Time is one of the most valuable assets of an entrepreneur, as there always seems to be too much to do and not enough time to do it. However, more often than not it isn’t a matter of not having enough time, but not using that time effectively. Quite honestly, we all get the same 24 hours each day. What you do with it will determine how successful you are. In a recent class held by Barbara Caine, she discussed her tips for greater productivity. As a businesswoman, an educator, a public speaker, and a mother, Barbara has a lot happening on any given day, but she’s learned how to manage her time in such a way to make the most of her time. Her secrets can be
summed up with one little acronym: SPRINT.
The first step to increasing productivity is to follow a schedule. Barbara recommends getting a calendar, whether it’s a paper calendar or one that lives on your phone. Whatever it is, your calendar goes with you wherever you go. Once you have one, you should plan out and schedule EVERYTHING you plan to do each day. Not just work either, but meals, showers, leisure time, even when you wake up and go to sleep. Keeping yourself on a schedule can help you focus on the task at hand, and actually writing a time and date to do something makes you less likely to put off tasks you’ve been avoiding.
An exercise Barbara likes people to try, especially if they’re just starting to work by a schedule, is to pick out three things that are most important in your life right now, (these will vary from person to person and will change over time). It is essential to know what matters most to you on a personal level, whether it is your career, your family, your health, your spirituality, or any number of other aspects of your life. Once you’ve identified the things that matter most to you, look at your schedule and ask yourself, “How often am I purposefully scheduling time for these things?” Too often our priorities don’t match up with our calendar: we say we value our health, but we don’t take time to go to the gym or even exercise at home. We say we value our relationships with our family, but we are too busy to just “hang out” with them. Whatever your top priorities are, you need to dedicate time to them, not just indulge in them when you have an empty spot in your schedule. Not everything has to be a daily habit mind you, sometimes just doing something once a week or once a month is fine, but if something is important to you, put time for it in your calendar, and prioritize it!
While it can be tempting to pack your day from beginning to end with work, you need to leave time for to relax, replenish and rebuild. Set aside time every day where you do something you enjoy that has nothing to do with your job. Downtime is beneficial for our physical and mental health, and people often come up with their best ideas when they aren’t specifically thinking about work, so giving yourself breathing room in your day is a must. You should also make sure you’re getting enough sleep: not everyone sleeps the recommended eight hours a day, but everyone has a certain amount of sleep they need to function best. All-nighters might have worked out back in school, but in practice, they’ll lead to diminishing returns for your work. Figure out how much sleep you need and stick to it.
Barbara is convinced that working in increments is the best way to get more done in less time. I recently wrote a blog post about how this. She’s an adamant follower of the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method that breaks down the work day into short bursts of work to increase focus and stave off burnout. Many videos and books have been made about the Pomodoro Technique, but the basic idea is to work in 25-minute time slots, breaking for 5 minutes between each work session. After the fourth work session, you are allowed a longer break, usually 15 minutes. These short bursts of productivity keep you focused on a specific task, while the intermittent breaks make sure you don’t wear yourself out early. Of course, not everything can be finished in 25 minutes, so if you’re working on a larger task, try to break it down into smaller parts. Figure out how much you CAN get done in a single session, and dedicate yourself to that. It’s like the old saying goes: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Barbara even applies the Pomodoro Technique to activities at home:
“It’s easier to get the kids to clean up around the house if everyone collectively works for 25 minutes!”
If you’re struggling to squeeze some exercise into your day, 25 minutes is enough to get a toehold into your daily schedule without eating up too much time. However, she emphasizes that you shouldn’t apply the Pomodoro to your leisure time, as it builds unwanted pressure during a time that’s meant for relaxation. Also, don’t undervalue the importance of taking breaks: even just consistently taking five minutes to relax can make all the difference: get some water or coffee, talk to your friends and family, play with your pets, etc. And whatever you do, ideally it should be something that doesn’t involve your phone or computer (or any other work specific tasks). If your work consists of staring at a screen for hours on end, staring at a screen doesn’t feel like much of a break.
An important part of time management is learning that it’s okay to say “No” and that you don’t have to do everything. This goes for both business and personal matters. You know what needs to get done, but people can guilt you off your track and try to get you to do other things that take up your precious time. It’s important to remember your priorities. If you don’t, this will lead to stress and dissatisfaction because you’re letting everything else take priority over what matters most to you. When it comes to business opportunities, you might get an offer that just doesn’t fit with your current needs, in which case you should politely decline, but leave open the option for future business. If you have family or friends that want to spend time with you, find a time within your schedule that works. Don’t put off something that is important to you to make time for something that is not as high of a priority. And when it comes to your day-to-day tasks, stay on target: unless something urgently needs your attention, it can probably wait the 25 minutes.
While your schedule (and goals) should be planned ahead of time, your workday should be focused on the jobs you have given yourself today rather than worrying about other projects that are on the horizon. What makes the Pomodoro Technique and similar time management methods effect is that they get you to focus on a specific task you can do right now, so if your attention is being pulled in multiple directions, you won’t be able to get the most out of your work time. Even if you manage to finish a job early, Barbara recommends picking at least three specific jobs to focus on and finish before you move on to any new tasks.
Time management requires discipline, so don’t lose sight of what you need to be working on. If you’re struggling to just fit more into your daily schedule, just remember to SPRINT. And if you want more advice on time management and productivity, check out the resources on this site designated to the topic. She is a true expert on how to manage both business and home life while getting a lot more done in a lot less time.
“If you don’t learn to master your time, it will master you.”