The difference between successful freelancers and entrepreneurs, and those who fail, is often a matter of priorities. Time management, focus, and discipline are the pillars of success in a self-made business, regardless of whether you're creating a monetized blog or running an SaaS startup.
Improving your productivity by honing your time management skills is the best way to set yourself up for success. Here are eight time management tips to improve your productivity.
#1 Audit Your Time
Time is a precious commodity, especially when operating a business. Time is also elastic, which makes it challenging to be aware of unless you're paying attention. In many ways, time is like currency; you aren't entirely sure where it goes unless you're budgeting it.
Auditing your time is similar to using budget tracking apps to notify you of your spending. The idea is to see where you're mindlessly spending time that's detracting from your productivity— for example, scrolling through social media.
Conducting a time audit every few months is a great way to stay on track and develop a productive routine. You may also discover that specific tasks take you longer than anticipated and limit you from further growth.
#2 Create Structure in Processes
When it comes to perfecting your time management skills, learn from the experts. The Six Sigma certification program is a world-renowned project management and productivity training regimen that teaches business leaders how to identify waste and improve processes through structure.
Consider creating SOPs (standard operating procedures) in your business to highlight potential pitfalls and improvements. It's also worth investing in the Six Sigma White Belt program—the entry-level certification—to improve your understanding of streamlining processes.
#3 Use App Blockers
If you're someone who tends to get distracted by social media and internet rabbit holes, you're not alone. Shaming yourself for this very human behavior solves nothing, but you need to correct it to succeed.
Consider using app blockers to prevent you from mindlessly opening time-wasting apps, such as YouTube or Instagram, at certain periods within the day. If you're using social media for your business, you can schedule browsing periods or use an automated posting program like Buffer to avoid logging into the individual platforms.
#4 Use a Decision Matrix
Setting priorities in your business will help you start each working day, quarter, or project with direction. However, setting priorities can be challenging, especially when everything feels like a priority.
The Eisenhower decision matrix is a simple device used to clarify what tasks require immediate attention. While the name sounds complex, you can create a decision matrix with a pencil and paper.
Start by dividing a piece of paper into four sections, labeling them as follows:
- Important, Urgent
- Important, Not Urgent
- Not Important, Urgent
- Not Important, Not Urgent
Then, take items from your to-do list and categorize them accordingly. Important, urgent items include things like paying taxes by an impending deadline or responding to a client's problem. At the other end of the spectrum, not important, not urgent items are things like scheduling coffee with an old high school acquaintance that you ran into at the grocery store.
#5 Incorporate a Focus Technique
One of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make when trying to be productive is focusing on a task for too long. Your brain needs breaks to be effective. If you schedule a four-hour work block with no breaks, your productivity levels at the end will be far more diminished than they were at the beginning.
Instead, use a focus technique that gives your body and mind the breaks they need to keep working at a sustainable level. The Pomodoro technique is a practical focus method that alters 25-30 minute working periods with 5-10 minute breaks. You can use this technique with a productivity app or a simple kitchen timer.
Remember to schedule a more extended break after a few rotations to refuel and reset.
#6 Allow for Buffer Time
Another mistake entrepreneurs make when scheduling their day is failing to incorporate buffer time. Even those who set time limits run into unscheduled snags or periods of unproductivity. Incorporating buffer time allows you to catch up on things without derailing progress in other areas.
It’s also essential to use buffer time when providing estimates to your customers. It’s better to under promise and over deliver than the other way around.
#7 Know When to Outsource
If you’ve made significant strides with your time management skills and still find yourself struggling, it’s time to outsource. Essential non-revenue generating tasks (often found in the not important, urgent category) should be delegated to someone else to give you more time to focus on important tasks.
Some of these tasks include posting business updates on social media, responding to emails and inquiries, and organizing bookkeeping before it becomes an urgent, important issue during tax season.
#8 Learn to Set Boundaries
Finally, learn how to say no to projects and people that don’t move you toward your goals. You’ll also need to learn how to set boundaries with yourself to ensure you’re making time for self-care and wellness. Treat self-care like your full-time job, because as an entrepreneur, burn-out can be your downfall.
With these eight actionable steps, you can develop your time management skills and become more productive in your business endeavors.