Ask yourself, “What impact would NOT making this task a priority at this moment have on my Big Picture plans? Can I foresee a negative domino effect by putting it off?” If yes, then it should be a short-term priority. If no, then put a different task before it. Simple.

What I really like about this approach to time management is that you decide the timing that works best for you – because only you know your rhythms and the rhythms of your business. Being a self-employed professional means that you are no longer confined to a 9-5 schedule. This allows for the flexibility in time management for entrepreneurs.  This flexibility is the freedom that we have all said that we were looking for. Something that the “rapid-fire”-style methods of time management don’t necessarily take into account.

Take Away: Time management is not a one-size-fits-all soft skill, especially when it comes to working with and around creative energy as a self-employed professional. Some people work well under pressure. Others do not. Productivity peaks at different times for different people. Learn more about your strengths and work with them, here.

The important thing is that 1) the time that you do spend on your tasks is time spent efficiently because you know exactly what you are doing at all times and why, and 2) the time that you are investing consistently generates positive results for your business, with anything less being considered a waste of time.

Now, with all that said, we still have the final hack:

Monitor

With freedom comes responsibility, and, at a certain point, we all have to accept responsibility for our actions. Monitoring is about keeping tabs on your behavior while developing your time management skills. This is about self-awareness.

In this age of instant messaging, instant notifications and instant gratification, it’s easy to forget that we are not our technology and that we don’t operate in the same instantaneous way as our computers.

Impatience with the actual amount of time it can take to fully and successfully accomplish a task, or looking for shortcuts where there really shouldn’t be any can serve to SABOTAGE not only the task that needed accomplishing, but also the entire Big Picture plan that it was likely a part of.

Unless you are in the regular habit of champion’s-league-level procrastinating, you really do have all the time in the world to accomplish the tasks that need doing for your business. All you have to do is plan as I’ve recommended above, for example, and you can command your time to your advantage every day of your life.

Additional tools such as calendars, planners, spreadsheets, other computer programs and virtual assistants are fantastic as long as you’re not spending more time setting them up than actually doing the work.

But, the temptation for using these tools as proxies for doing the actual work is great. The temptation to skip steps in a process or neglect to incorporate something, simply because you didn’t feel like it can be greater. Such habits may appear to have no effect on the surface, but, if you are willing to skip or ignore steps on the “little” tasks in your business, then what kind of business are you building for yourself ? What level of income do you plan on generating based on such a foundation, and how long do you think your business will last when run in this way? Do you like stress?

Multi-tasking has the same effect. Doing several things at once tends to result in many things being only partly done, and those things tend to stay partly done until the moment after you realize that you need them. (Delays, anyone?) Opportunity doesn’t wait.

Of course, there will always be tasks that we absolutely despise doing either because it’s not within our realm of expertise, or it’s just too much of a challenge to do well. There’s a good reason that large organizations have different people in place to handle specialized tasks like accounting, purchasing, research and development, marketing, graphic design, tech, etc.

Being a solopreneur or a small operation with just a handful of people requires the self-employed professional to wear many hats, some of which we would rather not be wearing at times. But, knowing that in advance should help you to know where on your list of priorities (based on their level of impact) to place those dreaded tasks.

Bonus points if you are able to delegate.

If you enjoyed this article and found it useful, please give it a like and share!

Check out my other blog articles:

Free vs. Fee: Understanding The Value of Your Knowledge as a Service Provider

The Art of Managing Change and Forming New Habits For Success

Confidence: Your Superpower

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