Time Management Tips for Entrepreneurs

As an entrepreneur, at times it can feel like Niagara Falls has opened the floodgates on you.

To keep the ship afloat and flourish as entrepreneurs, we feel like we need to be in go-go-go work mode at all times. The reality is we also need to exercise, eat well, get enough sleep, spend time with our loved ones, laugh, play, and take breaks throughout the day, week, month, and year to do our best work.

Looking into time management programs and strategies, there is a wide range of ideas and theories. Some are practical, others leave me scratching my head. One in particular wanted me to track how I spend my time 24 hours a day for 30 days. Could you do it? Anyone disciplined enough to track every hour of their life for 30 days doesn’t need a time management program. Sheeesh.

So let’s get into it. You’re thinking about starting a new business, or perhaps you’re a recent entrepreneur, or maybe even a seasoned veteran, looking for some new ideas and strategies to get more out of your time and life.

Benefits of Time Management

In order to commit to anything, we need a compelling WHY? Most habits that fall off die because of a lack of commitment to the reason for doing it in the first place. The benefits of time management vary for each of us, but I’ve laid out some pretty universal benefits below, along with a few personal ones:

  • Better focus, resulting in getting more accomplished in less time.
  • Make more money.
  • Have more time to spend with family and friends.
  • More time for pursing hobbies, travel, and passions.
  • Creating a life that works for you.
  • Peace of mind.
  • More time to exercise and get to the gym.
  • More time for grocery shopping and cooking meals at home.
  • Others? Please leave us a comment below.

Time Management Strategies

  • Create daily, weekly, and monthly to-do lists.
  • Prioritize those to-do lists.
  • Email is stealing your time.
  • Communicate and set expectations with time thieves.
  • Work 100% of the time you’re at work.
  • Blocking method.
  • Say “no” more.
  • Lifestyle habits.
  • No cellphones in bed.

Create Daily, Weekly, and Monthly To-Do Lists

Creating to-do lists is one of the best places to start with time management. Keeping track of things in our heads can get confusing and lead to us panicking and scrambling to get things done in a hurry when we realize we forgot to do something time-sensitive and important.

A brain dump of everything you need to do — from phone calls, appointments, emails, visits, work, personal, the whole nine yards — is something to do at least once a week.

Prioritize Those To-Do Lists

One of the biggest shortcomings of to-do lists that are a mile long is that they’re in no particular order. So after you make a to-do list, the most important thing to do is to prioritize it.

How productive a day did you have if the things you got done were not very important? By tomorrow, there is going to be a handful of new to-dos, so it’s important to prioritize. I stick to six things a day to do. I rank them one through six, and when I wake up I start on the first item on the list.

Assign Times and Lengths to To-Do Lists

Adding more to a to-do list than you’re able to accomplish in a day can leave you feeling overwhelmed at day’s end. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or someone trying to start a business in your spare time, there are going to be a lot of things on your list. Take a step back and ask yourself, if you could do only one thing this week or tomorrow that would have the greatest impact on your business, what would it be? That should be No. 1 on your to-do list. Continue that process over and over.

Once your to-do list is prioritized, estimate how much time each item on your list will take you to do. If a task or project is going to take longer than two to three hours, break the task into smaller pieces. After task times are estimated, assign the time you’re going to do the task tomorrow.

For example, if creating a proposal is No. 1 on my list and I’m going to commit two hours to the task tomorrow, I may assign it from 8-10 a.m. That means I need to be up and showered and my morning routine complete by 8 a.m. so I can start the project.

Continue this exercise for the other priorities on your to-do list for tomorrow until your entire day is filled up.

Keep in mind we are only awake 16-17 hours a day, depending on how long you sleep. Within those hours we also need to shower, eat, dress, commute to and from work, use the bathroom, and a number of other things, in addition to the unavoidable interruptions that are going to take time out of your day.

Email Is Stealing Your Time

How many of you play with your smartphone in bed and check your email first thing when you wake up or last thing before going to bed? Stop it. Unless you are in a customer-service role, other people’s priorities should not be your priorities for the day. Getting off track at the beginning of the day can leave you hungry for lunch before you’ve even started on your day’s most important to-dos.

Email is a good tool, but a terrible master. Much like the telephone, it is there for your convenience. Use it accordingly.

Some of the most successful and productive people I know schedule email into their calendars. If email isn’t on their calendars, they don’t check email that day. Could you increase your productivity if you checked email once in the morning and once in the evening?

How would your clients and email contacts react if you responded to all emails within 12 to 24 hours?

Many of those I’ve seen implement checking email twice a day use an away message that says something like this:

Thank you for your email. In order to improve the level of service we are able to provide you and our other clients, we are checking email at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily. If you need to reach me sooner, please call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx.  I will be back in touch within 24 hours. Thanks and best regards,

Communicate and Set Expectations With Time Thieves

Do you know people who are always late for meetings or appointments? These time thieves are taking hours, days, and weeks out of your life. Start and end meetings on time and send the message to these time thieves that Moses is not going to wait for them for meetings to start.

Are there people who constantly barge into your office to interrupt your work? Establish an acceptable communication pattern with them.

Are you caught up in unnecessary texting or social media relationships with friends? These interruptions may not seem like much, but every five or 10 minutes you spend on social media requires you to refocus and zoom in on your work. These minor interruptions can add up in hours of lost time in a workday.

The blocking mentioned below is another good way to cope with these interruptions and time thieves.

Work 100% of the Time You’re at Work

Work while you’re at work. It’s as simple as that. Work is not the time to be on Facebook, making personal calls, or allowing yourself to take your focus away from why you’re there. By being productive the entire time you’re at work, you may be able to carve out a few hours a day of personal time that you’ve been wasting at work.

Blocking Method

This is a habit to create your most productive output zone. With blocking, we turn off and eliminate all possible distractions, essentially going off the grid, for blocks of time. This time will allow you to get into or close to a state of flow in your work or play, whatever it maybe. Figure out a period of time during which you’re able to concentrate uninterrupted and treat yourself to “blocking” time.

Depending on what you’re working on, it may be helpful or necessary to remove yourself from technology and set guidelines to keep you on task. One tip that comes to mind is no technology during the blocking, or at the very least, no Internet. Needing to Google something is often a jailbreak for people trying to be productive, and the next thing they know it’s 30 minutes later and they’re still surfing the Web and looking for things on Google.

Say ‘No’ More

While optimism and saying yes can be well received in both personal and professional settings, there is a lot to be said for the power of no.

We often overcommit ourselves to social outings and get-togethers, with our real priorities falling by the wayside. We lose not only that night, but sometimes we’re feeling the consequences of staying out too late or drinking too much.

Thinking back to my first job that I was 100% committed to in my early 20s, I was nervous telling my friends I was staying in Friday and Saturday nights to relax and work, as I thought they would be mad at me. At the time, I also had a strong fear of missing out on fun. After a couple of weeks, it became clear to my friends that my presence at the weekend parties was not a foregone conclusion, and by saying no, I reduced my stress levels of feeling like I needed to be somewhere at the expense of something else I wanted to get done. My confidence, productivity, and peace of mind skyrocketed as I found myself relaxing and being productive on weekend nights and getting up early to exercise and eat a good breakfast on the weekends.

What social commitments are you saying yes to that you don’t really want to attend? Why are you saying yes?

No Cellphone in Bed

Do you or your partner bring a cellphone to bed? What is that doing to your relationship?

While we don’t have all the scientific and medical data on how cellphone screens impair our ability to sleep, it’s probably worse than we expect. Cellphones in bed interfere with our sleep patterns and our ability to drift off to a good night of sleep, not to mention our connection and intimacy with our partners.

The cellphone in bed is really a double whammy, as it not only distracts us from getting a good night’s sleep, it’s also the first thing millions of people reach for in the morning, succumbing to emails and stressful to-dos before they even get out of bed.

In Closing…

I had a talk with a guy who has two graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. and J.D. He was diving into the world of startups for the first time and found himself with an unexpected amount of work to tackle. As I listened to him explain these challenges and inconsistencies for the first time in his life, I knew the feeling, as I’ve been in his shoes before.

At the end of the day, your health is your wealth. Your ability to properly rest, fuel, and manage your energy will be the foundation of your ability to run and operate your own business. If you’re feeling stressed and rushed all day, and your health is being sacrificed for the business, you run the risk of burnout, illness, and lack of concentration, which can all be detrimental to your business.

The first step is getting control of your time. It’s possible, but for most of us requires some behavior modification. Let’s hope you’ll try at least one of the strategies above to increase your earnings, happiness, and peace of mind.

You’re welcome to add any other tips and ideas you have below.

Joe Sweeney is a social entrepreneur, committed to helping individuals and organizations grow and solve problems. Most recently, he was the co-founder and CEO at 100state, a nonprofit, startup community of entrepreneurs, educators, and innovators in Madison, Wis. Joe was recently named one of 53 entrepreneurs on Madison Magazine’s “M List: The New Who’s Who” for his work with 100state.

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