Working in a corporate environment, I had to use the time management and task management tools which the company dictated, such as LotusNotes, Outlook, paper planner pads, and Microsoft Project. Now in my second career as a business owner, I can’t imagine those days! Can you relate?
How we manage our time is part of the flexibility of owning our own businesses. It means I can cater to my strengths, to the unique ways my brain works, to my ways of being most productive and creative, and to my ways of motivating myself. Such freedom … and the requirement, of course, of knowing myself better now than I did back then, to know what does work well for me!
Today, in my own business, I wear more hats than I ever did in a corporate role. These small business owner “hats” have caused me – and I imagine it is similar for you – to learn a great deal about myself.
This owner role has a challenging and motivating combination of “hats” to it: big picture work, strategy, DOing the work and growing the business for the future. I do work with a couple of team members, so I’m technically not doing everything. Yet I do have to understand more about all facets of running a business than I even did as a cross-functional team manager. And that’s part of what I love; I imagine you do, too.
Here is why “time management and prioritization” is so difficult sometimes
One minute, we focus on the bigger goals of our business: where we are headed, how we will market effectively, how the landscape around us affects our business and so forth.
The next minute, we need to create our life outside of work, where we don’t think as much about our business. [You still need a switch to turn it off, even with your own business, and arguably more than working in a larger company.]
And then, we also need to get into the details: updating financials, writing an email or having a tactical conversation.
And then, we’re supposed to fit in enough sleep, movement/exercise, drinking water, eating well and remembering to start our days with self-care to ground ourselves … and so on.
Then isn’t “time management” as complicated as saying “manage your whole life?” Moments of time make up our days and our life, right? Let’s stop simplifying this and be realistic about how complicated a challenge “time management” is. It’s a fast way to describe a vague problem.
If you’re feeling stuck, wound up, in a fog, not sure where the problem is or how to unravel it … but you can feel it, here’s my framework for you, to #1 decide what you want and then #2 unravel things to start clearing the fog.
If you can think about time as having tangible limits or being in a container, like your clothes closet or your car, it’s easier.
- Decide how many hours you want [or need] to work on your business. (How big is the space or container you’re working with?)
- What are your priorities for this chapter in life? Being there for kids as they arrive home from school? For your aging parents? Getting to the next career level? (What share of your time or your container does each deserve these days?)
- What’s getting in your way? You need to figure out where your biggest obstacle is to moving ahead. (Where are things stuck?)
A roadmap to pinpoint where to start
My time management “wheel” will help you figure out more specifics. [Download it here.]
You’ll answer such questions as:
- How well do you keep track of all there is to do? It’s impossible to make priorities decisions when you don’t have the complete picture.
- How well do you get focused and stay focused? (Internal and external disruptions or distractions.)
- How well do you work on today’s list, and also chip away at projects and bigger goals? (The adrenalin method can only work for a while.)
- How well do you estimate how long something will take? (If that’s not fairly accurate, your system will break at the seams.)
Without a good definition of where the problem is, you’ll solve something … but it won’t make the biggest, felt impact on your days. You’ll only nibble around the edges.
Use tools to fit the purpose
Many people look for “the one tool” that will make them manage things better. Or we choose the tools without thinking through what we need and what formats would work best for how our mind works. Have you ever bought a planner or downloaded an app and after trying it, realized it wasn’t for you? Here’s where the self-knowledge comes in to help you make your best choices.
Tools we need for different purposes:
- The master list of everything. A place to corral everything. (Evernote, OmniFocus, GQueues, Excel)
- A prioritized, short daily plan or intention. (Often handwritten because it encodes the priorities in your brain better than any other way AND it’s more visible as you work.)
- Brainstorming plans and ideas: Many people use a written notebook. I use the mindmapping tool SimpleMind or else a flipchart with colored markers.
- A calendar: For available hours each day, outside of meetings and appointments.
- A “projects” tool: Outline and keep the steps here, so you aren’t cluttering up your master list. Or if you’re using an app, list the project and hide the steps you’re not focused on today.
So see how complicated it is when you stop to think about it?
My time wheel asks questions, too, about how well you set expectations (or say “no”). That part is so much easier once you have a good picture of what’s on your plate. [“I can’t focus on that today because my newsletter is due tomorrow and I need the time to finish it today. I can start on that tomorrow, though. How does that sound?”]
How well we manage our days and stick to using the strategies we know work best for us is also affected by our energy levels, how well we slept, and how clear our mind is from emotional events happening in our lives.
So if you’re having difficulties “managing your time,” are you seeing now why it’s not that easy to figure out? Take heart; you’re not alone. It’s definitely a journey of self knowledge!
P.S. Download the time management wheel. Take some time with it. And if you’d like to review your results or thoughts, I’m happy to talk it through with you.
Sue@CoachSueWest.com or 603.554.1948