Time slipping away? 3 Strategies that will help!

  photo by Capture Queen 

Time management may be the single biggest curse for most business owners (it’s right up there with hiring good people, marketing, sales and building processes).  It’s such a prevalent issue because as a business owner you have dozens of things that you could or should be doing and there’s never enough time in the day to get things done.

A recent comment from a client of mine went something like this:  “I’m spinning my wheels, I have a list of critical stuff to do and at the end of the day, I find myself moving all of the stuff from today’s list onto tomorrow’s list…and so on, and so on.”

Time slips through your hands and it seems like there’s always something that comes up (or that you’d rather be doing) than those critical projects. 

However there are strategies that can help you minimize this problem….

I’ve previously written about a couple of ideas that might help you out – you should measure your time and where’s it’s spent.  The other idea – and I think this one is critical, is to focus on only doing the most important things.

Those two steps alone could help you out a lot, but here are 3 more ideas that might help you stay on top of things!

Minimize the Curse of email!

There’s something terribly seductive about getting new email (ding!).  Someone is thinking about you, they sent you something, the least you can do is open it and see what it is – regardless of what you’re currently doing!

Of course the problem with that is it can take a long time to get back in focused mode after you’ve pulled yourself away for an email…and the odds are really good that you will get another one in the next five minutes.

One study from Basex found that 28% of a knowledge worker’s day is filled up with interruptions – over 2.1 hours lost every day due to interruption, many of them coming from email (or twitter, or facebook updates, etc.).

One way to combat this is to change the way you work with email.  Tim Ferriss, author of the 4 Hour Workweek recommends only checking your email twice per day.  Part of the key to making that work is to let people know that you won’t be continuously checking it and then to physically turn it off when you’re working on other things.

This is an example of “batching” tasks (performing like tasks at set times, between which you let them accumulate), and your success with batching will depend on two factors:

1. Your ability to train others to respect these intervals
and, much more difficult,
2. Your ability to discipline yourself to follow your own rules

Try shutting things down (phone, email, etc.) and just focus on a critical task for an hour or two at a time – you’ll be amazed at what you can get done.

Kill the Drop-in Meeting!

Another productivity killer that I see often are the drop-in meetings.  Your employees want to hang out with you and depending on your management style and approach you may have inadvertently trained them to run everything by you.

You could run and hide to find the time to get stuff done, but a better answer would be to institute a new policy.  Let everyone know that you have a new open door policy, but you are only available for meetings between 10 and 11 in the morning (or whatever makes sense for you).  Additionally (and this is the kicker), these unscheduled meetings can only last for 10 minutes – no exceptions. 

About the first time that you kick someone out of your office because they couldn’t stop after 10 minutes, you will start to see a change in behavior.  Ideally people will start realizing they don’t need your input for everything and if necessary they can bundle up their questions for the weekly staff meeting instead.

Consciously choose what to do (or not do)!

This last one may not seem like a big deal, but a big hit on productivity is creating a feeling of being overwhelmed.  We’ve all been there, when you have a huge list and a clear understanding that you can never get out from under it.  That feeling is generated when you unconsciously let things slip into the next day’s list of priorities…and then it slips again.  Each time it slips, you mentally build up more pressure on yourself – either through guilt, frustration or just simple stress.

A better answer is to consciously evaluate those things that are not getting done and decide how important they actually are.  If you find something that’s slipped more than twice, take a few minutes and do a quick review:

  • How important is this item really?  What if I just choose not to do it?
  • Is it something I could postpone until things aren’t going to be as busy (like that happens a lot…!)  😉
  • If it really is important, what ‘different’ strategies could I use to get it done?  Could I bring in some help, could I delegate it, could I break it into pieces?

By consciously choosing how to react to it, you don’t leave any open loops and the missed item will stop acting like a drag on your productivity.

What time management strategies are really helpful to you?  Share your ideas in the comments below, I’d love to hear them.

Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

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