🖊 This article was last updated on June 12, 2019
As solopreneurs, much of our success hinges on how well we can manage our time.
Below I’m sharing 10 of my favorite time management tips, techniques, and strategies. I also share how you can combine some of these tips to craft a schedule that matches your priorities.
According to the Pareto Principle, 20 percent of our activities, clients, or products yield 80 percent of the results.
Though this is not a hard-and-fast rule, it helps us zero in on the 20 percent that will have the biggest impact on our lives. Once we figure out our 20 percent, we can focus our attention and energy on those, increasing our chances of achieving our goals.
If you are overwhelmed by your to-do list and feel you’ll never get out of it alive, take heart. Among your tasks, which will move the needle the most?
These are your 20 percent. Dedicate more time and effort into getting those done.
Also called the Eisenhower Matrix or the Urgent-Important Principle, this technique helps you prioritize the important (but not urgent) tasks, instead of putting them at the mercy of all the urgent (but not important) concerns begging for your attention.
When using this matrix, categorize your tasks into four quadrants:
- Quadrant 1: Urgent / Important: must be done immediately
- Quadrant 2: Non-urgent / Important: put these in your calendar
- Quadrant 3: Urgent / Non-important: delegate or minimize these
- Quadrant 4: Non-urgent / Non-important: avoid these during productive hours
As you do this, you will find that the activities that contribute most to your success are found in Quadrant 2.
So build Quadrant 2 activities into your calendar, and do not compromise these. They will have the biggest impact on your business, your health, your personal relationships, and the quality of your life.
By task batching, we group related tasks together, and then block time to do these.
Task batching helps you get organized. It also minimizes brain fatigue, which normally happens when you keep switching from one unrelated activity to another.
Your task batching list can be weekly, biweekly, monthly, or daily. Try mixing different tasks and lists together, until you find what works best for you.
You’ve identified your priorities, categorized tasks into quadrants, and grouped them together into batches. What’s next?
When deciding how much time you need for a task, remember Parkinson’s Law:
“Work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion.”Parkinson’s Law
This applies to both small and complex projects. To keep projects from eating up too much time, set deadlines for each task. If a client gives you a week or a month to work on an output, try cutting the allocated time in half.
Keep experimenting until you find the best time frame for each task. You can use the time management log (see below) to track your total hours, and the Pomodoro technique to allocate 25-minute intervals of focused work.
Timeboxing or time blocking means allocating a maximum fixed time period for an activity. When the time box for that activity ends, you also need to stop working and evaluate what you have accomplished.
The amount of time you give to each task will vary from a few minutes, to a few hours, or maybe even several days. Just make sure you are allocating enough time for each task–not too short that you stress yourself out, and not too long that you end up wasting time.
Timeboxing is effective because it ensures we can work on our most important projects, without letting these spill over other crucial tasks.
You can also use timeboxing to maximize your peak productive hours. Schedule your most important tasks during your most productive hours. Then allocate the rest of the day for urgent tasks or those requiring less focus.
After time boxing your tasks, you will notice that some of those will take hours to finish. Do you force yourself to sit at your desk until you’re done?
Definitely not. Try the Pomodoro Technique instead.
The Pomodoro technique uses 25-minute work intervals (a pomodoro) with 5 to 15-minute breaks in between. You can use apps and online timers like Pomodoro Technique Timer, TomatoTimer, and Marinara Online Timer to keep track of your time.
The Pomodoro technique forces you to dive deeper into a task and power through distractions. The shorter breaks will also help you relax and avoid neck and back pain.
I recommend that you take a longer break after every four pomodoros so you can avoid brain fatigue, and to recharge your brain for the next batch of activities.
This strategy requires us to track the time we spend on work-related tasks and, if you wish, even non-work activities.
Keeping a time management log will help us see where we need to adjust. Maybe we’re spending too much time taking breaks, and not enough time investing in ourselves by honing our skills.
Another benefit of logging your hours spent is it helps you improve your timeboxing. The time logs help you decide if you might be allocating too little time on an important task, and what activities you can minimize or eliminate to make time for important things.
The simplest way to keep a time management log is to use an app like Toggl. You can also take notes on paper, and list how many hours you spend per activity.
This is when you look at your goals vis-a-vis everything you’ve accomplished, things you haven’t done, and things you are still working on.
I highly recommend that you set a specific hour each week to take a step back from your life, and ask yourself these five questions:
- What should I do more of?
- What should I keep doing?
- What should I start doing?
- What should I stop doing?
- What should I do less off?
These weekly reviews are an amazing opportunity for you to bring yourself back on track toward your goals, identify promising opportunities, spot project backlogs, and refine or overhaul your business systems.
A weekly review can also help you see possible shiny objects you have to drop because they are not aligned with your main goals.
The shiny object syndrome rears its head whenever we get distracted by new apps, systems, or ideas. Instead of focusing and growing on what we have, the shiny object syndrome leads us to chase one trend after another.
To avoid being blinded by the latest fads, we can do our research first and ask ourselves whether these are aligned with our priorities, would help us serve our customers better, and if we have the time to see these through.
Last but definitely not the least, I highly recommend keeping a ta-da list. Given our human tendency to focus on what we missed, the ta-da list will remind us of everything we have accomplished. This includes unexpected tasks (such as attending to a family emergency) which might not be in our original schedule but are very important to us nonetheless.
The ta-da list reminds us to celebrate our daily and weekly victories, and give ourselves the credit we deserve.
What about you? Which of these tools made the biggest difference in your life?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.