Time management and organizational skills, according to Harvard Business School, are two of the most important factors in small to medium business leaders’ success.
Time is one of your most precious assets. Many business leaders find that as they launch their firms, the tasks keep adding up, and doing everything solo becomes a multitasking challenge. You try to do it all yourself because the second most precious asset (or maybe first) is cash, and it feels "cheaper" to do as much as you can on your own. We'll discuss that question later.
So how can you do more with less time? Here are six tips for time management that require no new investments in apps or technology, just changes in your approach to tasks.
Timeboxing Time Management
No, you don't get into a fistfight with time (though it may feel that way sometimes). Timeboxing refers to the concept of scheduling your tasks for specific times. You put tasks like responding to email from 4:00-5:00 pm every day, for example, instead of letting your inbox distract you throughout the day. Timeboxing is excellent if you:
- Procrastinate because a project involved work that you don't like.
- Lose track of time doing projects that you enjoy.
- Are overwhelmed by a project that is so large it's hard to know where to start.
With timeboxing, you make a date with your tasks and projects. When they are on your calendar, you won't schedule something else and are more likely to do the work.
The Eisenhower Matrix for Time Management
The general and U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower famously said, "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent." It's not clear whether he invented his namesake matrix, but here's how it works. You divide tasks into four categories in the form of a table.
- Tasks that are urgent and important
- Tasks that urgent but not important
- Tasks that are important but not urgent
- Tasks that are not important or urgent
Here’s what the list looks like:
Important but not urgent
Do it later.
Urgent and important
Do it first.
Not important or urgent
Don’t do it.
Urgent but not important
As you can see, urgent and important tasks are the top priority. These are tasks that need to be done now and by you. Important but not urgent items can be scheduled for later. Urgent but not important projects get delegated, and stuff that is not important or urgent should be ignored. The delegation step is critical. As mentioned above, this time management tip helps not only focus on what matters most but also get some non-critical tasks off your plate.
The Iceberg Method of Time Management
The Iceberg Method of time management falls into the "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" category. It is a way to organize your information so that it's easy to find when you need it later. For example:
- If you use your inbox (and trash) to store information that you might need later.
- When you need this information, you spend a lot of time looking for it.
The Iceberg Method is a way of organizing all that information as it comes into your inbox, chat, social media, or another channel. You create folders around categories of information so that it's easier to find when you need it. Categories might include:
- Travel plans
- Marketing ideas
- People to network with
In general, the narrower the category, the better. Otherwise, the folders might contain so many messages or files that you have the same problem as you did in the first place.
The Autofocus Productivity System
Productivity and time management are closely related—both aim to help you get more done with less time and effort. The Autofocus Productivity System will teach you to become a task whisperer. It was developed by Mark Forster as a counter to the most popular time management recommendation to prioritize tasks based on someone's (subjective) idea of their relative importance. Forster lets the projects come to him. Here's what he recommends:
- Make a list of everything you must do. On paper. Yes, it has to be on paper, according to Forster. As new tasks come along, add them to the list. Only keep one list.
- Read through the list slowly several times. Don't overthink it. When one task starts to stand out to you, that's the one you should do first.
- Work on that task for as long as you need to.
- When finished, go back to the list and repeat the process.
The idea is that, as with an autofocus camera, you don't have to exert any effort to see a sharp image; your mind will automatically clarify what needs to be done.
Getting Things Done (GTD)
Dave Allen has built a cottage industry around this time management method—Getting Things Done or GTD. Like autofocus, it is more mental than structured. GTD involves a five-step process.
- Capture—Take notes about everything that is on your mind. It can be a list or long-form like journaling. The point is to get it out of your head and clear your mind.
- Clarify—much of what is on our minds is out of our control. The weather, for example. Clarify what is actionable on your part and which are urgent.
- Organize—make a list of action items and create reminders for them on your phone or calendar.
- Reflect—return to your list often, checking off completed tasks (doesn't that feel good!) to make sure that you stay on schedule.
- Engage—do the work that's on the list methodically and efficiently. Note the efficiency improvements you discover along the way.
Like Autofocus, GTD is kind of a method without a method. Both assume that paying closer attention to tasks will lead you to more focused and efficient work because you're tending to what matters to you, not to someone else.
Get a Virtual Assistant
Well, you might have seen this one coming. More and more executives turn to remote administrative and executive assistants to take repetitive tasks off their plates—stuff executives shouldn't be paying themselves to do in the first place. Consider these numbers:
- Executives spend an average of 16 hours per week on administrative tasks.
- Professionals spend about three hours a day tending to email.
- Business travelers spend an average of 12 hours planning each trip.
- Sales leaders spend just one-third of their time selling.
All these time-draining tasks and processes can easily be handled by a virtual assistant at a fraction of the cost of your time. Virtual assistants excel at:
- Calendar management and meeting scheduling.
- Inbox management and prioritization.
- Travel planning based on your preferences.
- CRM data entry and cleanup.
- Following up on sales leads.
Look at that quadrant of Eisenhower's matrix that recommends delegation—tasks that are urgent but not important. Well, you can't say they aren't important, or you wouldn't be doing them. Maybe "urgent and not important but necessary" is a more accurate description.
At Prialto, we offer a managed virtual assistant service that gives you hours back in your day to focus on your business instead of scrambling to keep up with admin tasks. Assistants are trained and managed by Prialto, so there's minimal overhead or risk for you. To learn what it might be like to work with a Prialto Virtual Assistant, check out our guide.
About the Author: Bill is Prialto's senior content marketing manager and writes about the future of work and how businesses can be more productive and successful. His work has appeared in the World Economic Forum Agenda blog and CIO magazine.