One of the benefits of running your business is having so much flexibility. Of course, this flexibility can come at a cost, especially if you don’t use your time well. You know it’s important to create a time management plan, or daily schedule. But sticking to that plan can be tricky. Here’s how to FINALLY create a schedule you can stick to.
The Secret to Great Time Management
The secret to great time management is knowing your priorities. It’s easy to waste time if you don’t know exactly what you should be doing.
There are many ways to identify your priorities. You can define your long-term priorities in a business plan. You can set short-term priorities in a monthly goal list. Your daily or weekly priorities might be listed on a to-do list.
Once you have your long-term and short-term priorities set. It’s time to make a time management plan.
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First, list your top priorities for the week.
For example, I sit down on Sunday night with my calendar and my planner and list the personal and work items that I need to get done that week. (Curious about the planner I use? After testing and reviewing 8 planners this year, I settled on the Passion Planner. Use the code EMILY10 to get 10% off your own Passion Planner.) This week my work list includes: write 3 blog posts, write guest post for One Woman Shop, and revise assessment items.
I selected these three priorities because they help me reach one of my two goals: growing my blog and earning $50/hour through my freelancing work.
Next, break each priority into smaller tasks.
For example, my task of writing 3 blog posts gets subdivided into creating a content calendar, outlining each post, drafting each post, formatting and scheduling each post. On the other hand, revising my assessment items doesn’t require any smaller tasks. All I need to do is revise the five problems my client sent back.
Schedule each task.
I estimate how long it will take me to finish each task, then I write each task into my planner. I schedule the most important things for early in the week. For example, I need to turn in my guest post to One Woman Shop by Friday, so I schedule time to write it on Tuesday morning.
I also schedule tasks based on my energy levels. I’m most productive in the morning, so anything that requires a lot of thinking and writing is scheduled before noon. Things like formatting and scheduling blog posts can happen in the sleepy afternoons.
Review your schedule the night before.
I have my week planned out on Sunday night, but of course things change. Some tasks may take me longer than I expected or a new high-priority task from a client gets added to my list. Each night I review my schedule for the next day. I make any necessary adjustments. I also make sure I’ve written down EVERYTHING I need to get done (including picking my daughter up from pre-school!).
The next day, all I have to do is follow my plan. I don’t have to make a decision on the spot about what I should be doing, which limits decision fatigue. It’s also harder to get distracted when I know exactly what I should be doing.
Time Management Tools
There are a variety of scheduling tools you can use to make a time management plan. I like using a paper-based planner, but I know plenty of people who prefer Google calendar or Trello, both of which are free. Use whatever works best for you and use it consistently.
Looking for more tools to help you stay on track? Grab my Time Management Toolkit here:
Now that you’ve created a time management plan, don’t let it go to waste.
The Secret to Sticking to Your Time Management Plan
Do you know that overwhelmed feeling you get when you have too much to do and too little time? Do you cope with that feeling by avoiding your to-do list? Or maybe you just do crappy, rushed work to get everything done? Either way, it’s a terrible feeling and the results aren’t pretty either.
The secret to sticking to your time management plan is to under-schedule yourself. Notice that in the example above I only set three priorities for my week. Once I broke down each priority into smaller tasks, I only had three or four tasks scheduled per day. I highly recommend that you shoot for the same.
Ironically, doing less will help you achieve more. Your task list list feels manageable when you keep it short. Plus, you’ll be more motivated to get things done when you know everything on your list is achievable.
Give yourself extra time
Part of under-scheduling yourself is giving yourself more time than you think you need for tasks. Obviously, don’t be outrageous, but add an extra half hour of buffer time to a two hour task. The extra time will help you feel less rushed and will give you time to transition between tasks.
If you tend to procrastinate, use your schedule as a way to set a time limit for certain tasks. I often set a time limit and a timer when I’m doing research because it’s a task with no clear ending. (I just use a simple kitchen timer, like this.) Without my timer and my schedule I could spend days, instead of hours, on research.
You will be more focused and productive if you take breaks throughout the day. I like to take a longer break every few hours. I’ll work on one task for a few hours, like outlining all of my blog posts for the month. Then I’ll take a 30 minute break to get some lunch and fold laundry. Other people prefer shorter bursts of work paired with shorter breaks. Check out the pomodoro technique if you think the shorter bursts of work and more frequent breaks might be a good option for you.
Pro tip: Actually write break time into your schedule. Breaks should be a priority, and if something is a priority it should be written into your time management plan. You’ll take it more seriously and be more likely to take that break if you write it down!
Try following these tips for a week. If you follow through and stick with your plan, you will end each day feeling successful and accomplished, which will motivate you to stick to your time management plan the next day.
Looking for more time management tips? Sign up for Master Time Management, my free time management mini course for bloggers and solopreneurs. Each lesson takes less than 10 minutes to implement!