I’m sure most of us at some stage have wished there were more hours in the day. Unfortunately, I don’t have a time machine to magically add more hours to your day. I can, however, give you some tips on how to make better use of the time you do have available.
Track your time
To be able to better manage your time, you first need to understand how you currently use your time. Here’s a challenge for you (stay with me here, you might not like this but it is worth the effort). I want you to track all your time for an entire workweek – record everything you do in your workday for a whole week. Yep, I’m serious. (If each workday is very similar for you, you could just track 1 day and use that as a basis for the whole week).
If you really want to get on top of your time management this step is crucial. I know; I can hear you protesting that you already don’t have enough time in the day. So how is adding an extra task going to help? Having a good look at exactly where and how you spend your time is going to help you find areas for improvement. The results might surprise you when you put it all together. You must be totally honest with yourself in this exercise though. So, if you spend ½ hr every day looking at funny YouTube clips make sure you include that (all those 2 min clips add up you know!).
Ok, I’ll give it a go but HOW do I track my time?
What you want to end up with is a list of all the tasks you do and how long you spend on each task for the week. You will track each day then add up the time spent on each task to get an overall total for the week. Make sure you include interruptions and other distractions too. These things can be big time suckers without you even realising. Here is a simple example of how it might look:
You get what I mean. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated, just find a way to record it that will work for you. The hardest part will be remembering to record it. This is especially true if you jump from one task to another throughout your day. (I.e. answering an email that comes through when you are working on something else). Just try to keep track of it as accurately as you can.
You can simply estimate/ average out the time you spend on each task (not the best option as it’s not entirely accurate, but it’s a start). For example, it may take you on average 5 mins to read and reply to each email. Let’s keep the maths simple. So, if you get 24 emails a day that is 120 minutes (or 2 hrs) you spend on emails each day. That equals an average of 10 hrs per week if all your days are similar.
There are many free time tracking apps out there that can help you track your time (Toggl or Clockify are a couple you could try). They allow you to enter a task and start a timer when you begin the task (remember to turn it off when you switch tasks). These are great as they will keep a running total of each task for you. Just set up your tasks then click on the relevant one to start recording. Or a stopwatch can work just as well. You could also take note of the time when you start and finish a task and just jot it down. Maybe a diary with times in it would help, which might look something like this:
After doing this exercise you should have a really good idea of how you spend your time. From there you can identify your biggest time wasters and find areas for improvement. Now let’s have a look at some ways you can make improvements and find some more time in your day.
If you have employees in your business look at what tasks you can delegate. Do you personally have to complete all the tasks you are doing or is someone else able to take on some of them? Can you train someone to take over some of your tasks? Yes, this might take up a little more of your time to begin with, but it will free you up in the long run.
If you don’t have any employees to delegate to, why not look into getting a virtual assistant (also known as a VA). Business owners (solo operators in particular) wear so many hats and it can be tough trying to do everything yourself. There are only so many hours in the day after all. I am guessing that many of the solo operators out there are spending a lot of time on the admin tasks required for running a business. Wouldn’t your time be better spent actually doing whatever it is your business does to make money? With a virtual assistant taking care of the admin side of things, you can get back to focusing on your core business activities. Let’s say you are spending 20 hrs per week on all your various admin tasks. If you were to outsource those tasks to a VA, that’s an extra 20 hours you have available to you each week! And that’s without making any other changes to what you are doing. Imagine what you could achieve with an extra 20 hrs in your week! You could use that time to grow your business and take on extra clients (which equals more money coming in). Or maybe you could have some well deserved free time.
It can be important to have face to face meetings sometimes. But they can also be a massive time drain (especially if you need to travel to attend them). Here are a few ways to help keep your meetings from eating up all your time:
- Reduce unnecessary meetings. Look at alternate ways of getting your information across. Project management tools where everyone can share and comment on things can be very handy and can reduce the need to have a formal meeting.
- Create an agenda and stick to it. Defer items that require more in-depth conversations and schedule a specific time to address these things later on.
- Try to reduce travelling to meetings as much as possible. Have people come to your office instead or alternate where you hold the meetings so you aren’t the one having to travel every time. If you are meeting with people from different locations why not try a video conference or Zoom call instead. If that’s not possible try to find a location that is more convenient for all parties.
- Set a time limit for your meeting so you don’t end up sitting there chatting for the whole afternoon.
Systems & Procedures
- Look at your systems & procedures and see if there is any way to improve how you do things. Can you find a way to do things more efficiently thus making it quicker?
- Set up job procedures to reduce how much time you spend training new employees.
- Constantly getting the same enquiries? Why not set up a FAQ document addressing these on your website.
- Schedule your daily tasks in your calendar and just focus on one thing at a time. Don’t forget to schedule in regular breaks too as this is just as important.
There are lots of different things that can be automated to save you time. From automatic email replies through to high tech industry specific gadgets and programs. Have a look around at what processes and tasks you can automate for your business.
Limit Distractions & Interruptions
This is where being really honest with how you spend your time can be an eye opener. Some people can spend significant chunks of time on things that are not productive without even realising it. That’s why the time tracking exercise I suggested above is so important.
Some interruptions can be harder to eliminate or reduce than others. Look at your individual situation and try to identify ways that you can limit interruptions and distractions. It can sometimes take a while to get back into the flow of work again after an interruption. You often lose your train of thought and where you are up to. This is a sneaky time zapper as you don’t generally think about that side of it. After someone has interrupted you, it might take you another 5-10 mins after they leave to get back in the zone where you were before. It might not seem like much, but it all adds up.
- Whilst it is important to have regular breaks from working, you also need to keep an eye on the time. It’s fine to go for a 10 min walk, but don’t let it turn into half an hour. Of course, the length of time you set can vary to suit your individual needs, just don’t go over what you set.
- There is nothing wrong with breaking up your day with a few funny YouTube clips. Just have limits in place to keep it from taking over. Set a specific number of videos you are going to watch and then turn it off when you reach that number.
- Use a timer to restrict how much time you are spending on these distractions. How often have you jumped onto your social media or any other site for a “quick” look and then find yourself still scrolling through posts an hour later?
- Distracted by your email notifications? Turn them off. Set aside certain times throughout the day to action your emails.
- Put a “do not disturb” sign up on your office door for a couple of hours of solid, uninterrupted work. Hand your phone over to someone else (or put it on silent) for that time too.
- Working from home with kids can be full of distractions and interruptions! Arrange a friend or family member to look after the kids for a couple of hours during the day (even if it’s just once a week). That will give you an opportunity to get things done without any interruptions.
- Are you having a lot of interruptions from your staff? What are their main queries and can you find a better way to manage these “interruptions”? Why not consider scheduling a specific time to sit down with employees 1 on 1. I know I said before to reduce your meetings, but having this 1 on 1 time scheduled into your day can actually help you be more productive. It gives your employees an opportunity to discuss whatever they need to with you, so they are less likely to interrupt you during the day for non urgent things. They can ask any questions, provide project updates, gain clarification on tasks or discuss anything else they need to address. It could be simply catching up for 5-10 mins every morning or a ½ hr catch up once a week – what ever works for you.
So there you have it. A few simple tips to help you get more time in your day; without needing to invent a time machine. Make sure you start by tracking your time so you have a really clear understanding of how you currently use your time. This will make it easy for you to identify your biggest time drains and find areas for improvement.
If you would like to know more about how a virtual assistant can help you find extra time in your week, I’d love to hear from you! You can send me an email or book in an obligation free consultation call through my contact page. Make sure you follow my Facebook page to keep up to date with new blog posts as they come out and to see other useful hints and tips I share.