Time management secrets for successful entrepreneurs

A few simple things that could give you an extra two or three hours a day, every single day.

As an entrepreneur, I find that the biggest obstacle to getting things done is lack of time. You probably feel the same. What if I could show you a few simple things that could give you an extra two or three hours a day, every single day? You’d take it, right? Well, here we go!

Essential: Value your time

You must value your time, and make sure everyone else values it too. Time is the only thing that you and Bill Gates have exactly the same amount of, and don’t let anyone waste it! It’s an attitude thing.

Plan your day with time slots

When you were at college, or university, did you pretty much wait until the deadline to get motivated and get anything done? That’s what most people do. Why? Because deadlines work! So give yourself some deadlines—a bit of pressure—and watch your productivity soar!

There’s a common saying: work expands to fill the time available. So don’t give it time to expand!

Here’s how. Try planning your day, hour by hour, making a series of appointments with yourself. For example, “Reply to emails” might be 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. “Write new FAQ” might be 10 a.m. until 11.30 a.m. I usually work in 15 minute slots, because hardly anything takes less than 15 minutes by the time you’ve got ready to start, actually done the task, and finished up.

I’m generous with my time slots, and plan for things to take a bit longer that they perhaps will, which gives me time for breaks and for doing menial tasks. If a task runs over, I decide whether to abandon it and move on, or to reschedule my day, or just to remove the task whose time I’m eating into and get it done tomorrow.

When I plan my day, I use the standard iCal calendar application on my Mac, and created a new calendar called “Plan”. This shows up in another color, in my case red, so I don’t confuse my own planning with my external appointments.

You can either do your daily plan at the end of the previous day, or as the first thing you do in the morning. Try experimenting with both.

Pick some must-do items each day

I have a few major things I want to accomplish each day, and then fill in the rest with the grunt work. Then, if time slips away, at least I’ve achieved something worthwhile each day. So start your time plan by planning in the major things, to make sure they get done first.

Task switching wastes time: you cannot multitask

If you do only one thing at once, you can fully concentrate on that thing, and you only have to prepare for it once. If you do several things at once, you waste too much time switching between tasks. To start a task, you have to get prepared, then you have to get your brain in gear and hold all the relevant information in your head. That takes time. Every time you switch tasks, you are wasting time getting back up to speed with where you left off. You are also probably not fully concentrating.

So if you have several things to do, do them one after the other, not all at the same time. You’ll be quicker, and you’ll make a better job of it.

No interruptions: shut down email and chat

I am often at my most productive when I’m sitting on the train, travelling to my office. Why? I have no interruptions. There’s no wi-fi, so there’s no email, no chat, no distractions. If you need a big boost of productivity, cut yourself off from the outside world! You’ll be surprised at how little you actually miss.

Use online chat properly

Online chat, via MSN or whatever messenger you use, can be a huge drain on your time. A conversation that would take a minute by phone probably takes about five minutes by chat, because people can’t type as fast as they can talk. You can’t really do anything else while you’re chatting, because you only get 20 second chunks of time while the other person types. So for anything non-trivial, arrange a voice call at a pre-arranged time, or encourage people to get in touch by email, so you can reply at your convenience.

Of course, sometimes chat can be a very quick way to get something sorted without having to make a voice call. The best advice is just to think before you get into communication with someone as to what will be the fastest way to get the information you need.

We experimented with OLark live chat for our users, but recently turned it off because it was simply eating up too much time. We replaced it with Assistly, which helps people to answer their own questions, with fall-back to email.

Plan calls in advance, at a fixed time

People always call me when I’m busy. If I’ve got a quiet moment, nothing will happen, but as soon as I get into full concentration mode then either the phone will ring, or Skype will ring, and I get interrupted. *When it comes to getting things done, interruptions are the devil.* Wherever possible, plan phone calls in advance. I often do this by chat, eg “Hey Richard, will you be free for a call at 2 p.m.?” Then you can slot this into your plan for the day, and continue uninterrupted.

Two tests to determine whether something is worth doing

My business partner and I have developed a couple of simple tests that we find ourselves using often when we are trying to work out what to do next:

1. Will this task move the business forward?
2. Is this really the best use of our time right now?

If you can’t come up with good answers to those questions, chances are you’re not using your time properly, and should move on to something else.

So there you are, a few simple and straightforward things to get you more time in your day. It’s not rocket science, so pick one of these techniques and try it out.


Book on Time Management

There’s only book I recommend on time management—who’s got time to read any more, anyway! It’s No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs by Dan Kennedy. Dan is pretty much the best business author I know of—he’s old school, he cares about actually making money! I recommend all his books, and the Time Management one is a great place to start!

(If you want to go a bit bizarre, his book “Making them believe” gives marketing lessons based on the case study of a rogue doctor who implanted goats’ testicles into his patients, but that’s probably a story for another day!)

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