Why is that?
Well, with having so many thoughts running through our heads, we tend to have a lot of “open loops” in our life. Essentially, an open loop is a commitment we've made to do something that we have not completed.
And as humans, these can really pile up on a day-to-day basis.
Think about it for a second: what tasks do you have running through your head right now? They may include prospecting, writing an article, meeting a client, grocery shopping, going to a doctor appointment, launching a project…
The list goes on and on. We leave it to our brains to remember everything. Yet they are so fallible, they cannot possibly live up to the task! And not closing those “open loops” leads to stress, frustration, and for many, giving up on their dreams of owning a successful “expert” business.
It Doesn't Have to Be That Way
I am here to tell you that there are practical methods for avoiding this problem.
To share them with you, I have to first talk about the book written over ten years ago that changed time management and productivity forever: “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.
In his system, Mr. Allen breaks down the common road blocks we come across when trying to be productive. He then introduces systems for each stage of the process so we hold ourselves accountable, and are able to easily keep track of our progress.
I can't tell you enough how important these methods are to achieving optimal productivity.
But the best place to start is by talking about something our mothers always used to do, that will improve your productivity and time management tenfold.
A Seemingly Frivolous Task
In order to really master time management, you have to start getting into the habit of making lists.
You may only associate lists with the grocery store. If you are among the few who actually use lists for business purposes, then you still might not be doing enough.
The key to the GTD method is making lists for various stages of your projects. In fact, 4 of the 7 main principles of the book focus on these.
Lists For Today
The first list you need to focus on is your project list – basically, where all of your current projects are listed.
In this document you will want to include:
- A short description of the project.
- A list of the tasks that comprise the project – each task being one action that needs completion. So, while “writing a blog post” works, “updating your website” does not. That is a full project that needs to be broken down further.
- References to other materials that you need to complete the project.
This is pretty self explanatory. Basically, it's your master to-do list for your current projects, with all of the information you need in one place. The references section is designed so you don't have to waste time searching for relevant materials.
Now, the second list is coincidentally the most important list of all. It is called the “Next Tasks List.”
Essentially, you put all of the tasks that you need to do next (i.e. right now) on this list. The trick is that you are only allowed one task per project.
To clarify, looking at your master project list, you take one item from each list of tasks that comprise your projects. Then put them on the “Next Tasks List”. Only as you complete these can you add another task to this list.
It's meant to keep you focused on one thing at a time (per project), so you don't get distracted and ultimately accomplish less.
However, you must always consider context and priorities. You might have to practice using it a little bit, but if you are going to be out all day, adding “sending e-newsletter” to your list is counter productive, because you can’t get that task done if you are out all day. But you could schedule a meeting with a client.
This brings me to two points about time management: You need to know what your time is worth. And you need to know what tasks are worth your time. There's a quick and easy equation you can use to determine the value of your time. Divide your yearly earnings target by productive work hours in a year. For example: If you wish to make $100,000 per year, and only want to work four hours a day for 300 days out of the year, you need to make $83.40 per hour (100,000/1200 rounded up).
That leads me to my next point – what is worth $83.40 an hour? Menial tasks like grocery shopping, laundry, and mowing the lawn are not. But marketing and utilizing your expertise are. You should very seriously consider finding an assistant to take care of tasks that aren't of value to you, and put all of your focus into what makes you money.
You will reach your goals much faster that way.
Basically, choose your tasks based on context, available time, energy level (very important!), and your priorities. This will help you gain laser-focus and achieve more throughout the day.
Lists for Tomorrow
The third list you should consider implementing is the future/maybe list.
This one is actually quite a bit of fun, because like I said before, entrepreneurs are always getting new ideas and want to act on them right away. The future/maybe list gives you a place to sort them out.
If you come up with something, and you really think you'd like to get to it
sometime, put it on your future list. If you think of something that you aren't sure about, but don't want to forget, put it on your maybe list.
It's really as simple as that – jot down everything that comes to mind and organize it so you can come back to it as you complete your current projects.
Last but not least, is the bane of every business owner's existence – the “waiting for” list.
I should clarify; this list is actually incredibly empowering. It is intended to be a place where you write down tasks that you have to “wait for” to move on with a project.
This can include e-mails from a client or business partner, a phone call from someone, a personal matter to be resolved, etc…
Basically anything that needs to happen, but is completely independent of your personal actions should go on this list. And believe me, you will feel so much better knowing exactly what you can and cannot control.
Extra Time Management Secrets
Those four lists truly are invaluable for adding structure to your workday. They may seem daunting, but with a little practice, they will become second nature. And you will wonder how you ever got by without them.
But there are a few other things that I would like to bring up.
In this high-tech society that we live in, we always have a smartphone by our side. They are incredibly useful when used correctly, but more often than not, they become one of the biggest distractions in our lives.
Now, I'm not condemning technology, but it's important to really understand
exactly where your time is going to get the most out of it.
For example, while you are working, eliminate anything that might be a
distraction to you. Do you love checking Facebook? Stop doing it while you're working. Do you routinely get up to do chores? Finish them before you start working, or do them after you are finished working.
Do you have family, friends or business associates who call you at any time of the day to chat? Do not answer the phone. Instead, nicely schedule a time to talk, and stick to it.
Once you start taking control of your time and your life, you will find you have much more time to yourself. You'll get all of your important (and money-making) tasks done, and be able to attend to all of those other things once you are finished.
Start scheduling yourself. Know where you are going to be at what time each day. Plan out your phone calls, and rarely give out your personal phone number.
By implementing these simple methods, you will be surprised and delighted at how much better you will manage your personal time, and how much better your life will be.