Time Management For Entrepreneurs: The Easy 8 Step System (Not Tools)

By Carrie Aulenbacher, - In Productivity

Image with the words 'Time Management For Entrepreneurs' on it

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Time management for entrepreneurs is more important than ever.  And having a system that works to make our projects become a reality is 10x more important than any tool out there.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics released 2015 productivity levels  that show a decrease in productivity in 2014 and 2015.  That trend shows that our individual challenge to boost our productivity is increasing all the time.  But what to do?

The following article isn’t the only system available to make our time working on  entrepreneurial activities as focused and productive as possible, but it can be a great launching point as you evaluate where you are and where you’d like to be.

What is Productivity?

Your productivity is the measure of the output of an activity in a certain period of time.

How to Measure Productivity?

The productivity equation is relatively simple.

Output units / Human Hours = Productivity

Let’s be honest, the startup mentality isn’t to measure every single thing we do from day one, it’s about getting things built and paying customers (well in most cases, anyway).

So although this isn’t something we want to necessarily be tracking down to a decimal, it is good to have an understanding of productivity when we look at managing our time as entrepreneurs.

Time Management for Entrepreneurs

Picture of a cartoon of all the uses of an entrepreneurs time

Uses of Time

Some secretary’s run around all day, pulled in so many directions – yet always have coffee ready with morning reports in hand like they have nothing else in the world to do.  Plus, they always know where everything is and everyone’s schedule on top of their own!

Do you have that associate in your circle that is always looking for new projects because they’re caught up with everything? How do they do it? Have you found yourself wishing you could get just an extra hour a day to catch up before you start your first project? I know I have!

Come with me today and take a look at some of these handy tips as I maneuver through a typical project day. See where you could improve your day to day schedule no matter what your career!

1. Break It Down

Taking my large freelance writing projects a phase at a time can keep things moving without bogging down my entire day doing just one thing.

Trying to do too much on one project in one day can be creatively stifling and hold me back from getting other things done. I make a plan to complete a long term projects in sections to give myself time to create quality work without being stressed about the deadline. Plus, a break to shift gears helps me come back to my long term stuff more re-energized.

As I’m breaking these down I add them to my project management system. There are lots out there to choose from, so I’m not going to get into a tools discussion on this article. My advice is just pick one that you feel resonates with your style of work.  Whatever system you can stick with will be more beneficial than a desk full of tools.

One Month

I like to divide these into three sections to try and accomplish a third every week leaving the last week of the month to put it all together and polish it off.

If I expect to have a quarter of this done every week, invariably I will run out of time, so breaking it into thirds works much better.

One Quarter

I prefer to divide something of this size into half and then see if each half can be further broken down into smaller weekly steps.

I count on being interrupted so I give myself deadlines that will make the project actually done in two months. As setbacks come, the third month of that quarter is there for me as a cushion to get the work done.

Whenever I break a project of this size into thirds, I find myself scrambling at the last minute. Dividing it in half has proven much better over the years.

Six Months

Look at the calendar as if it has one less month. Break up a long term project as if you have a bit less time than you actually have.

If this is a solo project, try to divide it up into fourths and give yourself a week per section.

If this is a project you’re handling with co-workers, set up weekly meetings to touch base with everyone so that you can hold each other accountable.

2. Time Travel

Instead of wishing you could go back in time, watch how you go THROUGH time.

Keep a notebook for the next two weeks and jot down when you start and stop projects and breaks throughout your day. Try to keep track of the different things you do and note the time. There are also a number of online time management apps that can help you do this if you are not one for pencil and paper.  Apps such as Time Doctor can offer time management features across your most widely used platforms. By harvesting time tracking data on your work habits, (and those of employees at your startup) you can then discover key areas where improvements can be made.

In two weeks, evaluate how much time each item took and categorize items. Do you see now where your time goes?  Realizing how much a project eats up your time can help you prioritize.

Shifting my calendar around so that I give myself enough time for the biggest projects helps me stay on track. How do you fare with the following?

Email

If you’re spending more than an hour a day total checking/replying to email, start setting a timer on your phone when you first sit down each day to stay more aware of the passage of time.  You should be able to prioritize what you want to read and/or delete in 5 minutes first thing in the morning.

There are plenty of options to look into that can keep you on task.

If you love Gmail, set up filters to help presort incoming emails.  Look at an app like Todoist to help integrate with your Google Drive so your checklists are right on your phone.

For those using Outlook, you might want to look into apps for your phone such as TaskTask HD that syncs with Microsoft Exchange to keep lists categorized.

Prioritize what needs to be replied and get it sent, then make an effort to turn your email off so you can focus on work.

Physical Inbox

If you’re spending more than twenty minutes each morning sifting through what collects in your desk’s inbox throughout a day, consider a vertical file labeled by department so that coworkers bringing you things can pre-sort your inbox for you.

Ask them to use an ‘URGENT’ post-it note flag only if something has an immediate deadline.

Breaktime

Did you find that, when keeping track of your time, your lunches seemed to go overtime? It’s tempting to chat with coworkers and get lost in conversation or linger at the water cooler when there’s something we don’t want to work on.

However consider the stress you put on yourself later. Set a timer on your phone and stick to your break time! (It might even lead to a raise later!)

Meetings

Do some meetings seem to eat up your entire morning? Look into how these meetings are structured. Do some coworkers ramble? Does the topic at hand fizzle and turn into idle conversation?

Work to propose more strict meeting times and agendas. Take minutes and review them at each meeting to help others see what the time was spent talking about. Helping cultivate a sense of teamwork can get everyone involved in getting the most out of meeting times without wasting time.

3. Book It

I love searching for the next app that can make things easier, but there is definite benefit to my paper planner.

Writing down a task helps has been scientifically shown to create connections in your mind between auditory information and written information.

Adding the spatial task of writing down what you hear gives your brain a connection between the two bits of info to help you remember it better. I find that, after writing it down, I don’t need to refer to it again because it sticks in my mind so that’s a sign, to me, that what the research shows has merit when applied.

Short Daily Lists

These keep me on track for a morning’s worth of tasks. As you get in the habit, make one at the end of each day so you’re ready to go the next morning! Usually, my short lists are to keep track of quick little things I need to get out of the way.

Monthly Goal List

See the bigger picture to keep you on track from week to week. As I break down my long range projects, I like to take the smaller sections and put them on my monthly list so I have a reminder there in front of me as I start each day.

Yearly Goals

Keep this visible so that you can remember what all these little pieces of the puzzle are adding up to! I like to start my yearly goals with a new year’s resolution type goal for motivation on hard days.

4. Sync Yourself

You know if you are more of a ‘crack of dawn’ morning person or if the afternoon is when you really hit your stride.

For me, I feel creative and focused in the mornings. Sync your most challenging projects of the day during the most energized time of your day. If you hit the office running, stack your morning with the hardest things and get them tackled and out of the way.

If you do better after lunch, plan a morning of smaller tasks to build up to your big goal of the day later on. Honor your strong part of the day and don’t overload yourself when you’re not at your peak.

5. Walk Away

Try not to make a habit out of eating at your desk as a way to carve out more work time.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but setting time to eat a good lunch and get away from your desk can help you come back more refreshed and ready to tackle the afternoon. I prefer eating in the car to get some fresh air, peace and quiet.  A solid 30-minute decompression from all work talk outside the work environment can sometimes be better than a 45-minute chat in the lounge.

You can’t give your best effort after 4 or 5 hours of staring at a screen and not moving. Breaks seem to bring me inspiration when I’m stuck with a problem.

If nothing else, create a schedule where you can exercise a bit at your desk, even if just for five minutes to help keep the blood moving!

6. Stop Reaching

Do you ever look at your desk and tell yourself, ‘I’d make a great episode for a hoarding show.’ How much time do you spend looking for office supplies you need daily? Take a look at supplies you use and how often you use them. I’ve organized my desk by how often I use things to streamline my daily process.

  • I use it 10x a day – keep it on top of your desk within a 12 inch reach.
  • I use it 5x a day – keep it within an 18 inch reach or in the top drawer of your desk.
  • I use it once a day – keep it at the far end of your desk or in the second drawer.
  • I use it occasionally – keep it in the bottom drawer or an adjacent cabinet.
Image of a productive work desk

Work station with important items in reach

Yes, I use pens everyday, but not EVERY pen every day. For this, my pen cup is within 18 inches and a pen in use is right within reach. Piles of pens on your desk blotter is easier to grab, but way more clutter rolling across your papers than you need.

If you don’t have space on top of your desk for immediate reach, consider getting a monitor lift or shelf to create extra space below your monitor where you can store what you use constantly!

7. Keep It Clean

Image of an organized workstation

Organized workstation

A cluttered desk can slow down even the most motivated worker. Is your area full of old notes, receipts, lists and general clutter?

Of course you want your desk to be a welcoming and comforting place to work, but keep it within reason. I’ll be first to admit I love every new office gadget, but when I drew a line in the sand for myself, my organization got much better.

Handy Items

  • cellphone holder
  • hand sanitizer
  • business card holder
  • coaster for one mug/glass
  • a photo frame
  • small container of mints
  • dictionary
  • motivational/perpetual calendar
  • one novelty gadget (humidifier, plant, zen garden, ipod holder/player, etc).

Clutter Items

  • multiple picture frames
  • stuffed animals
  • bulletin boards that are collages of outdated items
  • seasonal holiday knick-knacks
  • multiple desktop novelties (humidifiers, gadgets, zen gardens, plants, etc)
  • multiple kitchen items (mugs, lunch plates, etc)

Moderating what you have on your desk not only broadcasts an air of professionalism but will keep you focused and on track to having a productive day every day. When I turn the calendar on my bulletin board, I make an effort to check everything I have posted and take down anything outdated. Leave the cutesy items at home on your personal desk so you don’t get too distracted.

8. Color Coordinate

I don’t just mean to dress smart, but to incorporate color into how you file. A desktop of manila folders are a mess. Color coordinated folders can at least help you easily sort and prioritize what folder is for what project or division. Many desktop accessory sets are color coordinated and can help you stay clear on what work goes where.

Post-it’s

Save the pink post-it’s for urgent notes and green ones to indicate finalization or completion.

Paper Clips

Sort invoices that are due with different colored paper clips to have an easy visual of what customer is accumulating more past due invoices in your files.  Section your projects into colors so that you know everything in blue paper clips go towards the financial reports due.

Highlighters

Giving each project or division a color can help keep statements straight when checking which division paid for which invoices.  First run throughs of reports or proposals can be edited with one color, while the second look gets a different color.  Note the same color highlighter on your paper planner as it corresponds with the upcoming deadline so that the matching color jumps out at you.  You’ll remember that the deadline is swiftly approaching!

Conclusion – Time Is Your Friend

Quote image that says 'Time is the only currency'

Time is the only currency

Don’t dread watching the clock and getting organized. Once you have systems set in place, managing them will help you pull ahead in your day and optimize your time behind your desk. Take charge of things and break it down into segments. Don’t overwhelm yourself right out of the gate because you’ll simply be setting yourself up to fail.

Last but not least, encourage yourself with small goals to stay motivated – the point is to enjoy achieving and not criticizing yourself for not being perfect. Try new methods for a month to see how they work and then evolve to something else if it’s not resonating with you. Celebrating each little goal can self-motivate as your day progresses. Organization is a process so have fun with it!

What are some of your favorite ways to manage your day? What hacks have you tried that really made a difference? Help us add to our list by sharing in the comment section below.



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Freelancer, passionate social media geek and savvy secretary

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