If there’s one thing all business owners can agree on, it’s how precious time is as a commodity— there’s never enough of it, for one. The average work day is unstructured, full of distractions and fires, and it often ends with “one more thing” that keeps you in the office long after you planned to leave. And in the off chance you do find time to break away to work on your business, you probably can’t focus due to constant interruptions.
To develop strong entrepreneurial skills, you need to change the way you spend your time prioritizing important strategic work so you can lead your business to success. Here’s how.
Keep a daily time log
You can’t change what you don’t see. To develop better time-management habits, you first need to discover the truth about how you currently spend your time. So for at least two weeks, use a daily time log to track your work day, logging everything you do. You can use a free time tracker like Toggl to track your activities to the minute, then record them in a file or on our Daily Time Log.
The goal here is simply to collect data, so don’t censor what you report. Everything you do throughout your day is significant because every minute is significant.
Your personal time log should have five columns that include:
- Time: The exact time you begin and end an activity
- Duration: The amount of time you spend on the activity before you’re interrupted or move on to the next activity
- Activity description: A few words describing the activity
- Category: The relevant category of activity (such as administration, sales, finance, etc.)
- Work type: Strategic work versus tactical work (i.e., work on the business versus work in the business)
This process may feel challenging and awkward at first, but you’ll quickly get used to it—and maybe you’ll even find it valuable as an ongoing way to practice time-management discipline.
Analyze your daily routine
After two weeks, you’ll have enough data in your Daily Time Log to recognize patterns. The best approach to looking at this data is to skim, summarize and analyze it. Go ahead and browse through your logs to get a feel for the flow of your days. Ask yourself:
- How many entries appear each day, and does that vary much from day to day?
- Are there a lot of entries of less than 15 minutes?
- What activity or work-category trends are most prevalent during the morning, afternoons or certain days of the week?
- How much time do I spend on strategic versus tactical work?
You may easily discover that your productive time is much less than you thought. Or perhaps you’re spending too much time on work that could, and should, be done by someone else. These realizations will help you more mindfully choose how and where to spend your time.
Develop better time-management skills
With the patterns you see in your time log data, you may quickly recognize the most common elements that steal your time. Maybe you’re constantly derailed by untrained employees, too many emails, customer phone calls, broken equipment, a talkative vendor or your own tendency to get distracted. To manage your time well, you need to first recognize what’s consistently getting in your way and develop time-management techniques that align specifically with them. For example, if you’re always pulled into spontaneous customer calls, make it a practice to not answer your phone—always take a message, then either delegate the call to someone else or return the call during a window you’ve pre-set for phone calls.
Here are some other techniques you may want to try:
- Schedule one hour per day for strategic work
- Don’t overbook yourself
- Delegate as much as you can
- Use idle time productively (reading, listening to audio resources)
- Say no sometimes
- Use gatekeepers to screen out tasks that do require your attention
Prioritize strategic time in your daily routine
Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a single day. You surely know the feeling of creating a to-do list with everything you’d like to accomplish, but within that list, do you differentiate between what truly needs to get done and other less important tasks? The goal of establishing a daily routine is to ensure that you get to your priority items, no matter what. So start at a higher level, with a realistic weekly priority list. Your list should include 3-5 priorities, as well as dependencies for each, including the resources and information you need, and who else is involved in the task.
Once you have your weekly priority list, make the focus of each day the essential tasks needed to accomplish your weekly goals. Your daily schedule should include:
- High priorities: Up to five tasks that you must take care of that day
- Secondary priorities: Up to five tasks to get to after your high-priority tasks
- People: Any individuals you need to contact today
- Communication: Any essential phone calls, emails or meetings
- Unstructured time: Use this to work on strategy or to take a needed break
Take into consideration what time of the day you’re at your best for specific tasks. If you like to take care of phone calls and email first thing in the morning, block your first 30 minutes just for that.