By Mark Pettit
Over the 25 years that I’ve worked in corporate environments and coached entrepreneurs, people have always looked to improve their time management skills.
As a coach, people often come to me because they feel they don’t have enough time to achieve everything they want to each day. They are busy, but not working on the things that give them great joy or make a real impact in their business and life.
Being in constant action all day long is the norm. They are stuck in an endless cycle of busyness and filling up time with tasks.
One of the things I’ve noticed about busy work is that it doesn’t make people more productive or creative. In fact, it creates more complication and complexity.
Dealing with emails, going to numerous meetings, multi-tasking and working on low value activities is often not the best use of your time.
What if there was a different way to think about how you manage your time? Do you wish you could manage your time more effectively and finish each day being satisfied with what you’ve achieved?
There are a few simple time-management strategies that busy people can use to become more effective, productive and get more of the most important things done.
Below are 8 time management strategies that busy people can implement right now to simplify their lives and change how they think about managing their time.
1. Take a Time Audit
If you want to take control of your time, the first step is to understand how you are spending your time right now.
You can’t make a change until you have clarity on where you are and what’s working and what’s not working?
This audit gives you a big picture view of the value you are creating and the results you are delivering V the time you are investing in each project or task. It will help you simplify everything so you can understand very quickly whether you are using your time productively or not.
When my coaching clients conduct a time audit they usually do this for seven days straight and I would recommend the same for you.
How to Conduct a Time Audit
- Get a blank piece of paper
- Put a date at the top
- Draw three lines down the page
- Title the First Column ‘High Value Work’
- Title the Second Column ‘Good Work’
- Title the Third column ‘Low Value Work”
High Value Work is work that you love to do, that you’re great at. It is work that delivers the biggest results.
Good Work is work that you enjoy. It delivers good results but is work that is often repetitive and someone else could do equally well or better
Low Value Work doesn’t excite you and probably frustrates you. It doesn’t deliver great results, lowers your energy levels and could be stopped or given to someone else.
For each project or task that you undertake assign it to one of the three columns with the name of the work and the amount of time spent.
At the end of the 7 days, total up the amount of time spent in each column and on each project.
I prefer paper but you can also use a tool such as toggle or harvest.
This can be an eye opening exercise. At the end of the audit, look for ways to improve how you spend your time. Ask yourself how can you spend more time doing High Value Work that creates the biggest impact, brings more joy and deliver the results you want.
2. Set Time Management Goals
Without a clear vision or goals, it can become easy to drift, lose focus and become distracted.
By creating clarity on where you are now and where you want to get to, it becomes much easier to focus your time on the high value activities that will help you achieve your goals.
Through setting specific, measurable goals, you can clearly identify what your ideal future looks like, and create a plan and path to get there.
With this clarity, you can simplify everything. You are clear on your destination and know the best way to manage your time, resources and people to get there,
By understanding what you do best and what can create the biggest impact, you gain greater clarity on how best to use your time as well as who else can help you achieve your goals.
Mastering your time is partly about what changes you can make. It is also about who can help you become even more effective.
Setting goals can give you the willpower and motivation to move forward in the right direction, saving you time and reducing busyness and procrastination.
Set goals for every 90 day period and then review your performance at the end of that cycle. Review what worked and what breakthroughs you achieved. Then set up your next 90-day goals.
3. Delegate and Outsource
When you complete a time audit, you understand exactly where you’re currently spending your time and on what activities.
The key to effective delegation is to understand your unique strengths and the biggest value you create, and work out how you can spend more and more time doing that work.
Sometimes we feel we’re the only people who can get the job done, so we hold onto tasks that we don’t enjoy and tale us away from the things we do best.
We can all get back hours by doing better, more productive work. Work we actually love doing.
Rather than thinking about how you can fit everything in to your schedule, consider who are the people that can take on projects and tasks.
Think about where your creative energy and unique skills could best be utilized.
A CEO of a Travel Agency I worked with got back 15 hours a week simply by hiring an assistant to work with her. She was able to spend more of her time doing the things she did best and loved to do. This included winning new business, spending time with her clients, and getting more referrals.
Try this tip:
Every 90-days think about how you can eliminate 3 things from your list of Low Value Work list that currently frustrates you, annoys you or you find delivers no real value.
Think of 3 things from your Good Work list that you can delegate or outsource.
Think of 3 things from your High Value List that you want to spend more time doing.
Keep following this process every 90 days to free yourself up even more to focus more time on the things that you do best and bring the highest level results.
4. Start Prioritizing
When you are clear and intentional about how you want to spend your time and your future goals, the key is to start prioritizing your time to make those goals a reality.
If you don’t set priorities, you can lose focus, get distracted and start procrastinating. Your time will become filled up with low value activities and perfectionism can creep in.
If you have 20 things on your To-Do list each day, you’re not prioritising. When you have a never-ending To-Do list and bulging Inbox your workload will continually stretch, leading to overwhelm and a loss of clarity and focus.
If you are super busy, the key to time management is focus and prioritization around the activities that will help you reach your goals.
A simple time management strategy is to set a maximum of five things you want to achieve each day. Those are your priorities.
If you manage to complete them, you can work on other things but those five you’ve identifies take priority.
This intentionality will ensure you don’t get distracted and move on to items and tasks that aren’t on your priority list.
5. Do the Most Important Thing First
This strategy is one of the keys to effective time management.
Start your day by asking yourself:
“What’s the Number One thing I absolutely have to achieve today?”
Once you are clear on that, and you commit to achieving that thing, chances are you WILL actually do the work.
This technique will stop the disorder, distractions and chaos from impacting on your day.
The reason? You have made a conscious decision at the start of the day, when your willpower is strong.
Have you noticed that as the day wears on you have less and less willpower and energy to focus?
So, do the most important thing or things first.
If you have set up calls with potential clients, do this in the morning.
If you have an important presentation to write, again do this in the morning.
Don’t multitask. Focus on one project at a time and work on it until complete.
Whatever your most important thing is, if you do that thing first, then you’ll never have a day when you didn’t get something important done.
By following this simple time management strategy, you will usually end up having a very productive day.
Sometimes you may have to start saying no more often if the things are not a priority or don’t fit in with your goals.
6. Create the Perfect Morning and Evening Routine
If you’re operating at your peak physically and mentally, you are going to be far more focused and productive.
Creating your perfect morning routine can give you the clarity focus and energy to complete your key priorities for the day.
If you can, spend 60-90 minutes setting up a ‘high performance’ day every day by focusing on what YOU want to achieve.
Have a healthy breakfast, read, meditate, go for a walk – whatever works best for you. Then lay out and be clear on your priorities for the day.
What is the One Thing you want to focus on – do that thing first until completed. This takes commitment and consistency.
It may be hard to start with but, just like going to the gym, can get easier over time, if you start achieving the results you want.
If you want to double your productivity and maximize your time, create an evening routine to support your morning routine.
At the end of each day, give yourself 15 minutes to reflect on the day. Write down 3 things that were great about that day. This could be getting a new client, a great meeting you had, positive comments on your work. Anything that makes you feel positive and confident. This strategy also makes you feel grateful for what you’ve achieved.
Then write down the 3-5 things you want to achieve the next day, listed in priority order. This will ensure everything is fresh in your mind the next morning and will create a confident mindset.
To add a further layer to this strategy, spend 30 minutes on a Sunday setting up your key priorities for the week ahead.
7. Work in Time Blocks
If you’re serious about gaining more control over your time, experiencing more freedom and conquering any feelings of stress and overwhelm then you must not multi-task.
Instead, work in chunks of focused time on your priority projects. Don’t switch between tasks or projects.
I work on the 60/60/30 principle, working in chunks of 50 minutes, then taking a 10-minute break for the first two chunks of time before then taking 30 minutes out to read, walk or meditate.
This strategy can help keep your energy up throughout the day and give you a real sense of accomplishment as projects will be completed.
Many people use the Pomodoro technique for tracking their time, but you can simply use the timer function on your phone.
8. Take Time for Yourself
How often do you take time for yourself or celebrate small or big achievements each day?
For some, it is a badge of achievement to work harder and work longer hours to get as many things done as possible.
If you continue to do this consistently, you could be in danger of burnout.
By making the maximum use of your time, streamlining your workflow and focusing on the high value activities that will help you achieve your goals, you will have more time to spend on yourself and with the people that matter.
You must give yourself permission to take time out of your business, whether you want to spend this time on personal development or with the family or friends, that’s up to you but give yourself that time.
Dan Sullivan, Founder of Strategic Coach has created a unique time management system to help you focus you time, energy and creativity to produce your best results.
Part of this time management system is a focus on taking Free Days, which is a 24-hour day, from midnight to midnight, during which there are no work related activities.
The aim of this day is to help people rejuvenate and boost energy to ensure they maintain high levels of productivity and creativity.
The Bottom Line
When busy people talk about not having enough time, it’s usually because they haven’t understood the value of their own time and prioritised it in the right way.
How we use our time is often a choice. We actually have a great deal of control over our time. Not complete control, but more control than we think.
Try one or more of these time management strategies. If you find one or more that works for you, keep with it for 90 days and see the difference it makes in both your business and personal life.