Time Management Tips - Can You Control Time?
When I look back at some of the roadblocks that in the past had kept me from reaching my goals as quickly as I would have liked, it was clearly my inability to manage my time that was my greatest hindrance.
I’m a man of many ideas, and there’s rarely a day that goes by where I don’t have a long list of things, both short and long term, that I’d like to accomplish.
But far too often I would find that when my day was done, it seemed that no matter how hard I felt I worked, I hadn’t finished as much as I would’ve have liked..
Looking back, I realize that it was my lack of respect for time that kept me from moving forward as fast as I knew I was capable of. I wanted to use this opportunity to show you what I did and give you some time management tips to take away.
Learning to Respect Your Time
The first thing I figured out was that I had no respect for my own time. I came to this realization one day last July. My family was invited to spend the weekend with cousins at the beach house they rent every summer.
Being that we had just returned from a vacation in Vegas (which was plenty vacation for me!), I told my wife I’d pass on this weekend trip, but that she should take the kids and have a great time.
And just like that, for the first time in literally 13 years, I was going to be completely alone for the weekend. This was an opportunity I intended to take full advantage of!
This was right around the time I had run a promotion for the release of an updated version of The Consultant’s Toolkit, an MSP marketing kit I sell on my website. I had just taken on a lot of new customers and had plenty of catching up to do (didn’t have much of an opportunity to work during Vegas)… so, having my wife and kids out of the house couldn’t have come at a better time.
Taking on major projects is nothing new to me. Typically when I go through a high-volume spurt like this, I simply buckle down and work 20 hour days (7am to 3am with breaks for meals, bathroom and a couple of hours to hang with the family) until the projects are done and I can ease back into a more balanced schedule.
But when I did buckle down, despite all the hours, I would almost always feel like I got far less done than I would like or expect. It was always frustrating… wondering why I couldn’t accomplish more, faster.
Day 1 - Making a Schedule
Now with the family out of the house for the upcoming weekend, I was ready to try a new approach.
My first task on Friday afternoon before my family was to head out, I visited the market and bought all the food I would need until Sunday evening, because for the next day and a half, I had no intention of leaving my kitchen table except for bed or bathroom breaks.
Then, starting Friday night after I kissed the misuses and little ones goodbye, I sat down at the table and wrote a full list of every single one of the projects I had on my plate. From the large (customizing a marketing campaign) to the small (quick email replies).
Next to each item on my checklist, I wrote specifically how long I expected each item to take for me to complete. Some items I guessed I needed as much as 4 hours. Others, 15 min. at most. I don’t recall what the exact total was, but it was definitely more than I would be able to get done in two days. That’s fine though. I’d do what I could and then Monday it would be back to the 7am-3am cycle for a few more days.
Then I got started by answering some short emails, Before turning in for the evening, I was able to bang out a handful of the 15 min. or less items on my list.
Day 2 - Fighting Distractions
I awoke the next morning bright and early, quickly got myself washed and dressed, grabbed my laptop, my kitchen timer and got into position at the kitchen table. I set the timer for the time allocated to the first item on my list and got to work.
I remember getting off to a slow start. I allowed myself distractions, checking new emails coming in, checking the fridge for another snack, making another cup of coffee, calling the family to say good morning… I wasn’t respecting the time I had given myself, and I was watching it slip away every time I glanced at the timer. My time for my early tasks kept expiring without me checking them off my list.
This was decades of bad habits keeping me from accomplishing my goals. But fortunately I was recognizing myself letting this happen.
So I put a stop to it, right then and there.
I committed to sticking to my commitment. I sat back down at the table, reset the timer and executed each item on my list one by one. I was relentlessly focused and pushed any distraction, mental or otherwise, directly out of my head and concentrated ONLY on the immediate task at hand – and I was determined to accomplish each task within the time allotted.
It wasn’t easy and I wasn’t perfect. There were many tasks that I continued to go over-budget on and exceeded my time allowed. But I also finished more tasks faster than I had expected. And more importantly, I finished more tasks, a LOT more tasks than I would have on any busy weekday.
By the time I was ready to turn in on Saturday evening, I was pretty burnt, but never had I felt so accomplished. This was a different level of “getting things done” for me.
Day 3 - Staying on Target
I continued with this level of focus and concentration all through Sunday, answering the phone only to speak with my family. I let new emails (many in response to ones I sent out the day before) simply go to the inbox unread. I let nothing get in the way of me of checking items off my list.
When my weekend of solitude ended early Sunday evening as the kids came barreling in the front door, I felt amazing. As I originally expected, I didn’t finish my entire list. I still had plenty that would be waiting for me Monday morning and beyond. Many of the projects I completed on Saturday only evolved into new ones, helping my task list continue to grow.
Regardless, I did get more done in a shorter period of time than I ever have in my entire life. That weekend left with me a feeling of massive accomplishment I’ve been trying to replicate ever since.
That weekend also taught me just how much can be done in a very limited timeframe when you respect and monitor the time you dedicate to a specific task.
Time for a Timer?
I use a timer almost constantly now. If I have a task at hand, such as writing a blog post for example, I’ll give myself two hours, I’ll set the stopwatch app on my phone and I’ll have it staring me in the face as I type away. I keep Outlook closed and try to only answer the phone if it seems important enough. Rarely is there an issue that can’t wait until I complete my immediate project and stop the clock.
I’ve learned how powerful it can be to take note of your time and decide for yourself how you want to spend the next few hours. If you let your day push you around however it likes, it will rarely be in the direction you want to go.
Find ways to take control over your time and you’ll find there will be more of it to spend however you like. There are a lot of hours we have available to us each and every day. Spend them only as you see fit and you feel more productive and reach your goals much faster.
Robert Peretson is the founder of Perry Consulting, a New York based MSP that has been providing IT support to many of the city's most progressive and prestigious small businesses since 1996.
Robert is also the editor of http://SuccessfulComputerConsulting.com, a website dedicated to helping Computer Consultants achieve greater success through proper business development practices and proven IT Marketing strategies.