Four Steps to Perfect Time Management

The “time is money” adage is never truer than when you are an entrepreneur. The results you get as a small business owner are directly related to how productive you are in your day-to-day routine. And since you don’t necessarily get paid for running the clock, every minute of your day should be used to its maximum potential.

Threats to Time Management

There are two main threats to time management. The first one is moving forward without any sort of formal planning — in other words, a lack of lists. If you don’t have a clearly defined list of things you want to accomplish that day, you will only do what is urgent, what you stumble upon, or what gets thrust in front of you. Working solely on these tasks is unstructured and won’t help you reach your big goals.

The second threat to time management is making yourself too available. No one should expect you to respond right away. The more available you seem, the more people will force unproductive communication on you. Make sure your employees, suppliers, and colleagues know that your time is of critical importance. One way to achieve this is to stick to a strict schedule.

I’ve tried a variety of time management systems, from David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” to Tim Ferriss’ “The 4-Hour Workweek” to Tony Robbins’ “Rapid Planning Method.” Nothing has consistently worked. As a result, I designed my own four-step productivity system to keep me focused on the results I want in order to achieve them faster.

Step 1: Make Big Goals

Goals give you direction. If you want big results, you need big goals. You might be tempted to make a list of dozens of smaller goals, but for now, it’s best to focus on a few primary ones. These big goals will propel all of your planning.

Good goals should be specific, challenging, and have an appropriate timeframe. For example, you might set a goal to “have a net worth of $1 million in five years.”

This is a goal that meets the right criteria. It’s specific because the “$1 million” makes it quantifiable. It’s challenging because it’s not going to be something that will simply happen; the entrepreneur will have to work for it. Finally, it has a timeframe to push toward.

Step 2: Write Down Major Projects That Will Contribute to Big Goals

Once you have your big goals, make a list of corresponding major projects to help you stay focused. Planning projects around your goals is a reliable way to meet them.

Take a good look at your company’s major projects, and see if they will actually take you closer to your big goals in the allotted timeframe. It’s integral to stay focused on the projects that are the most likely to produce the results you’re after.

Let’s use our previous goal: have a net worth of $1 million in five years. Now, let’s say your list of major projects looks like this:

  1. Build online paid membership site partnership with John.
  2. Create iTunes mobile productivity app.
  3. Sell used books from thrift stores on Amazon.
  4. Publish book on my life’s adventures.

Now, I don’t want to say that any one of these projects is better than another, but if your big goal is to garner a million dollars, not all of these projects will get you there. For example, old books are usually not worth as much as people think they are, so selling off your thrift store collection is probably better suited for giving you some spending money for a summer trip through Latin America.

Writing a book can be a great way to make money, provided that you have the necessary time and capital to put into the marketing and press generation it would require to be a financial success. Unless writing a book is one of your big goals, keeping it on your major project list will only detract from the rest. Wait until you’ve made your first million before committing yourself that much to a word processor.

Based on your observations, both membership sites and mobile apps have great money-generating possibilities. So it might not be a bad idea to get together with John and see what the two of you can come up with. Either of these projects has the potential to drive you toward your goal.

Step 3: Set a Weekly To-Do List

As an entrepreneur, you cannot be productive by simply keeping something “on your mind.” Each week needs to be planned out. It’s easy to get so focused on one project that you neglect everything else. All of your major projects need to have your attention so they keep moving forward to reach your big goals. At the beginning of every week, you should:

  1. Review your big goals.
  2. Review your major projects.
  3. Write a to-do list of items to move each of your major projects forward.

Reviewing your goals and projects helps you continually focus on what you’re after. Make sure your to-do list has a balance of items that focus on each of your projects — and that the tasks are enough to keep you busy but not overwhelmed. There shouldn’t be so many that you can’t accomplish them in one week.

To keep your to-do list on track, make a weekly calendar with all of your appointments so you know how your week looks before you sit down to write your list.

Step 4: Craft a Daily To-Do List

For most of us, every day has a slightly different schedule, so it makes sense to fraction out your weekly tasks on the days you see fit. Take a look at your weekly to-do list each evening, and plan out what you can get done the next day. Don’t allocate anything else from your weekly list to another day until Monday’s tasks are done. If you finish Monday’s tasks ahead of time, grab a few more from the weekly list and keep on truckin’. Follow this pattern every day of the week.

Don’t be afraid to reward yourself from time to time. If you finish all of Monday’s tasks before the workday ends, do something fun for the rest of the day. If you reward yourself for hard work, your mind will subconsciously think that there’s a reward coming each time you find yourself working away.

Remember, you got your business off the ground because you had the unique ability to envision it in the first place, and you took the steps necessary to make that vision a reality. To keep that vision viable, you need to spend most of your time focusing on your big goals and taking the appropriate time management measures to reach them.

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