As entrepreneurs, we’re always busy. But when does it end? When you get more successful, do you think your schedule will magically be less busy and that you’ll have fewer obligations?
Think again. Instead, you’ll have to get more done in less time. And unless you have a system, it may prove difficult.
Now, there are tons of apps, online tools and time management methods out there, but it wasn’t until I began experimenting with more nontraditional, seemingly archaic, means of managing my time that I truly began to harness the full power of time management.
Everyone is different, and not all of the strategies that work for me work for everyone else, but here are 9 unconventional tips that have helped me manage my time far more effectively:
1. Ditch the smartphone and use a paper and pen. Just because a method is more technologically advanced does not necessarily make it more effective. In my opinion, nothing beats a good old-fashioned notebook and pen — it’s clunky, annoying, inconvenient and therefore difficult to ignore. I could always place my smartphone in my pocket, and I often do. Unless I’m wearing some sort of MC Hammer-style parachute pants, I can’t put my to-do list notebook in my pocket — something I shouldn’t be doing anyway. The annoyance factor is what makes it so powerful.
2. Use a to-do list template. Since your end goal is to manage your time more effectively, it would be ridiculous to spend a ton of time writing out your most common to-do list items each day. I created my own to-do list template, which includes all of my daily tasks. This ensures I don’t waste time writing them down, and I can schedule them in with the more unique tasks that I only have that day to complete.
3. Include even the most menial tasks. On your list, you should include every single solitary thing you do during the day that takes up time. Seriously. I’m talking meals, working out, taking a shower and calling your mother. This is not a business task management list; this is a time management list. Even if you think you’ll remember it on your own, if you spend time on something, include it.
4. Prioritize your list items. The order in which you perform necessary tasks is where the magic happens. Think about the most optimal order in which you can accomplish your tasks — you can often squeeze 3 or 4 things into the same amount of time that it would otherwise take you to accomplish just 1 of your tasks.
5. Start your list with 5 small, easy tasks. The Brian Tracy acolytes are going to hate me for this one. I’ve never been a big fan of completing your largest task first. Or second. Or even third. Say I’ve got a long list of 35 items I need to perform on a given day (which is common). Then, let’s assume my 3 largest list items take an hour each (which, again, is common.) That means 3 hours into my day, I look down at my list and I still have 32 items that have yet to be completed. This becomes very intimidating and, in my experience, makes it far less likely that I’ll complete everything on the list that day. However, if I decide to start my day with 5 quick, simple tasks before tackling my first large list item, I look down at my list about an hour later and I’ve already made a dent. I feel like I’m on a roll, and I’m more likely to ramp up my productivity for the day.
6. For every big list item, perform 3-4 small list items. As an extension of the previous tip, I advocate performing at least 3 or 4 simpler list items for every long, arduous one. This not only continues to release endorphins at a more rapid rate – which happens every time I check something off a list and boosts my mood – but it also makes it seem like I’m burning through a larger percentage of my list very quickly.
7. Include a project management grid. Your to-do list not only serves as a way to manage your time during a specific day, but it also keeps you organized and productive across all your projects. If you’re an entrepreneur, juggling multiple projects is often a challenge, and that’s why most people assume it’s more productive to focus on only 1 project at a time. I disagree with this assumption. I think that you can truly be more productive by juggling multiple projects — if you manage them all effectively. Include a grid on the back of your to-do list devoted to project management, displaying every project in terms of phases of development (i.e. brainstorming, outlining, development, testing, etc.). I prefer one with a similar structure and rules to what Eric Ries recommends in The Lean Startup, but feel free to experiment.
8. Use shorthand. I use my own form of shorthand to populate my to-do list. To a third party, nothing would make sense, but you’re the only one who uses your list, so use whatever form of shorthand you prefer. It’s quicker than writing everything out in full sentences, and every second counts when you’re budgeting your time.
9. Make tomorrow’s list before today ends. Each night before bed, I take a few minutes to make tomorrow’s list. I’ll take anything I didn’t accomplish today and push it to tomorrow, then add new list items where necessary, based on what tasks I need to perform next. I’ll also number my first 12 items so I have some direction on what to dive into first.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
Image credit: CC by Juan Pedro Asencio Flores