What is the most important resource your business should have to drive growth?
Most people think of money which is close but it’s not the answer.
Time is your most valuable resource.
Founders hire people so they can allocate more time to important tasks. We use the latest tools and technologies at work so less time is spent on tedious, manual jobs.
Companies are buying time with money so they can scale and meet rising consumer demand.
This is why time management is important. It’s not only beneficial to your company, but it also aids your professional growth in your line of work. Imagine how much you can develop if you have an hour or two a day to learn something new.
But, how can you manage your schedule and your team to be more productive at work?
Why Time Management Strategies Matter
The average employee spends close to two hours a day on non-work related tasks, according to a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
80% of the average workday is consumed by tasks that generate little to no business value.
These statistics show how much time is wasted without your knowledge—you might even be guilty of this at work. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of fun in the office. But, when a quarter of the day is lost to unproductive work, something has to change before your company’s performance starts to dwindle.
Atlassian’s in-depth workplace survey showed how much you can lose to poor productivity.
Employees cost businesses anywhere between $1,200 to $4,100 a year to spam, unnecessary emails, and poor communication. $37 billion is wasted on ineffective meetings alone!
Many businesses have pursued cost reductions by streamlining their workforce but they could have easily cut the same amount by improving their employees’ time management.
That said, employees are not all to blame for this issue. Stress levels are at an all-time high as companies strive to deliver solutions at breakneck speeds.
As a result, employees buckle under pressure especially if they’re not paid relative to their efforts. This leads to subpar performance, one of which includes slacking at work to stay sane in stressful conditions.
What if your company has reasonable workloads yet productivity is still underwhelming?
It turns out our brains are awful at time management. No one is born great at managing time. You have to practice it just like any other skill and the same goes for your team members.
The more you enforce practical time management principles, the more productive your team will be through repetition.
Here’s how you can start improving your employees’ time management skills today.
1. Know How You Spend Your Time
The biggest mistake is to spend your work time on the wrong things. It’s not wrong to let off steam on say, Instagram or YouTube, but it should not reach the point where you’re distracted every five minutes.
Other common signs of inefficient time usage include:
- Achieving minimal results even after a long day.
- Not doing what you’re supposed to do aka procrastination.
- Worrying too much about future events instead of performing what’s at hand.
- All talk and no action.
One way to overcome this problem is with a time audit. Think of it as a tax audit for your day to day life.
The goal is to identify where your time is spent daily so you can eliminate unnecessary events that hamper productivity. You can then use this information to plan a cohesive and compact work schedule to boost your performance further.
A time audit is made up of three parts:
- How do you want to spend your time to achieve your goal(s)?
- How are you currently spending your time?
- How can you adjust your schedule to meet your target?
Let’s say you want to learn the fundamentals of accounting to complement your new role. You aim to allocate five to six hours a week going through online accounting classes.
After performing a time audit, you find out only an hour of your week is spent on learning. You restructure your schedule to align with your goal and (hopefully) stick with it.
The first step of a time audit is to create a table—both physical and online charts work fine.
Then, add a column in your table for every day of the week.
You can jot down fewer days but we suggest spanning a full week for optimal productivity. The rows of your table should start in the morning (e.g. 6 a.m.). Expand your rows in thirty-minute increments until the end of your day.
Here’s a sample time audit table for clarity.
To begin tracking your time, fill in the rows every thirty minutes with a short and concise description of what you’re doing at that time.
Do this for a week and you should be able to easily identify unproductive time sinks in your daily schedule and make the necessary changes.
A time audit is so important it should be the first step of any time management strategy. Instead of wild assumptions, you get an honest, critical analysis of how you’re spending your time which serves as a solid foundation for other time management practices.
2. Start With a Clear Focus
All of the world’s greatest athletes share a common trait among them. They have incredible levels of focus that spur them to push past their comfort zone to achieve victory.
Curiously enough, successful entrepreneurs and business leaders also share this hawk-like focus in realizing their aspirations.
Numerous studies and research have been done on the positive effects of prioritization on productivity. In summary, you’ll work harder if you have a clear goal in mind, although it’s just as important to set realistic and measurable goals.
Setting a goal, however, will not get you to the destination by itself. You need to take action to succeed.
Work on important and high-value activities early in the morning when you have the most energy and focus.
Many who’ve made it big (including Sir Richard Branson) swear by this which is backed by science as well. You don’t have to wake up before dawn to make morning routines work. Anytime between 6 to 10 a.m. is still effective as long as you stay consistent.
Another key concept of focus is to prioritize the right goals and tasks. Focus on completing activities that drive you closer to your goal even if it’s not something you enjoy.
You also need to distinguish between urgent and important tasks. Important activities often build towards goals that benefit you on personal or professional terms.
Urgent activities, on the other hand, usually come from someone else’s goal (e.g. your clients). However, you need to address urgent tasks immediately or risk facing repercussions like losing a project or a job, for instance.
Tony Robbins has a great technique on attaining goal focus, known as the rapid planning method (RPM). The technique—which stands for Results, Purpose, and Massive Action—revolves around three key questions:
- What do you really want?
- What’s your purpose?
- What’s your massive action plan?
It’s similar to the time audit we did earlier albeit with a different approach to goal setting. The RPM technique is a great way to start managing your time and there’s no better place to learn from than the man himself.
3. Build a Smart Daily Schedule
You know how much time to spend in a day and what your focus goals are. How do you link these two and get them to work together?
Proceed with a smart daily schedule. A standard schedule is not enough to deliver results. If that’s the case, schools and organizations still using the waterfall model wouldn’t have trouble getting their employees to work productively.
Your schedule needs to be more than just a table with time slots for it to be effective.
Consider adding time blocking to your program like Elon Musk. Time blocking is a productivity technique where you plan your day in ‘blocks’—creating a template for your daily activities.
Tasks are allocated to each block with minimal buffer times between blocks. Practicing time blocking to a tee can be a monumental challenge, as you need to predict how much time each task requires.
But, it will amplify your productivity to never-before-seen levels if you stick to it and do it right.
Consider the effects of the planning fallacy when planning tasks. We are terrible at estimating how long tasks take. The truth is, even if you have done a task before, you still might be wrong about the time necessary for its completion.
Fortunately, we can all get better at this over time, with the regular practice of time blocking.
Use online scheduling for time blocking since it’s easier to set them up and organize in the future. Pen and paper schedules take ages to get right which is an inefficient use of your time. Most providers also offer integrations with frequently used business tools so you can be even more prolific at work.
You may wonder, why does time blocking work if it limits tasks to predefined periods?
Wouldn’t it restrict productivity if a task does not go as expected?
What if a task takes a week or month to complete?
Here’s where Parkinson’s Law comes into play.
Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a noted British author, concluded in 1955 that there was no correlation between the amount of work done in a company and the number of employees. In other words, we are tuned to work with timelines, not the other way around.
Try forcing yourself to finish a task in thirty minutes. Now, give yourself four hours to do a similar task. Chances are, you will take four hours to get it done despite being capable of completing it quicker.
Time blocking takes advantage of this to improve productivity which explains its popularity among prominent business leaders.
4. Use a To-Do List the Right Way
To-do lists are useful but like any other productivity technique, it doesn’t work if you aren’t committed to it.
The reason why most to-do lists fail is that they’re either:
- too long
- too vague
- unclear on what needs to be done.
Let’s go over some proven strategies to overcome these problems and make to-do lists hyper-effective.
The first and most important is to make tasks simple.
What would be easier to achieve, finish a book in two hours or read a chapter a day? The latter is a lot simpler to do which makes you less likely to ignore it. Small actions build up, and that is why you should divide your tasks into smaller subtasks that lead to completion.
Don’t be overambitious when planning your list. Break major tasks into chunks (like the time blocking example earlier) and aim for small wins to keep motivation high.
Next, plan your to-do list for the next day, not today. This gives you time to think of how to complete your tasks, much like a chess master preparing his or her next move.
You’ll also start working immediately instead of wasting fifteen minutes of your valuable early morning boost planning your day. FastCompany has a great article on how various experts structure their to-do lists for maximum productivity.
Keep the number of tasks in your list short and reasonable. Having too many tasks drags your focus away from the important part—actually doing work. This is known as the Zeigarnik effect, where your mind is fixated on unfinished tasks over completed ones. The more tasks you have, the more distracted you will be if you can’t finish them all in time.
You can also look into dynamic time management if you struggle to maintain focus over long periods. In dynamic time management, tasks are allocated at most for the next three to four days.
This keeps you focused since you force yourself to complete high-priority tasks in a short amount of time without the pressure of lengthy to-do lists (see point #3 on Parkinson’s law).
5. Learn to Delegate
Small business owners and first-time founders make the mistake of thinking they’re Superman.
They take on more work without hiring people to save money. In the end, they reach a breaking point where nothing gets done because they’re swamped with deadlines and client emails.
Learning to delegate is an important skill for any business leader. Yes, you can complete many tasks yourself. However, is it a worthwhile use of your time?
Wouldn’t you rather spend 10 hours a week closing sales and growing the business instead of expending the same amount of time on updating your website?
You should only invest a sizable amount of time on high-value tasks, one of which is developing team members. Use the 30x rule to get more out of employee training. The rule suggests managers should spend “30x the amount of time training someone to do a task than it would take them to do it themselves.”
If you need ten minutes to finish a task, spend five hours to train your team members to do the same. Ten minutes saved daily from not having to do this task is equal to forty hours of extra time a year.
The benefits you gain far outnumber the time sunk into training if you utilize your additional time wisely.
6. Say No to Perfectionism and Procrastination
Perfectionism and procrastination are interrelated in many ways.
For example, a perfectionist may fail to complete a task as expected, causing him to give up completely as a means of coping with disappointment.
You’re better off not being a perfectionist if you cannot deal with failure and fully eliminate procrastination from your life.
However, procrastination is not always a bad thing. It’s acceptable to leave buffer time between tasks and get some much-needed me time to cool off. You can be a procrastinator and still get things done.
Enter the 80/20 rule.
The 80/20 rule says 20% of your efforts make up 80% of your results. To identify your 20%, list down the tasks that bring you closer to your goals. Choose the task which leaves the biggest impact on your target and funnel your efforts towards it.
Eliminate the habit of half-work. If a task lasts longer than expected, break it apart and block more time to get it done at all costs so you don’t get dragged by a perpetual cycle of incomplete work. Finish what you started at all costs.
Combine these tips with underpromise and overdeliver, and you’re on your way to better time management.
7. Get Organized And Do One Task At A Time
Contrary to common belief, multitasking does not make you productive even if you felt like you did a lot of work.
Researchers have produced scientific evidence that shows how our brains lose up to 40% of productivity when we switch tasks. Texting while driving is a morbid but accurate example of how multitasking can go wrong when you focus on too many things at one time.
Think of a time when you were super productive. Were you working on multiple things at the same time? Probably not. You were likely focusing on one task and spending all your brainpower and energy on it—and you definitely had impressive results to justify your effort.
This is why single tasks work.
You have all the time and determination in the world to devote to it, leading to greater satisfaction and better performances. You can’t achieve that with a myriad of high-pressure tasks on your shoulders, let alone completing them.
How do you stop multitasking?
Rank your tasks from highest to lowest priority-wise. You want to finish off your list one-by-one starting from the most important task.
If you have similar activities like emailing several clients in a day, group them and maintain a consistent schedule to avoid disrupting your working pattern.
Try single-tasking for some time and you’ll wonder why you spent so much time juggling work in the past.
8. Stop Interruptions and Time Wasters
Sometimes, the enemy of productivity is not you, but someone or something close.
It can be a colleague who interrupts every 10 minutes with questions that can be Googled in a second. It can even be an app that sucks you in so much you forget about work. Think of your Instagrams, Facebooks, Twitters, and so on.
You will never be productive until you block these interruptions. Use productivity apps that limit usage after a certain threshold to stop checking your phone.
Saying NO is also one of the best productivity hacks you can use in the office. If a colleague is bothering you, don’t be afraid to say no.
If you really need to let off steam, use a timer to track your breaks. The Pomodoro technique breaks down into twenty-five-minute sessions with short breaks in between. This allows you to be productive while providing ample time to relax. After five sessions, take a longer break to recharge and continue the cycle until your workday ends.
Don’t wait for people who don’t value your schedule. A meeting that starts five minutes late is no big deal. Add them up over multiple meetings, however, and you have a problem.
If a client or team member is always late for meetings, plan your to-do list around it so you don’t waste time. Respecting your time is key to productivity and you should convey it to the people around you too.
Start Managing Your Time Today
You have the power and strategies to turn your time management around.
The tips mentioned above will get you and your team there but none of them work if you don’t take action. Take the initiative to change your habits and steer your company through improving productivity and time management one step at a time.
And there’s no better time to start than today.