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“Productivity is a way to success,” most books and courses on entrepreneurship say. This statement becomes a motto for those willing to improve time management skills: the more you work and the more projects you have, the more money and the more success you get.
In other words, you try to seize the unseizable.
One day, when you’ve got a business website, blog, reputation, followers on social media, and dozens of important tasks to complete, you understand that you can’t just wake up and start working. You need effective time management techniques. And a plan.
Stellar time management skills are what makes remote work or business management not everyone’s cup of tea. When you don’t have any outside motivation when you overestimate your abilities, eliminate possible force majeure, praise multitasking, and avoid delegating — you risk failing the plan again and again.
What to do?
Master the art of good time management to work less but more efficiently. For that, try the following timeless time management tips.
Here are my picks for the best time management skills to master.
As a freelancer, a remote worker, or a business owner, you certainly need to have day plans. It helps to organize work, but there’s a small problem: with day plans, you’ll know what to do; but you won’t know why to do this.
Abstract goals such as making more money online don’t work here. You can’t be productive if you don’t understand where this productivity leads you. For successful work, practice long-term planning and goal setting: Set goals that are tangible by asking where you want to be in a year or five, and how this goal’s related to what you do today.
Tangible goals give you long-term vision and short-term motivation to work. To make them more powerful, use the technique known as smart goals (the SMART acronym):
- Specific (so you could see the direction to follow)
- Measurable (so you could have realistic deadlines to finish them)
- Attainable (so you could understand they are realistic enough to accomplish)
- Relevant (so they would align with the direction you want your career to take)
- Time-bound (so you could set a deadline for them to accomplish).
Okay, you’ve set goals for a year or two. Let’s say you plan to publish a book, earn $35,000 a month with a blog, or become a top freelance copywriter in your country. But when and what are you going to do for these goals to materialize?
You need to convert those long-term plans into specific important tasks you’ll complete to achieve the goal. Deadlines play a significant role here: you have 52 weeks to implement a year plan, so assign one related task per week and add it to your to-do lists to make it in time.
And certainly, don’t ignore associated activities if any: write for the media, create a series of individual consultations, promote your business accounts, take part in webinars, etc.
When you work on several projects and don’t make any other plans, you risk working 10-12 hours a day with no self- and professional growth. It’s the endless circle with no release but increased stress levels, burnouts, procrastination, and zero productivity.
When planning your work, consider the following aspects:
- Your work with clients’ projects — divide them into stages, with control points
- Your ideas and own projects’ realization — work on your business website, write persuasive content for it, take part in niche conferences, write guest articles, create training courses, etc.
- Networking — social media and personal branding development are your instruments for clients search, so make sure to set aside some time for it too
- Self-investment — books, webinars, podcasts, educational newsletters, courses… It takes an amount of time, so plan it accordingly
- “Filling the well” — plan some time to recover from work and have less stress: go to the cinema, travel, spend time with friends… More often than not, entrepreneurs are go-getters; so if they don’t plan some rest beforehand, they risk spending all the time working. It’s not what you need for great time management and better productivity.
And now, for the most interesting part:
How to share the time for all this? What about proportions?
It depends on your task load and the order of your preference. The time proportion can’t be constant, 80/20, or whatever. When you have a lot of clients and projects, plan less time for training and self-promotion.
And yet, do it to not disappear from the media scene! And vice versa, when there are no new tasks on project management ahead — direct all the efforts and enough time to promote your services. Make a plan and a list of ideas for it beforehand.
Most of us know remote work and entrepreneurship as sleepless nights on projects because of tomorrow’s deadlines. But it’s nothing but your lack of skills in short-time planning.
To avoid rush hours and deadline pressures that kill your productivity, do this:
- If all clients come at the same time — evaluate and estimate each project plan, think about prioritization, and give up on those that aren’t your specialty.
- If it’s hard to understand how much time you’ll need to complete the project — divide it into stages and made all necessary modifications in your plan.
- If there are problems with approval, corrections, or any other force majeure — leave some free time in your calendar to solve them, and revise tasks accordingly.
This mistake follows the above-mentioned here. When you can’t estimate your abilities and scope of work but believe a day is long enough to be in time with everything, you insert tons of tasks in it. Needless to say, you fail to deal with all of them efficiently.
Productivity and time management skills are not about “do as much as possible today.” It’s about proper prioritizing and the ability to read the time.
Plan one or two time-consuming tasks and three or four short deals per day. Do the same with your weekly schedule, so you wouldn’t panic or miss deadlines if you didn’t complete all daily tasks in time.
Freelance jobs and working from home is about time freedom, right?
However, without clear boundaries, your working time can get out of control. Do you like starting work before brushing your teeth in the morning? How about finishing work in bed before you go to sleep because your brain is still running a mile a minute?
Without scheduling your hours, your mental health and private life could suffer, and procrastination and stress are commonplace.
Remember about such a thing as “working hours.” Create a schedule, work a definite number of hours per day, and avoid spending your spare time on work.
It doesn’t mean you have to work 9-to-5; it means you know that your work six hours per day, for example, and you won’t sacrifice your seventh or eighth hour on phone calls or even urgent tasks.
And never work on weekends, or have at least one day off a week. It’s a day when you forget about your business decision-making skills and don’t even think of anything like “I’ll just check the email for a second.” As a rule, those seconds turn into hours, making you think of work again and ending with nervous breakdowns.
Don’t even try to realize all the ideas that come to your head. Yes, it seems unproductive to give up so many creative things you wrote down to the notebook but left undone: new courses, projects, activities, services — as a rule, only 30-50% of them go live; others get buried in drafts.
But it’s okay.
It’s great to generate tons of business ideas and write them down so you won’t forget them. But make it a habit to evaluate each idea on a preparation stage: how much time and effort you need for its realization, and what profits or benefits you’ll get afterward. Is the game worth the candle?
Some of us start by creating to-do lists on sheets of papers, later understand it’s ineffective, and decide they are disciplined enough to remember everything with no lists at all. It’s okay if you work with one project or plan nothing but this project realization. For productive work in different areas of life, you need instruments. Don’t try to keep everything in your head.
Feel free to choose anything that helps you organize work, keep to the schedule, and follow the plan: Trello, isoTimer, Toggl — you name it. But here’s a pro lifehack for you: mix a few instruments or change your existing one from time to time. It allows you to save your energy levels and avoid feeding up with one tool and getting lost in tasks.
No need to tell about common distractions and time-wasters such as TV series or social media feeds. Most people know about them and how to handle them, but some still ignore such a time-eater and their productivity killer as immediate reactions to project offers or questions from clients.
Entrepreneurs and remote workers are their own marketers and sales managers, so they try to be available online all the time. Messenger, email, phone calls — the temptation to reply in a wink is hard to resist. You believe you will lose a client or offend them anyhow if not respond to their message right here and now; but it’s not so.
It’s simple – the quicker you respond, the quicker your client will respond. Plus, the more emails you send, the more you will receive.
What you’ll lose each time you get distracted is concentration on the task at hand. You’ll have to spend time on getting back into the game over and over again, many times per day.
Turn off the messengers when you start working. Check emails a few times a day max (allocate some time between major tasks for this purpose). Using email tools to schedule your posts so they’re sent with a delay.
If it’s difficult for you to ignore distractions from other websites, use tools that will block your access to those resources.
Those familiar with healthy diets know about a cheat meal — one day a month or week when you can eat anything you want. Speaking about business, the principle of cheat meal also works: it helps to “fill your well” (mentioned above) and support the level of your work efficiency and productivity.
Cheat meals in business are not about food but alternative time-spending. It can be a day of watching the series, shopping, objectless rambles in the city, etc. But don’t confuse these days with your day off! Just make sure your “cheat meal” day doesn’t align with the day of an important deadline and don’t make such days your everyday habit.
You can’t manage time and work productivity without managing your life in general. The detailed schedule won’t make you super organized and happy: you can learn how to write a plan and how to smooth out your workload, but this skill also requires the knowledge of how to build relations with clients, how to understand if you need to work with this person, how to say no to toxic people, and so on and so forth.
As you can see, the skills of a professional in their niche go beyond time management.
To avoid mistakes and organize your work, you need to take all peculiarities of your niche, draw on your expertise and experience, and be aware of your weak points, refining yourself. Once considered, these details will help you build a working schedule for good time management skills and better productivity.
- Delegate. The world won’t collapse if you don’t do all the tasks alone.
- Learn to say no and create the algorithm of client selection. Work with projects that are interesting to you and alternate between long- and short-term projects.
- Don’t be afraid of raising prices for your services if it pays.
Time management is not a math or operation schedule, but creativity and consciousness that change your life for the better.
A specialist who meets deadlines is a valuable asset. Consumers include such people to the lists of their favorites and gladly recommend them to friends.
So, your stellar time management skills allow you to become much-in-demand and more expensive on the market. More than that, you get a brighter life and a resource of time and effort to take it to the next level.
By Lesley Vos, Content Strategist and Contributor at the bid4papers blog.