To Do Lists Are Not For Everyone – Creative Ways To Manage Your Time, Reduce Stress and Get More Done
If you don’t follow a schedule you may start your day by sitting down at your desk wondering what you will do today. You will not be productive and likely not accomplish anything important.
Let’s say you start with checking email and get sidetracked forgetting the world outside of your inbox exists. Then you go on Facebook to get in your social networking for the day and wind up on there for more than an hour. Then, panicked, you remember something important that needs to be done for a client. In the midst of that project another client calls and you’ve become sidetracked. It’s nearing the end of your work day and you do not have time to finish the project. You have personal commitments to attend to now, not to mention you’re starving and haven’t made time to break for lunch.
You can’t figure out how it is that you’ve been busy all day but haven’t gotten anything productive completed. You feel like there’s never enough time in the day.
Well, there will never be enough time if you continue like this. There will only ever be 24 hours. If the number of hours in a day are not going to change then you’re going to have to change your approach.
You may already be following a schedule, but if it’s not working for you then it’s time to re-examine it. Everyone is different and you have to choose the method that works well for you.
These are the main rules for scheduling that should remain consistent no matter which method you choose:
1. You must clear your head of your to do’s. Get this list of things into some type of workable format.
2. Use a ‘master’ so you are not recreating your schedule every time. Assign blocks of time to related tasks and include personal time.
3. Prepare your schedule ahead of time. End your day by creating your list for the next day.
4. Be realistic about the time it takes to do things.
5. Minimize interruptions. Schedule client calls like appointments.
The 3 main scheduling methods to choose from are audio, visual and electronic. You can find a variety of tools at office supply retailers and online to help you with scheduling:
Audio – using a hand held recorder, you can record and manage your to do’s as they come up. Record what needs to be done each day. This works well if you’re not a note taker, do not use day planners and if you are mobile and can carry your recorder with you. You can create categories to organize your lists further and set alarms with more complex devices.
Visual – your schedule can be as simple as a paper based to do list or checklist. For more visual appeal try writing your list on a whiteboard using different colours for categories. If you like calendars you can purchase a desktop calendar, a day planner that is compact and easy to carry or print your own Printable Calendar Templates A stack of 4×6″ lined index cards with your to do’s and details can be filed and sorted in priority order within a recipe card box or photo binder.
Electronic – any of the visual methods can be used electronically with a hand held unit like a PDA or Blackberry with applications to manage your to do lists and synchronizing capabilities with Outlook and Google. Here you can also maintain contact information, manage your calendar and appointments and set reminders. The features and capabilities are numerous and vary with each device. Outlook is a great tool if you’re home office based with features to manage your email of course, calendar, contacts, create tasks, notes and reminders and organize items into categories. When working with others on projects BaseCamp project management software is a great collaboration tool, tracking conversations all in one place, listing to do’s, deadlines, file sharing and time tracking.
Remember to balance your time with play and pick the method that best suits you and will keep it interesting. If you have found an effective way to schedule your time, please send me the scheduling tips that work well for you. Effective time management will keep stress to a minimum.
September is about new beginnings – back to school, back to work and new routines. In North America, September always seems to be the unofficial new year. As we leave behind the fun and frolic of summer and refocus on our businesses, it’s likely time to revise our schedules as well. So here’s to fresh starts as we talk about how to set up a weekly plan and make the best use of our time.
You may refer to a schedule as an agenda, timetable, calendar, plan or to-do list. Whatever you call it, if you don’t have one, I encourage you to create and follow one. Why?
• with a schedule you have a place to put your to-do’s. Rather than having a loose idea in your mind of what needs to be done, a schedule gets your list out of your head and gives you a solid guide to follow.
• your schedule organizes your work day so that one task flows into the next almost effortlessly. No more scattered thinking, scrambling to make sure you get everything done before running out of time or forgetting something.
• it is an effective planning tool. Once you have your tasks plotted you will have a visual of what your week looks like. For example, you may see that you have a block of time available each week that will allow you to take on another client. Or perhaps you will realize that you’ve taken on too much and will have to scale back in one area.
Having your days planned out is so important to your business. It has a positive effect on your state of mind, your productivity and in turn your bottom line. Since I started using a schedule it has made a huge difference in my workdays. It is a simple system to get your office back on track. It is easy to set up and maintain and no costly equipment or supplies are needed.
So let’s get started! Grab a pen and paper or create a document on your computer.
Here are the 5 simple steps:
1. Determine your hours and days of work and draw a chart in the form of a table with days of the week across the top and hours of the day down the left side. It’s important to set boundaries as to when you’re available and to let your clients know how and when they can contact you. If this is your own business, you get to make up whatever works for you and makes sense for your industry. If you’re just starting out it’s tempting to announce that you are available 24/7 in order to get clients. That can actually be bad for business. Only promise what you can deliver. You probably don’t want be ‘on call’ when you’re sleeping or with family!
2. Divide your activities into any number of manageable categories. For example, as a home-based service business my main categories are Client Work, Business Development, Home Office, Personal and Family. For easy reference, colour-code each category.
3. List what items fall under each category. For instance, under Client Work list who your clients are, under Business Development list what networking events you attend and for Home Office list tasks such as tracking business expenses.
4. Block off times for each category. It has been said that we overestimate what we can do in a day. Remember that your daily tasks will typically take longer than expected so be generous with the time you assign to each category and each task. (The good news is that we underestimate what we can do in a year so plan big for that!)
5. Now you have your template. Fill in the blanks with your to-do’s and you’re off to the races.
Modify your schedule as needed. It can take many tries and tweaks before you find what works for you and it will change as your business evolves. I challenge you to create a schedule and use it for a month and see the positive difference it makes in your business. I’d love to hear what you come up with!