Finding simple time management tips that actually work is harder than you might think. Should you strive for better focus management, or a good morning routine?
When trying to take back your time it can be confusing with so many bits of advice available. How do you know which ones will actually work?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but I’m here to give you some much-need help.
As someone who works with business owners to increase productivity and organize their day, I’ve learned a thing or two structuring a good schedule.
It’s not easy, and the right formula takes a bit of practice. But there are simple time management tips you can try out to rock your workday.
Check out these proven tips-and-tricks to help you take back your time!
1. Strive for better focus management
While the premise of working smarter not harder is to have better time management, the real trick is actually to have better focus. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know that I put a lot more value on focus management, not time management.
(And yes, there is a difference!)
In order to properly take back your time you must exercise good focus techniques so you can maximize the time you have right now, versus trying to carve out more time in any given day.
The idea is to super-charge your productivity by bringing your focus back to the task at hand, instead of allocating more time to a particular project. In other words, focus management enables you to stay in the moment and be mindful of the present!
2. Have a central to-do list
I’ve worked with many clients who use multiple types of to-do lists and task management systems. Sometimes a VA they hired prefers Trello, while the business owner uses and likes Asana. So now everyone has duplicate content in both Trello and Asana.
Why do we do this to ourselves?! Ummm…no. Just, no.
Bring your to-do list into one central location — preferably in a notebook or note-taking app so you can brain-dump whenever you want at any given time. Then have one of your team members create tasks out of this list so it’s more organized with deadlines. This is also a great strategy for reaching inbox zero!
Moleskins are great for taking notes if you like putting pen to paper. I also recommend installing apps onto your phone, like Asana or Focuster, so you can record ideas and notes on the go.
Or something that’s free and simple like Google Keep is great too. Each of these can easily be exported, or saved, so your VA can create a more organized list of tasks — saving you time and money.
3. Keep a time journal
Do you know where every second of your day is being spent? I do! That’s because I use online time tracking with Google Calendar every single day. Then, at the end of the week I review my schedule to find out how I planned my days, versus how they were actually spent.
This gives me a good idea of how to improve on my time management, and see how I’m actually prioritizing everything.
If you’re not into Google Calendar, that’s cool too. Try using another time-tracking app such as the one that comes as one of the features in FreshBooks.
Another one of my favorites is called RescueTime since it tracks your web activity and reports back how much time you spend on certain tasks (like social media sites, email, etc).
FocusBooster is also a great choice for understanding how your hours can convert into dollars and whether or not you’re wasting them.
4. Honor your scheduled appointments
This has been one of the hardest parts about managing my time. It’s easy to set an appointment to clean house, or work on your own blog, but actually following through is a whole other story.
Because of this, I’ve promised myself that I will honor my schedule along with all of the appointments I set for myself and my clients.
Not only does this allow me to be more disciplined with what I put on my calendar and to-do list, it also allows me to be a bit flexible.
Let’s say I have a two-hour time slot set aside for writing a new blog for my site. As long as I get that done within the same day, I can move it around as needed.
Lunch time can be 30 minutes later than usual, as long as I don’t cut it out completely. Honor the schedule! And sometimes I’ll even move the task to the next day, but the intention is that I honor my schedule and get it done within the week.
One of the tools I use that sends reminder alerts for certain tasks is Focuster.
It will keep moving up the next task on your calendar until it’s completed. It’s a great tool for honoring your appointments — especially with yourself.
No more excuses!
5. Theme your days
Ever since becoming my own boss I’ve found that I do a lot more work when I know what today’s “theme” is. For example, Mondays are for invoicing clients, doing the weekly budget, and paying bills.
Fridays are for business development, marketing, and podcast-related tasks. Tuesday-Thursday is when I have strategy calls with clients, write and edit freelance projects, and make the bulk of my money.
Accurately planning out my “themed” days didn’t happen overnight. I practiced with different kinds of schedules until I found the right combination. But the idea is to set a theme for each day, in correlation to your personal productivity and work style.
It takes time so be patient with yourself. This is something I’ve developed and honed myself, so if you need help, let’s talk!
6. Batch tasks whenever possible
In case you don’t already know, multitasking is out and batching is in! Batching is when you take multiple tasks of the same kind and do them all within the same time-frame.
(Which is another great reason for categorizing the type of work you do!)
Let’s say that you have editing work to do for a client, as well as your own blog. Give yourself a one-hour time slot and do as much of the editorial work as possible.
It doesn’t matter if it’s for the same client or not — aim to get all of the same type of tasks done in this one “batch”. This is also great for household chores, errands, meetings, and other appointments.
To make batching super effective, it’s also crucial that you only work on one task at a time. And keep going until this task is done.
Don’t switch back-and-forth between tasks like with multitasking. Stick to one thing and batch all the other like-tasks during this productivity run.
7. Stop with the morning routine madness
You’ve probably read about the best type of yoga to do when you’re burned out, or the morning routine that will save you 20 hours a week. There are endless articles and resources out there to help you create the perfect morning routine.
But here’s a newsflash! The perfect morning, or day, doesn’t exist.
Even if you have a super predictable schedule every day, something is bound to pop-up from time-to-time. More than likely though, your schedule is completely all over the place (I know that mine is!).
The goal is to create a morning routine that’s flexible.
Make it one that gives you the most time for self-care. Even something small, like cooking your own breakfast, can make a big difference in how you start your day.
Throw out the long morning routine, and the idea that you’ll be able to journal for an hour every day. Just strive to do the best you can!
Make a shorter, backup morning routine for when your morning is rushed. That way you’re still able to eat a healthy breakfast, work out, and start your day on a positive note.
8. Give yourself cut-off times
Don’t allow yourself to work and work until you’re burned out. Here’s some tough love: your to-do list will never be done. Once you finally do finish up a time-consuming project or a big launch, there will inevitably be another one around the corner.
So, give yourself a break!
The key is to create a fluid workday but be strict with cut-off times. If you don’t give yourself enough time to work on something, block off more time later in the day. Or schedule time to work on it tomorrow.
Don’t let one project make you late for everything else you have planned that day.
By giving yourself strict cut-off times, you’ll be less stressed, and be on-time for everything else. There will always be time to come back to unfinished project later on.
Trust me, the work never ends.
9. Take back your time
Did you try the Pomodoro Technique hoping for success only to find failure and frustration? Don’t worry, it doesn’t work for me either! I know many other business owners who swear by this technique.
But 25-minute productivity sprints aren’t long enough for me. I need at least 45-50 minutes before my mind starts wandering off. And I’m totally find with that.
When you’re trying to take back your time, don’t feel guilty if you’re unable to make specific timing techniques work. Just try something different and be open to experimenting.
This means doubling the amount of time I spend on projects — which seems to be my sweet spot.
Knowing this about my workflow, I set up all of my strategy calls and client meetings to only be 45-minutes long. If we go over our time that’s okay, as it won’t eat into the next hour.
I also allot myself 45 minutes for blogging, social media work, and other business tasks.
The best way to take back your time is to understand how long your concentration lasts before you need a break. Then set a timer and stick to it. When the alarm “dings” close up what you’re doing and take a short break before starting the next thing on your list.
10. Change up your schedule often
Now that you’ve been working on your morning routine and found a good time tracking technique for your workday, it’s time to throw it all out. YEP!
With the change of seasons comes a change in workflow, and this means taking everything you’ve done for the past several months and starting over.
After awhile, you’ll find the simple time management tips that used to work are now stale and rigid. The only way to fix it is by performing regular reviews of your schedule and tweaking them as necessary.
Get up an hour earlier, or start your bedtime routine an hour earlier. Try drinking your coffee a bit later in the morning for an extra pick-me-up.
Set a reminder to perform regular audits of your schedule. Keep what’s working and toss what doesn’t. You may incorporate the same idea next summer, or find yourself only working until 2pm during the winter.
Whatever your routine, don’t get so bogged down with the details that you forget to create a workable schedule around your life. That’s what’s most important!
The bottom line
In order to build a business around your life you have to be willing to put in the time and effort to implement some of these simple time management techniques. And then you have to be open to change it.
This will bring you better focus management and a schedule that works with you and your family. Otherwise you end up burning out and are unable to give 100% to your clients, friends, and family.