How do you rate your time management skills? Do you feel you get a lot done every day? Do you plan your day to the last detail or just “go with the flow” and deal with whatever landed on your desk/in your inbox? Whichever category you are in, it’s important that you take time to analyse what’s working for you and make adjustments where necessary.
I’m someone who’s fond of written to-do lists. I’ve got my hardcover diary where I scribble every day my lists and feel great emotional empowerment once all items on my to-do list have been ticked off. I add my meetings there too, any trivial household tasks like getting the shopping or doing the school run. In this way I know exactly how much time I’ve got between “fixed” commitments and can schedule and organise the rest of the tasks in between those.
Here are some tips from the born organisers (aka “virtual PAs”) for organising your day:
1. Write it down.
Make a list and write everything down – on paper, on computer, in Excel, on iPhone or Blackberry. It doesn’t matter where but it’s got to be written! You may be shocked, surprised and overwhelmed looking at your list of ‘to do’s’. But don’t despair – as they will all get done, if you follow the steps below. Also, don’t forget to schedule lunch in your diary, especially if you find yourself often working through your lunch break!
Another tip I’ve picked up from Nigel Botterill (UK top entrepreneur) – “this day isn’t over until tomorrow is planned”. Don’t stop the work until you’ve done the list. In this way you won’t waste time in the morning and you will be more likely to stick to your list/plan rather than changing everything because of an email that landed in the Inbox overnight.
The next step is to number each item on your to-do list in importance of completion starting at 1 for most important and so on. Think strategically – where do you want your business to be in the next 3-6 months? Will this activity help you to get there quicker? If something just has to be done today and there is no excuse for not getting it done put it at number one.
Next estimate how long each task will take. Beware of time sappers – emails, social networking, browsing... It may seem that checking emails will only take 5 minutes but before you know it you could spend 3 hours of your day just reading and responding to messages! Be realistic about what you can get done in a day.
Go through your list and delegate things that don’t specifically need your attention. There are so many tasks that could actually be done by others: book-keeping, email marketing, arranging travel, posting a blog article, research, chasing invoices to name a few. Why not use your VA for those things? Or if you feel that a particular area of your business takes too much time because you are not an expert (sales, marketing, IT, HR, etc.) – why not hire a professional consultant? It may look expensive from the outset but a good professional adviser will save you money and time in the long run.
4. Use your list!
There is not point in writing your list and then never looking at it again. Your list is one of the most important tools that help you manage your business and your time. Therefore once you’ve arrived at work – open your list and get on with it from Priority 1 down. Try to use concentrated effort to get things done quicker (e.g. a short period of time when you have no distractions from the task in hand). Take short breaks between tasks to answer calls or read emails. Then go back to your list.
5. Things happen... Be cool!
We wish we could be in control of everything but we are not. A delivery may be late, a project could go pear-shaped, a subcontractor can let you down. Your list will have to be put on hold to solve an issue that’s threatening your business right now. In this situation don’t stress: getting frustrated and upset about this interruption is only a waste of your time. Deal with an issue as soon as you can and go back to your list.
6. Plans for Short and Long.
Ideally you need to have 2 separate lists. One – short-term actions, items that need doing today/tomorrow. You will be re-arranging and re-planning this list every day. Your second list is the list of your long-term business goals. For example, you would like to launch an email training course for your customers in 4 months. It’s a long-term goal. But then you need to start working backwards and figure out small, manageable steps to take today and tomorrow to achieve this big goal.
There is no point just adding the big goal to your today’s list as you won’t be able to do it. But referring to the goal and the list of actions required to achieve it – you can add those along with other items and complete everything in time.
7. Analyse and review.
At the end of the day look at your your list. Have you managed to achieve everything? If not, what went wrong? What can you do next time to prevent it? Can you delegate even more? Review what’s left to do, plan your list for tomorrow and the check your long-term plan.
Finally, if you have never made lists before it may seem time consuming and limiting. Try it though and give it some time! Very quickly it will become a habit – something that you will do without thinking. You will find yourself more productive, achieving more every day.
You will master the time... so how will you use it?
So what works for you? I’d love to hear your comments.
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Member since: 8th May 2012
I'm a Virtual Assistant offering secretarial, book-keeping and social media marketing services to small businesses and self-employed professionals. I design and write e-newsletters, blogs, websites and...