How many times have you sat down at your desk facing a huge workload, only to find a few hours later that you have actually completed none of it?
If you are anything like me, then it’s probably far too many times than you would like to acknowledge.
For far too long, I have had a very open approach to dealing with my daily tasks. The approach went something like this: Turn computer on, think about what I needed to do for the day and then attack them in any order I would see fit. In fact, the only structure built into my day was the specific time of day I would start packaging up sold items.
But recently, as my business grows and I branch out into other ventures, I have identified that time management and getting the most out of the time I have is actually one of the most critical elements of giving my businesses the best possible chances of success.
In response to this, I have introduced a much more structured workflow to my day, while still allowing flexibility for the unforeseen. This structure has given me a new sense of direction and focus, and has so gone a long way to reaching the objective I have set out to achieve;
Getting More Done, In Less Time.
Time management is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of running a successful business. It’s overlooked so much because it’s not something that can be taught or learnt. Rather, it is a mindset that is linked to self-discipline. We can have the best intentions in the world, but if we don’t have the discipline then those intentions are often waylaid.
I now want to share 5 small things that I have implemented in my business over the past 6 months. They have helped increase my output and enables me to get the most out of my time.
I hope they can help you do the same in your business.
Diary & To Do Lists
Every year, I buy an A4 page per day diary for my business with the intention of planning out my workload on a day to day basis. And every year, the entries in the diary stop before January is out.
I have always thought that spending 10 minutes at the start of my work session planning what I was going to do for the next few hours would be a waste of those 10 minutes when I could be getting stuck in. But I was wrong. Those 10 minutes spent scribbling down the things you need to do have the potential to save you hours throughout a month, and more importantly, give you a structure and a set of goals.
The first thing I do now when I start a work session is to create a ‘to-do’ list in my diary. I make two lists. The first list is a small list of critical tasks that I need to complete in order to maintain the everyday running of my business. The second list contains less critical tasks. While such tasks are still important, they are tasks that won’t impact my business if I don’t get them done on that particular day.
Each task is allocated a time frame. In these time frames, I work on that particular task exclusively. No emails, no coffee breaks, no checking the sports news. I simply work through the task for at least 50 minutes (see 50/10 rule below).
Once you have completed the task, ensure you tick it off. Seeing this tick next to a task and seeing that you have completed it is really important, because it offers a visual pat on the back that you have achieved something during your work session.
Additionally, you may also want to look into project management software, especially if your business has multiple branches and you have multiple projects on the go at once. I use Freedcamp.com (An awesome free alternative to Basecamp). It lets you organise individual projects, set up to do lists, grade them by priority and even set target completion dates. It is completely free, and can be found at www.freedcamp.com
If you can only implement one of these tips, then this is the one I wholeheartedly recommend. Get yourself into the habit of writing out a task list before you start your work session, and I guarantee that your productivity will increase greatly.
Email is a wonderful communication tool. But it is only wonderful if we utilise it in the best way possible for our businesses. For me, emails and messages were actually the biggest distraction on my workflow and drain on my time, and the biggest reason for lost focus.
In the past, I would deal with an email or an eBay message like this: The message would arrive, I would open it immediately (regardless of whether I was in the middle of something or not) and then take action on it.
My new approach: I read and respond to all emails and messages at designated times throughout the day. For example, my first task of the day is to read, deal with and then delete all emails and messages I have received the previous evening. Once they are clear, I do not touch them again until early afternoon. My final sweep comes just before I power down for the day.
I do this because I find it easier to bulk respond rather than respond to individual messages as and when they arrive. I want to keep focused on what I am doing, rather than interrupting my work flow.
Don’t forget, you can also reply to an email by telephone. In a recent email exchange with a supplier, I asked a general question about the packaging of a product. I eventually got my answer – but only after a game of email tennis that saw 17 emails bouncing back and forth over a two day period.
If we say each email took 2 minutes to compose and send, then that equates to 34 minutes of saveable time between both of us. If I had picked the phone up, I would have had the answer I was looking for within 2 minutes.
Ask yourself this the next time you go to either send or reply to an email:
Would it be more time efficient to use the telephone?
This is a simple rule that keeps me focussed and fresh. I try and break up my work session time into chunks of 60 minutes. For 50 of those minutes, I work solid at completing a task or group of tasks, and then I give myself a 10 minute break.
These 10 minute breaks have really helped me keep fresh and keep my standard of work high. Sometimes I will go and grab a coffee, check the news or better still, leave my workstation completely. Just as long as I am giving myself some level of break time. In fact, Bupa claim that office workers are losing their companies millions of pounds by NOT taking regular breaks from their work, simply because of a slump in focus and alertness.
Experiment with your own rule – what may work for me may not work for you, but the important thing is that you are not working for prolonged periods of time, and you are giving yourself sufficient rest.
The 30 Minute Rule and the use of Freelancers
A couple of years ago, I wanted to move an element on my eBay Listing template to a different position within the template. It should have been a simple case of moving one line of HTML code, to a different position.
It ended up taking up around 6 hours.
These days, I have an entirely different approach. If I come across a problem, or something that I cannot do, I will spend no more than 30 minutes attempting to do it myself. After this timeframe is up, I seek help.
Help can come from various sources, such as colleagues and friends, but I have also utilised freelancers to help with my business. A recent example was something I wanted to add to a website I run. I attempted to change the coding myself within 30 minutes, but failed miserably.
I probably could have completed it myself, but I would have needed a lot more time to learn more about what I was trying to achieve. The key here is that I didn’t need to learn it. It was a one off. So I hired a freelancer from Elance. I paid $20 (approx. £13) and the freelancer came in and completed the work.
What you need to ask yourself is this: How much is my time worth? Would you rather spend 3, 4 or 5 hours trying to figure out how to do something that you will never do again, or would you rather pay someone $20 to do the job, freeing you up to do more important work?
I recommend Elance for hiring freelancers. Prices are displayed upfront, it is safe and secure and there are a lot of talented people on there who can complete a multitude of tasks for you.