Something many entrepreneurs and small business owners find especially difficult to manage efficiently is time. While many have calendars and alarms on various electronic devices they carry with them throughout the day, all these electronic devices somehow fail to accomplish the main task: to assist in managing time efficiently.
Part of the reason for this is because humans are sensory beings. Because of this, the act of writing something down makes a more impactful impression upon our subconscious than merely punching in minimal information (sometimes in textese instead of English) into an electronic device.
One of a handful of mentors I’ve been blessed to know over the years is Richard Fontanie of Fontanie Associates in Regina, Saskatchewan. Nearly two decades ago, he taught me that it takes 21 days to replace one habit with a new habit … provided that the new habit is used every time the person is inclined to use the habit they want to replace. In other words, habits can only be changed with concerted, conscious and consistent effort.
Over the years, I have relied on a modified method Richard taught me for making efficient use of my time and tracking my work day while maintaining a balanced lifestyle. It required three basic items:
1. an agenda book or daytimer with two-page dated daily entry as well as a monthly overview page;
2. a set of pens of different colored ink; and
3. a yellow highlighter.
Always Use Ink on the Daily and Monthly Pages
Most people are inclined to use pencil in their agenda books or daytimers, and they don’t think twice about it. I strongly recommend using pens over pencils for a number of reasons.
1. Ink generally doesn’t fade, and it generally doesn’t smudge (making it difficult to read);
2. An appointment written in ink is one that is unlikely to be rescheduled unless absolutely necessary; and
3. Ink entries can be easily color-coded to assist in prioritizing your day.
In other words, ink makes you think before you write something down in your agenda book or daytimer, and it trains your mind to consider important factors like traffic and time of day when scheduling appointments and activities.
Use the A-B-C Method of Prioritizing On The Daily Pages
Activities that must be completed within 24 hours are marked with the letter A and the number 1, 2, or 3, to identify the top three priorities of the day. Activities that need to be completed within 72 hours are marked with the letter B and with the number 1, 2, or 3, to identify the next important three priorities. And activities that need to be completed within one week are marked with the letter C and with the number 1, 2, or 3.
To ensure that the timelines are clear, those activities marked with an A are written in red ink to draw my attention to them. Activities marked with a B are written in blue ink to remind me that are to be tackled once the red activities are completed. And those activities marked with a C are written in black ink since they are important to complete, but not as urgent as either those priorities marked with red or blue ink.
Check What You’re Doing
Once an item is completed, place a check mark beside it. If you haven’t completed all three priorities marked with an A by the end of the day, what wasn’t completed is transferred to the following day and marked again with an A but ahead of any new priorities that will also be marked with the letter A. This way, you keep from falling behind in your commitments, timelines, deadlines.
Pre-Plan Your Month
On the last day of the month, mark recurring activities for the upcoming month on the monthly calendar in your agenda book or daytimer. If you author a blog, mark the days when your blog publishes content. As you schedule entries to go live on your blog, highlight them with yellow highlighter so you can see at a glance what has been completed and what still requires your attention. If you attend monthly meetings (for example, with your local Chamber of Commerce), include them on your monthly calendar and highlight them with yellow highlighter once you leave the meeting. Everything that is important to you over the course of the month should be included on this monthly calendar, enabling you to plan your work week as efficiently as possible.
Limit Your Activities
If you control your brand or company’s social media, schedule when you will be accessing it and keep to the alloted time. You may find yourself tempted to stay online longer than you planned, or you may find time getting away from you while you’re online, however, it’s important to keep to your schedule.
Collect your emails two to three times a day unless your job requires you to be on call at all times. This, however, is generally not the case no matter how certain you are that you can’t afford to miss any emails. If it’s that important, you’ll get a phone call when you haven’t responded to the immediate email expectation within five minutes of it being sent.
The key to balancing your day is in knowing what your limitations and capabilities are. While there may be days when you not only complete the three items on your A list, you also complete the three items in the B and C lists, there will also be days when you barely make it through A1.
Don’t sweat it. Twenty-four hours is twenty-four hours. What isn’t done during the day’s 9 to 5 time allotment (or whatever your business hours may be) will find itself moved to the following day. Give yourself permission to keep making your way through what needs to be done without beating yourself up for falling behind.
And always remember to schedule time to balance your life out with other non-business related activities. You’ll be glad you did.