If you’re running a business – heck, if you’re alive – chances are you face time-management challenges. No one, it seems, has enough time for everything they need to do in a day. It’s particularly troublesome in business, when you have multiple clients, and different deadlines for various projects.
So what’s the best way to wrestle an unruly to-do list? Five suggestions: document your time, know how much time you need, prioritize, block your calendar, and do away with distractions.
Document your time
Ever notice that nutritionists recommend people should write down what they eat? It gives dieters a different perspective on their eating habits. Documenting your time affords a similar benefit: it gives you a different perspective on your schedule. Write down the time you begin a task, and the time it’s done. Documentation makes it easier to see where the time is going, and that paves the way for the next suggestion: understanding how much time you need.
Understand how much time you need
How long does it take to develop a product for a customer? How much time do you need to complete the tasks involved? Don’t know? Find out. If you don’t know how much time you need, you risk overloading your schedule with too many promises to too many clients. That spells missed deadlines, poor quality and unhappy customers. If you watch the clock, you can add up the amount of time you’re spending on each task, and you can develop a baseline average of the time you need for projects. Then you’ll be able to give future clients a clearer picture of the amount of time each project will take. Customers generally appreciate receiving accurate time estimates. And you’ll appreciate the ability to set aside the appropriate amount of time each task requires in your calendar.
Where to begin? It’s one of the most pressing questions for many businesses. Seventeen items to complete in eight hours… What comes first? Sometimes the answer is clear. That which is due immediately takes precedence. But in other cases, everything seems equally important, and the process of choosing the starting point is overwhelming. In those situations, develop a numbered to-do list. Write down all of the tasks. Then take the time to consider which ones really do need to be done earlier, and which ones can wait. You might find that certain items aren’t as pressing as others. Can’t decide? Then prioritize the hardest or most important tasks. Plan to do them first, so your day gets progressively easier. Number the tasks in order of importance or difficulty. That will help you focus on each task, because you’ll be certain that you’re working on the right item at the right time.
Block your calendar
Set aside specific times in your calendar for particular tasks or projects. For instance, spend the time between 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. working on one project; spend 10:30 a.m. to noon on a different project. It’s easier to focus on the work when you zero in on one project at a time. Multitasking? Forget it. As Christine Rosen found in her spring ’08 article for The New Atlantic, numerous studies indicate that multitasking doesn’t save time. In fact, it takes more time to process two tasks at once than tackling each task individually. By blocking your calendar, you’ll be able to focus, and get more work done in less time.
Do away with distractions
Shelve that BlackBerry. Ignore your iPhone. If you simply must have your email program open on the computer (for some, turning this off would be torture) learn to ignore messages that have nothing to do with the project you’re working on at the moment. Feel free to close the office door. Screen your phone calls by answering only those that apply to your current task, or those that can’t really wait. By getting rid of distractions, you can focus more on the project at hand – that spells less time wasted, and, usually, a better quality product.
These are just some of the solutions many time management mavens recommend. Of course, that doesn’t mean everything here would work for everyone. But chances are most people will find something in these suggestions to get their calendars under control. What are your time management recommendations?