7 Super-Effective Tips for Managing Your Time as an Entrepreneur
“The Definition of Productivity” — that’s the name my now-wife jokingly gave to me on our very first date. Through the years, it’s become a badge of honor.
Time management is something I excel at, and it’s a skill that is absolutely essential for anyone who wants to take up the entrepreneurial lifestyle.
Your success as an entrepreneur weighs heavily on your ability to manage your time well. When you work for yourself, there won’t be a supervisor hanging over your shoulder setting deadlines and goals. You have to be able to set those metrics for yourself.
That’s why the best tool in the entrepreneur’s belt is a well-managed schedule.
7 Tips for Successful Self-Scheduling
1. Schedule Your Priorities
I borrowed this first point from the Stephen Covey’s influential book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In it, Covey writes that “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
Think about that for a second, and consider this: How do you use your schedule? Is your schedule merely a record of your appointments for the day — phone calls, team meetings, client presentations? But that’s not everything you do in a day, right?
You have to take time for brainstorming, planning social media engagement, sorting out financial concerns, etc. When will that get done? If it’s not on your schedule, there’s a good chance that it’ll fall through the cracks.
That’s why you should treat your schedule like a to-do list. Think “What needs to get done this month, this week, and today?” Then, block out portions of time to work on those priorities.
2. Set a Daily Rhythm
What time of the day do you get the most work done? Are you a morning person or a night owl? When is the best time for you to take conference calls? When do you tend to get hungry?
These are the questions that will help you set a rhythm for your day.
For example, if you know that you tend to lose steam in the mid-afternoon, don’t put off your most important tasks for that time of day. Or, if you know that your creativity is at it’s peak in the evening, schedule a daily brainstorming session for that time.
The structure of your day should match your natural productivity rhythm.
3. Don’t Multi-Task, Single-Task Smartly
So, what’s the alternative?
Well, think of those times in the day you spend waiting. Maybe you’re waiting for a meeting to start, waiting for a call, or waiting for your lunch order. These small moments that you’d otherwise spend twiddling your thumbs could be spent on some of the small tasks that you’d usually try to multitask.
Here’s what you do:
Write a to-do list of small miscellaneous tasks that tend to come up frequently for you. If it takes less than 5 minutes, put it on the list. This includes checking email, doing some quick research for a big project, or maybe calling the doctor’s office to make appointments for your kids. Keep the list handy, and, when those thumb-twiddling moments arise, take that opportunity to check something off your list for the day.
4. Make Time for Yourself and Your Family
Skipping this step is a surefire way to get burnt out on work. Inexperienced entrepreneurs make the mistake of only scheduling their work obligations into their day, thinking that any gaps in that schedule can be reserved for personal time.
There are two potential problems with this approach. 1.) Work ends up seeping into the time you should be spending on your mental/physical well-being and with your family or 2.) You end up using work time for relaxation or personal issues because you haven’t scheduled any other time to focus on yourself.
That’s why you need to develop the self-awareness to know how much time you need each day to take care of family obligations or to spend decompressing, and treat those blocks of time with as much reverence as you do for your work-related tasks.
Everyone I work with knows that from 5–9, I’m all-in on spending time with my family. When I’m with them, I don’t want to be distracted by anything else. Not only does it give me something to look forward to at the end of a tough day, it also ensures that I’m not missing those precious moments.
Whether it’s time spent with family, at the gym, or working on self-improvement, set aside a block of time every day when you can focus 100% on yourself and your loved ones.
5. Learn to Say “No”
There is an opportunity cost to each and every responsibility you take on. That cost will mean that you either have to spend less time on existing commitments (personal or professional) or delegate that work to other team members, and that could result in a decline in quality of the work that’s produced. So, ask yourself, “Is it worth it?”
Maybe, but that’s a decision you should make consciously and as a result of thoughtful deliberation with others who may be effected by that decision. So, learn to recognize the tasks that aren’t worth your time and how to say “no” respectfully and effectively.
Effectively managing your schedule means that you need to be protective of your time and realize how new obligations will affect your existing responsibilities.
Remember, saying “no” to a bad opportunity is like saying “yes” to a good one.
6. Stick to Your Schedule
None of this advice will work if you can’t stick to your schedule.
So, let me ask you something: Would you blow off a meeting with an important client? Of course not!
Now take this mentality and apply it to everything on your schedule. Sure, maybe you don’t technically have to do your daily brainstorming session, and maybe that project isn’t technically due until next week. But that doesn’t matter! If you put it on the schedule, you’re making a commitment to yourself to get it done. Just like you can’t cancel on a commitment made to a client, you can’t cancel on a commitment made to yourself.
7. Reflect and Reassess
Life — especially the life of an entrepreneur — is unpredictable. While sticking to your schedule is critical for success, sometimes things come up that derail our best intentions. That’s okay.
At the end of a hectic day, reflect on the things that went wrong and what you can do in the future to prevent them from happening again. Maybe you need to add more wiggle room to your schedule to account for meetings that tend to run long. Maybe you need to schedule “mental breaks” into your day to prevent burnout. Just know that you may not be able to predict every potential pitfall, but you can plan for handling them better in the future.