Starting a new business venture sure does give you a buzz doesn’t it? The excitement and the thrill that comes with each budding success is enough to keep us entrepreneurs up till all hours, devoting every waking moment to nurturing our developing enterprise.
And not only that, but there’s so much to do! Product creation, customer service, SEO, promotion, marketing, sales, logistics, quality control, content creation, output, keeping up with social media, keeping the employees happy… the list is endless – in fact, there never seem to be enough hours in the day. Before you know it you’re maybe you’re in fire-fighting mode all the time – working on everything at the last minute and never getting time to do the important strategic stuff that moves your business forward. Everything suffers – including your personal life – and things take a dark turn.
…It’s at about this time you wish you could make like Doctor Who, hop in your TARDIS (that stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space just in case you didn’t know) and skip backwards in time to get everything done – or alternatively just blast through a wormhole into a different dimension where the alien inhabitants couldn’t give a slimy tentacle about your entrepreneurial challenges.
The hard truth is that the majority of start-ups fail. One of the major reasons for this is that the demands placed on them are overwhelming. The quantity and difficulty of problems, objectives and tasks can be daunting and it’s easy to get swamped. Sadly that’s a rocky road that can lead to putting things off and not dealing with things – which only serves to makes the problem bigger and bigger until it snowballs into an avalanche that sucks you under.
Worst case scenario?
Your business goes under and you lose everything – including any shred of entrepreneurial enthusiasm you had left.
But that’s NOT going to happen. You might not have a time-traveling spacecraft to hand – or even the good Doctor’s sonic screwdriver (which seems to be able to do anything) – but with the help of some simple yet effective time management strategies any business can streamline the workload, increase productivity and relieve the pressure. Here’s the lowdown on what to implement now to help you to choose which priorities to focus on; help you to be more effective; and help you to remain motivated to avoid crash and burn:
1. Take care of number 1
YOU are your company’s biggest asset, so treat yourself, your skills and knowledge with the due amount of respect. Just think about it – you don’t work for free, your time is money and it has more value than anything else in your business. Take a look at the tasks you are undertaking:
- Evaluate your core skill – what is it that you bring to the business that has the highest value? Then consider;
- Are you doing tasks that are beneath you that you could delegate to others?
- Is there something more valuable you should be doing that only you can do?
Based on your findings you will probably want to reconsider the tasks you choose to complete yourself. By delegating some jobs you will not only be making your own workload more manageable, you will also be strengthening relationships with your employees. Demonstrating your faith in their abilities by giving them more responsibility can only improve their sense of worth and give them confidence and the chance to shine – and that is a powerful asset when it comes to business development.
2. Diaries rule
I’m guessing that like most of us you don’t have the Doctor’s ability to perceive the fabric of time and telepathic skills – and it’s quite likely you don’t have a personal assistant either – so ditch the bravado and admit you need to organize your workload the good old fashioned way with a diary. Only these days it’s all much more high-tech, and with a ton of free online time planners available there really is no excuse.
Set a routine and plan each day in advance. If you have regular commitments or tasks that must be completed on a routine basis make sure you allocate enough time for them each week. For everything else, the golden rule is keep things simple – overplanning can add additional stress you don’t need. Start by planning the things that will provide the most value for your business, and then break down less savory or more daunting tasks into bite sized chunks to make them more manageable. Group tiny tasks together into blocks to save you time and to minimize distractions from larger tasks, and alternate more unpleasant jobs with tasks you enjoy to break the monotony.
When things are hectic it may seem crazy to leave blank spaces in your diary, but there are two excellent reasons for doing so:
- With the best will in the world it is inevitable that situations will arise that place unforeseen demands on your time. Setting “buffer” time aside each day means that you will be able to deal with these devilish little details without causing major havoc and upheaval to your schedule.
- Pushing yourself too far leads to boredom and frustration, so schedule in a little “me” time. Taking some time out every day to have a break and relax will help keep you focused and more productive – if possible have a change of scene and a breath of fresh air – you’ll be amazed at the difference it will make.
3. Reward yourself
And not just with a little self-congratulation. You work hard, you meet targets, your productivity increases – you deserve some recognition. Rewards are the unsung heroes of effective time management. Make them fit the accomplishment, i.e. small rewards for small tasks and extra special rewards for big tasks. Be realistic by choosing very specific rewards that are within your means – think a decent lunch break sipping a nice cold beer in the sunshine for a small reward, or employing a new assistant upon winning that major contract. If you’re money motivated, another good reward technique can be to calculate your hourly rate and then work out the financial rewards of accomplishing more, sooner – you could end up giving yourself a big pay hike! It is also vital that you receive your reward immediately upon achieving your goal to maximize your motivation.
4. Know deadlines can kill
If we didn’t assign deadlines to projects they’d never get finished, but there is also a flipside – the wrong kind of deadline can be a killer. Assign yourself strict, realistic deadlines and stick to them. Allocate your deadlines appropriately for the task in question. Make sure the deadline is actually ACHIEVABLE – don’t give yourself too little time, or too much, and even if your deadline is a long way away, you should schedule some time NOW so you’re making progress and you don’t just end up scraping through later on. Wherever possible hold yourself accountable to somebody else. Creating deadlines in this way and focusing on completing tasks to a high (but less exacting) quality will move you to action.
One deadline you MUST stick to without fail is your own. If you schedule your working day to finish at 5pm – do it. Just. STOP. You can always adapt your plans and reschedule.
5. Set Golden goals
If you’ve only got some wishy-washy, pie in the sky notion of what you want to achieve with your business — like increased sales or more clients — then you seriously need a reality check. Unless you clearly identify exactly what you want and understand why you want it the first place, your odds of success shrink significantly. Fortunately there are some solid guidelines that can help you define your objectives in detail and keep you set on the path to achieving them – here are some less common but extremely valuable ones:
Visualize: What do you reckon the Doctor visualizes first thing in the morning… the signing of a Dalek/human peace treaty? A face like Johnny Depp for his next regeneration? Whatever it is you should take a leaf out of his book – seeing is believing – and If you can see what you want to happen in your mind’s eye, studies show that you are far more likely to achieve it. Try and visualize your goals twice a day – once when you wake up and once just before you hit the sack and be really specific. It may sound crazy but the most dedicated and successful people use this kind of visualization to attain targets effectively.
Be positive: Negativity gets you nowhere, and can often cause the rather tricky irony of causing exactly what it is you fear to happen. To avoid this do NOT set goals focused on avoiding negative outcomes (like “not making a loss” or “not losing the client”) they will sap your energy and divert your attention and resources away from what really matters. Instead frame your goal statements positively. And don’t be too hard on yourself – you can only do your best.
Backward Plan: The most effective method of goal setting for long term plans is to start with your ultimate objective – your end goal – and then work backward from there to develop your plan of how to get there. Working backwards in this way forces you to have a totally new perspective and you will determine vital steps to achieving your goals that may otherwise have remained undiscovered, as well as helping to avoid spending time on unnecessary or unproductive activities along the way. Set specific targets you need to reach along the way and highlight areas where you may need to inject a big creativity, resource or energy boost so you are prepared in advance. Write everything down clearly with detailed descriptions and set dates for achieving targets wherever possible (making sure you put everything in your diary of course!). Backward planning will give you a much fuller appreciation for what it takes to achieve success and gets you mentally fired up for it.
6. Measure Success
Whether it is at the end of each day or the end of each week, it is important to evaluate progress. Doing so helps you to ascertain and acknowledge areas of success, which is crucial for keeping you motivated and focused. Likewise, areas that need more attention will become more apparent and allow you to work time into your schedule to deal with them effectively before they get out of hand.
Let yourself be flexible and be prepared to shift things around a bit in order to accommodate changes like these if necessary. But remember, when you move things around the time has to go somewhere, so make sure you have your priorities straight should you do this – don’t just try and squeeze new things into a busy schedule as they will eat into the time that you have allocated to other tasks for good reason!
Another benefit of measuring your progress, is learning how long tasks are genuinely taking. You may have an idea how many hours out of your day dealing with customer service queries takes up, but your guess might not be as accurate as you think. If you are consistently having to schedule additional time to deals with them you should probably come up with a better solution.
Knowing how much real time individual tasks take (or single aspects of bigger tasks if you are splitting them up into more manageable chunks) can also be invaluable when it comes to setting fees – particularly if you are providing a customized service for clients. You will have a far better idea of how long each aspect of a project will take, and you’ll be able to charge accordingly.
Implementing these strategies is your first step towards making the kind of consistent progress you want towards your ultimate goals. By easing the pressure and minimizing distractions you will soon find you are able to make time for all aspects of your business, including development, and it will become much clearer which areas of your business you have been neglecting. You’ll find multitasking much easier, and you will be able to easily manage progress on multiple projects.
Don’t be put off if in the beginning you are still struggling to keep a grip on things – perseverance is key to successful time management, and it can take a little while to get into your groove. Your new improved planning will allow you to see exactly how long tasks are really taking, and enable you to plan future tasks much more effectively – so hold off the temptation to take a trip in the TARDIS and be patient!
…And in any case, your increased productivity will mean some serious additional income coming your way too – so if you still need or want to (which you probably won’t) it won’t be long before you’ll be able to PAY somebody to keep up with things for you…
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