How often does this happen to you? You get to the end of the day, wiped-out, and realize that nothing on that list you so carefully prepared got done.
This experience is all too familiar for many of us, small business owners in particular.
While you probably won’t ever be in complete control of every day. There are some easy-to-implement strategies that can help you regain your sanity and get more of the important stuff done.
The first strategy is called time blocking. The idea here is to specifically allocate time on your calendar for important activities. This technique works especially well for those important but not urgent things, like planning or writing or making outbound sales calls.
This technique works for two reasons. First, you are explicitly making time for the activity in your day. Second, you are making a decision in advance what you are going to do at a certain day and time, greatly eliminating the potential for procrastination.
Here’s how you put into practice.
Let’s say you need to work on a new marketing strategy for your business. You decide to dedicate 3 hours per week to this until it’s finished.
You make an appointment with yourself to work on the marketing strategy every Tuesday and Thursday from 8 am to 9:30 am. When those times come, that’s what you do.
Of course, you don’t have to do things in 90-minute blocks. You can split the time up any way that works for you. What matters is that you make the time.
The key to success with this approach is to treat this time as sacred. These are appointments that don’t get missed, don’t get rescheduled, and don’t get interrupted. If you do this, you’ll be amazed at how much more productive you become.
Use this technique to schedule all of your important items, but be careful not to overbook yourself. Which leads us to the second technique.
Keep some slack in your schedule
It’s all too easy to get booked solid every day. While it might make you feel important and needed, don’t do it.
If you are overscheduled with meetings, you run into two problems. First, if one meeting runs over or is late, you end up behind all day long. This just adds stress to your life and makes you look disorganized.
Second, if you spend all your time in meetings, when are you going to do the work?
Even if your meetings are with yourself (see time blocking), you don’t want to book up your entire day. Things will come up. An unexpected new customer or a problem with production could throw your carefully constructed schedule into chaos.
Build time into your day to address the random issues that come up. This ensures that you have time to address them. It also helps you avoid the stress of disrupting your schedule to deal with a crisis because you know you’ve already scheduled time to handle it.
Of course, some things will require that you drop everything and handle it now. But most things that come up can safely wait a few hours to be handled during your slack time.
You want to be accessible to your customers and your employees, but being too accessible will prevent you from getting anything done.
An interruption is actually far more damaging to your productivity than it seems. That 30-second quick question that broke your concentration doesn’t just cost you 30 seconds. It takes several minutes, at least, to get back into what you were doing after an interruption. A few of those “quick questions” and before you know it, an hour has gone by and you haven’t gotten much done.
Here are some strategies to cut down on interruptions:
Use a gatekeeper. Have someone (or voice mail) screen your calls. Designate someone on your team as the go-to person for questions or problems. Only if they can’t resolve them, should it come to you.
Turn off notifications. All those cell phone notifications are killing your productivity. Yes, it’s only a short ‘ding’, but it breaks your focus and you’ll need a lot of time to get back in the zone. Same for email notifications on your computer. While you’re at it, turn off your phone’s ringer.
Closed door = do not disturb. Train your staff that a closed door means the only acceptable reason to disturb you is to tell you the building is on fire.
Yes, you have a week’s worth of work to do on any given day. No, you aren’t going to get it all done. That can be a huge source of anxiety until you realize you shouldn’t get it all done.
The 80/20 rule applies here. A small number of items on your list are going to have most of the impact on your business. Identify and prioritize those items.
Once you have priortized those items, use the other strategies in this post to make sure they get done.
What about the other 80%?
These are prime candidates for delegation. Hand off everything that doesn’t have to be done by you to your team. You’ll be freeing yourself up to do the work only you can do and you’ll be training your team to take responsibility for operating many parts of the business.
Review and Plan
At the start of each day, review what got done yesterday and plan what needs to be completed today. This doesn’t need to be a big task. Just 5 or 10 minutes spent identifying what is most important will set you up for a productive day.
Do a bigger version of this weekly. I’m a big fan of the GTD Weekly Review.
This planning time is critical to avoid being in reactive mode all the time. If you don’t have a plan for what you are going to do, you will just be carried along by whatever comes up. That is living by someone else’s priorities, which makes it nearly impossible to realize your own.
Give these five time management strategies a try. Successfully implementing even one of them will make a difference in your productivity and how you feel at the end of the day.