As solo professionals, most of us understand that we have to continually nurture our resources to be successful. We sign up for workshops to improve our skills. We take on challenging new projects to broaden our experience. And we attend conferences and join associations to drive our knowledge.
But in spite of all these efforts, there's one resource we simply cannot grow: our time.
Our time is finite. No matter how early we get up or how late we wind down, there are only so many hours in a day. For many of us, the only way to get "more" time is to use the time we have more efficiently.
In this training episode, Jason Womack delivers tips and strategies for doing just that. Jason is an internationally sought after speaker and advisor who invests his time, energy and focus as an agent of change. He has advised and consulted with companies, governments and entrepreneurs worldwide, and he was honored as one of America's top 100 thinkers in productivity in 1997.
Earlier this year Jason's most recent book, Your Best Just Got Better, achieved best-selling status within five weeks of publication.
It Starts With Awareness
I often ask clients to reflect on this question: "When was the last time you took time, energy and focus to study how you work?" As you can probably guess, many people say never.
Developing and learning time management strategies and methods does indeed take time. If you look at the way you currently manage your time, you will likely see that you do what you've always done because it has worked¬ — or at least worked well enough to get by.
But to make your best better, it's probably time to change how you use your time.
During the next few days, I encourage you to be especially conscious (and curious) about how you spend your time. Recognize how often other people interrupt you, how frequently you have to stop and look for things, or how long it takes to complete certain job functions. As you continue studying your methods, look for new practices that you can implement immediately that will help you manage your time better.
The following are some of my favorite strategies for making immediate improvements to your time management process:
1. Start meetings on the 00:15 of each hour.
In my experience, most one-hour meetings can be handled in 45 minutes. In fact, they usually are, especially later in the day when people are running 5 to 15 minutes late. Try scheduling your meetings with clients and partners for 15 minutes past the hour instead of on the hour, such as from 9:15 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. or 2:15 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Why the odd starting time? It often takes people 15 minutes to prepare for a call or meeting. By scheduling your meetings at 15 minutes past the hour, you may be pleased to find your clients actually show up or join the call "on time."
2. Make the most of small pockets of time.
Keep a list of 20 to 30 things you can do in less than 15 minutes and have at hand the supplies or information you need to accomplish at least some of these tasks. By having them ready, you'll be able to make the most of small pockets of time whenever they come up.
You'll find there are plenty of opportunities to use these little pockets of time. Meetings start late, people fail to arrive on time, flights get cancelled, your child's soccer practice runs long.
Often these small pockets of time are long enough so you can reply to an email or phone call. In other instances, you might have enough time to review materials for another meeting or project you are working on. If you're prepared, you can confirm appointments, draft responses or map out a project outline.
Fifteen minutes is about 1% of your average workday. That may not sound like much time, but over the course of a week, you may find yourself with anywhere from 10 to 20 extra 15-minute blocks of time. In 15-minutes of prepared, focused work, you can often get more done than in one hour of unprepared, unfocused work.
3. Gain some ground early in the day.
When you sit down at your desk each morning, begin by working on something you can finish. After a few weeks, you'll find you've completed a lot of little things that needed to be done, and you may have more time, mental space and inspiration to tackle some bigger issues. Completion increases your energy level and sets the standard for consistent forward motion on projects at all levels of importance.
4. Focus on the task at hand.
Part of maintaining focus is minimizing distractions. If you work from a home office, there are always plenty of things that distract. When you think of things unrelated to the immediate task at hand, make a short note of them and then get back to what you were working on.
Try keeping a piece of paper off to the side on your desk. When you think of something non-urgent you need to tell or ask someone, write it down instead of emailing or calling the person right away. When you think of something you need to do or get an idea related to some other project, quickly write it down and then put it aside.
These pages might end up looking like a random to-do list with items like details you need to tell your coworker, a story to add to your next newsletter, or which restaurant to book for your partner's birthday. By compiling these items instead of immediately reacting to them, you'll help minimize distractions and keep yourself focused on the task at hand.
As a freelancer, you might think that one of your most important skills is the ability to multitask. But I'd like to encourage you to experiment with NOT multitasking. Try turning off everything but what you're currently working on. Set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes and only do that one thing for the whole time.
When you get distracted (and you will) practice looking at the countdown timer, and get your head "back in the game." Sometimes when we multitask, we get pulled in many different directions and little gets done. Instead, try to limit your focus to one thing at a time in 10 to 15 minute segments.
Once you start making changes to manage your time more effectively, you'll want to assess how well these changes are working for you. I have two methods for doing this: end-of-day reviews and Thursday debriefings.
5. End-of-Day Reviews
Before finishing up work tonight, review your calendar and reprioritize your meetings, appointments and planned work for the next day. Look to see if you can reschedule non-priority meetings to the following day if you need to.
Review the next week on your calendar and ask yourself if you can collapse two meetings into one by meeting with two people at the same time. Find and schedule 30- to 60-minute chunks of a time (perhaps even multiple times per day) during which you can close your door or turn off your email or phone so you can focus on a single project or priority without being interrupted.
My clients have found that this end-of-day review enables them to become more aware of the changes they can make for a more productive, engaging day. Decide what you want to focus on and how you're going to do it. Understand and take advantage of everything that influences your productivity, and you'll find you can manage time more effectively.
6. Thursday Debriefings
Next, open your calendar to Thursday, at least one week from today. On your calendar, write this question:
"How have I been managing my time lately?"
When you see this reminder a week or so from now, you'll be able to assess the work you've done and the progress you've made. I coach my clients to do this kind of weekly debriefing on Thursdays (not Fridays) as a way to acknowledge their work that week and organize anything they need to do before finishing up the next day.
When people ask me why I do my debriefing on early or midmorning Thursdays, I give them the following reasons:
- Friday afternoon, I generally want to: (a) go for a bike ride, (b) do aimless online research along my lines of interest or (c) meet up with friends for happy hour.
- Friday afternoon, I do not want to have to think!
- Thursday, midmorning, is the time I start to think about bringing the week to a close.
- Thursday, midmorning, I can remind people of (a) what I am doing for them, and (b) what I need from them. This gives me the rest of that day and all day Friday to get those things done.
- By seeing the progress I've made over the previous three days (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday), I get an extra shot of energy to move on to the next two days with gusto.
So, between now and next Thursday, practice some of these time management ideas. Here are some specific things to think about as you move toward working smarter and improving your efficiency and productivity.
- Are you making the most of small pockets of time?
- Are you making progress on important areas and goals?
- What could you change that would move you forward on the path of productivity, so that you get done more of the important things during the day and increase the amount of time, energy, and focus you have once you're done work for the day?
Good time management doesn't just happen. Like most aspects of your business, it requires conscious assessment and effort to change and improve. Whether you're a freelancer, solopreneur or small business owner, implementing these tips and strategies will help you get the most out of your time.
What Other Tips Work For You?
I'd love to hear from you! What other productivity tips and strategies have enabled you to make better use of your time?
Please let me know in the comments area below.
Jason Womack is the author of: Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More (Wiley, 2012). He works globally with leaders maximizing tools, systems, and processes to achieve quality work/life balance. He focuses on solutions that are valuable to organizations and the individuals in those organizations. You can reach Jason at Jason@WomackCompany.com.