Time management is a term that makes me cringe. Why you ask? Well, I remember one of my mentors saying to me years ago “Susan, you can’t manage time, you can only manage activities”… and I have never forgotten that. We all have the same amount of hours in a day, but it is the activities we get done within that time that really matters.
Managing all the activities you need to accomplish, is especially challenging to women who work from home, because you are usually responsible for much more than just your business. You may have to drive kids to school, make lunches, and in some cases, look after aging parents. But as I’ve said before to many women business owners – busy women get the most done. We know how to squeeze productivity out of ten minutes – taking a shower? Scrub the tiles while you’re waiting for the conditioner to set.
But it also requires real discipline to stick to a schedule. Here are some ways I’ve managed my time.
1) The only way to use time wisely is mark it done. Schedule blocks of time, including email and social media time, do a rough schedule of the week and even the month so you have milestones to aim for and progress to track. You can schedule your day to the minute, including naps, lunch breaks, picking kids up from school. List your to-dos in order of importance to ensure they get done. Check it at the end of the day, and move undone things to the next day’s list.
2) If you’re aiming to schedule your activities, it helps to understand when you work best. Research shows that morning is our most productive time of day but most of us waste those first two hours doing things that don’t require much mental energy. What helps to overcome this waste is deciding at the end of each day what you will aim to accomplish the following morning.
3) Late morning seems to be even better according to Steve Kay, a professor of molecular and computational biology at the University of Southern California. He says that’s because our body temperature rises after getting up, and along with it memory, alertness and concentration.
4) Energy levels rise and fall at various times of day. After eating, and in the afternoon generally, energy levels slump, with outright sleepiness happening around 2 pm. This is the best time for a cat nap to restore your energy. A lot of high-tech companies now have napping rooms in their offices, because cat naps are proven productivity increasers.
5) Everyone’s body is slightly different so best to understand what your body clock is telling you. Daniel Gold, author of Evernote: Unofficial Guide to Capturing Everything and Getting Things Done, suggests tracking what you’re doing to help figure out your best time to work. Make as detailed as possible then analyze to see when you focus best. Be aware of those times you mentally check out to go on Facebook or other social media – it may indicate work avoidance rather than something physiological.
6) Other people’s schedules affect you and your work. For example, if your children get up at 7:30 and leave for school by 8:30, try working for at least an hour before they get up, even if it’s just prepping for the day ahead so you hit the ground running after they’re gone.
7) Research suggests social media has cycles as well. HubSpot social media specialist Dan Zarrella, says Twitter and FB messages tend to be upbeat early in the day and can help boost your mood. Between 3 and 6 pm many people don’t have the energy to share their own tweets and share others’ instead so this is a good time to tweet. Evening FB posts tend to get the most likes. However, be careful not to fall into the timeline trap…next thing you know, those 15 minutes you dedicated to social media turns into an hour of wasted time.
8) You need to play. Sometimes it’s hard to ignore the to-do list but you need downtime – take a break, do some yoga, go outside for a walk, call a friend. Rest is essential to productivity.
9) Do a check-up at the end of each day, week, and month to track progress and see how many of your (financial) goals were met. It’s satisfying to see what you’ve accomplished, but the deadline is also a way to keep you accountable.
10) One of the best ways to stay accountable is by having a coach, preferably someone who has already achieved what it is you desire to be, do and have. Your coach will understand your challenges and triumphs. And also know when you need to be called out or pushed a little. Remember, there is no growth inside that comfort zone.