One of the biggest challenges I had when I first opened my firm in 2007 was effective time management. As a sole proprietor/ solopreneur I had a lot of hats to where, drafter, designer, project manager, marketer, book keeper, accounts payable, accounts receivable and janitor among others. It was a struggle to be able to do all of these jobs and not lose my mind in the process took discipline and good time management. When I first started out I had to learn quickly how to manage my time. I made a lot of mistakes. Some days I fared better than others. What I had going for me was I was young, I had a lot of energy and a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for what I was doing. This allowed me to work late into the night and basically abuse myself to get the work done, see clients and manage projects. I covered my mistakes with more time. This can only work for so long until you get burned out. When I had my bad days it was usually because I wasn’t doing one of these six things that I find are critical to effective time management.
Many small business owners I have talked to feel their business is out of control. This is because they are probably not effectively controlling their time or managing their schedule. They are constantly being pulled in one direction or another. They are constantly in reaction mode. Proactively managing your time and schedule will help you stay ahead of the issues. All of the highest performers and most successful business people have complete control over their schedule and manage their time effectively always working towards their highest goals.
Each day brings a new set of challenges and issues competing for our time and attentions. As a sole practitioner or a small business owner being able to effectively balance the multiple roles we are required to assume is essential. Your ability to effectively wear all of the different hats and manage your time will be critical to your success. These are the six strategies I find most effective in managing my time.
- Block time – One of the best ways I found to get things done in a busy schedule is to create “Block Time” essentially creating a 4-8 hr. or more block of time on your schedule to do nothing but one task. Maybe it is several hours dedicated to getting some project drawings done, half a day working on marketing, one day each week to do invoicing or attend to business matters, or maybe it’s just a morning cleaning your desk. The key to block time is to be strategic and to allow yourself to focus on that particular task and do nothing else for that time. That means no Facebook, no twitter, no texting, cellphones or calls. This might be hard at first especially when you are a sole proprietor but once you have it mastered you see the benefits in productivity and peace of mind.
- Clustering – Clustering is very similar to block time in that you are dedicating a certain amount of time to one task. However, with clustering the goal is to do all of your out of office appointments at once. The idea is to condense travel time to as little as possible by combining many trips into one. I had several projects going on at once in Westchester County and Fairfield County, I would try to do all of my site visits and project meetings on one day when possible to limit travel time. I would have several meetings one after the other. This also allowed me to schedule days when I didn’t leave the office and could get other work done.
- Own your inbox – How many times have your plans for the day ruined as soon as you’ve opened your inbox. Mine too, more times than I can remember. The truth is your inbox is full of other people’s agendas and they are looking to control your time. If you can’t control your agenda then you can’t expect to manage your time. If you limit the amount of time you spend in your inbox and are strategic about when you look at your inbox you will go a long way in terms of avoiding unnecessary distractions and maximizing your time. Here are some tips to owning your inbox. Don’t open your inbox till after you have created your schedule/to-do list for the day. Create rules to organize your inbox, to filter out the noise and focus on the pressing issues. Don’t leave your inbox open all day, immediate responses are great but tell your clients that you are always available at their beck and call. Sort your inbox so you can see who you are waiting for responses from.
- Task lists – No one plans to fail yet many fail to plan. Create a to-do list or a task list to prioritize your tasks for the day. I make mine at the end of the day so the items I did not get to are still fresh in my mind, so I can hit them first thing in the morning. Limit yourself to two or three larger tasks and several other smaller tasks each day. Then prioritize those in terms of importance or which of those will get you the greatest monetary return on your investment with the least amount of time and least amount of effort. Those might not the most fun, or most interesting items, but will be the best utilization of your time. Make a list of people you need to contact and people you are waiting for responses from. Get those calls and emails done first before responding to any other emails. If you have a team, have a five minute meeting in the morning to review the priorities for the day. Find out who is working on what and what information they need to keep moving. Establish who needs your time and for how long. This way everyone is moving in the same direction with the same goals in mind. There are several tools available online for note taking and team collaboration. I am a pen and pencil kinda guy. I like the Bullet Journal note taking system. This system allows me to track task, projects and events in a journal format without letting anything slip through the cracks. On the computer there are to-do apps for tracking tasks and software like Basecamp to track multiple projects and coordinate teams. The number one tip here is that your goals and priorities should come before anything else.
- Achievable Goals – Years ago I met a rather happy fellow on the beach. I asked him what his secret to happiness was. He answered, I always set achievable goals this way I am never disappointed in my accomplishments. Yes, I know you are thinking, we should all aim for the stars and set lofty goals that stretch our abilities and challenge us to do more. But, Rome wasn’t built in a day. As a small business owner or sole proprietor it is import to set achievable goals. Achievable goals will allow you to celebrate the small steps in progressing forward to your loftier goals and they will keep you from getting discouraged when you can’t finish the CD’s for the new park in an afternoon. They will also keep you honest about the time needed to complete those goals and allow you to plan more effectively. Remember even you can eat an elephant one bite at a time.
- Put away the phone – I believe the internet age has given us all smartphone induced ADD. All of the blinking, blurping, bonging and chiming on our phones hour after hour, beckoning to us to pick it up and check it out is the number one distraction in most offices today. This distraction translates into wasted time, losses in productivity and lost profits. Put down the phone to pick up productivity.
Now you can see why clustering, block time and creating tasks, organizing that information in a way that you can see where you are and what you’re doing is essential. Whether you a pen paper kind guy, desktop guy or a mobile device gal, there are a ton of great ways to manage your time and your calendar. Effective time management is crucial to keeping any small business running smoothly without it chaos soon ensues. So if you want to grow and get more design projects get serious about time management.