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Time Crunch: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Prioritizing Your Tasks

ByMark Ellwood,
business.com writer
|
Sep 17, 2018
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Your time is valuable; know how you spend it.

Where does all the time go? Long hours. Late nights. Snatched lunches. Some people boast about their overwhelming work schedule as if it’s a badge of honor: “I start work at 7 a.m. and work right though until 8 p.m.” Often, their Herculean claims border on the absurd. “Last night I went to bed at 3 a.m. and had to get up two hours earlier to finish a report.”

Employees and entrepreneurs find themselves in a time crunch because they burden themselves with too many activities. The key to success is how you allocate your time to what matters most. In time study research we’ve conducted for clients, most employees spend about 50 percent of their time on value-added work. But among the top performers, time spent on important activities approaches 60 percent. That’s an increase of five hours per week that can make all the difference.

If you want to be a successful entrepreneur with better work-life balance and lower stress, you need to create a schedule that works for you. Here's how to do it.

Prioritize your responsibilities

Improving productivity means spending your time on the right things, and that starts with planning. Follow these four tips for success.

Establish your “A” priorities first. Ask yourself what would be your main focus if you had nothing else to do tomorrow. No meetings, no calls, no reports – nothing. Start with a blank slate. What would affect your long term results? The answers are your “A” priorities: important activities that move your major work along. They might include hiring a new account manager, developing a major proposal or opening a new branch location. These top-priority items should take up 20 percent to 30 percent of your time.

Take care of your “B” responsibilities. “B” activities are the things you are responsible for. They are the activities in your job description that must get done today, the tasks that keep you busy. They might include corresponding with clients, handling claims, supervising staff, inputting data, checking contracts, shipping materials or updating a database. For most people, “B” responsibilities represent another 30 to 40 percent of the time. Attend to them after you've worked on an "A."

Put “C” requirements in their proper place. “C” activities are requirements – those unplanned or unwritten aspects of your job that have to be done. “A” priorities are planned by you, whereas “C” requirements are often planned for you. They include department meetings, routine requests, expense reports, filing, sorting and reading updates. Our time study research using the proprietary TimeCorder device indicates that administrative tasks take up 20 to 25 percent of the time. Within this, paperwork alone can be five hours per week. Traveling and taking necessary breaks are also “C” requirements. They have to be done, but aren't key factors in the success of your job.

Get rid of the “D’s.” Finally there are “D” activities. “D” stands for delete, delay, delegate or drop. They include random web surfing, handling tasks that should be delegated and reading email newsletters. Some “D” tasks are technological time hogs – fixing a photocopier jam, waiting for software to load or accessing the help desk. Beware of them. Miscellaneous time can be as much as 5 percent of the week, based on our TimeCorder studies. 

Plan your week

So how do you spend more time on for your high priorities? First, take the time to plan for them. The sweet spot for general planning is about 2.5 hours per week, or 10 sessions of 15 minutes each. Anything more than that and our research shows no extra impact on results. Here’s how to plan.

Create a list of activities each day. Make a list of things to do with A, B and C priorities written beside each. Write your list in your time planner, on an app or even on a Post-It note. At the end of the day, check off the items you’ve completed.

Be specific about what you need to do. When you plan your day, don’t just say, “I’ll work on the budget” or “I’ll work on my recruiting plan.” Be specific by listing activities you can complete today. You can’t do the entire budget in a day, but you can set up a spreadsheet for salaries. You can’t recruit a new employee today, but you can update the job profile.

Block your time. Schedule time for your “A” priorities first. Plan to do them when you’re at your peak and when interruptions are least likely to occur. Make an appointment in your planner, and allocate that time for high priority activities. Then, if someone asks you to meet during that time, say, “Sorry, I have an appointment.” No one will ask whom it’s with. It’s an appointment with yourself. 

Delegate tasks. If you think you’re the only person who knows how to do something, you’re probably mistaken and need to delegate more. And if you’re worried that someone isn’t quite ready for a new task, let them prove you wrong. Delegate the objective and the standards to be met, and then ask the person what they need to get started. If they need help, they’ll let you know.

Put a value on your time. People say that time is money, but for many of them, it isn’t. They spend time to save money by driving across town just to save a dollar on a tank of gas. On the other hand, successful people spend money to save time. They’ll hire others to do the things they don’t like doing or aren’t good at. They don’t worry about spending a dollar if it will save them an hour.

Know how you spend your time. Allocate it to the things that matter most. Your time is worth it.

Mark Ellwood
Mark Ellwood
See Mark Ellwood's Profile
I show organizations how their employees can gain an extra hour per day on their top priority activities. I do this by conducting employee-friendly time studies, and by conducting training sessions and keynote presentations. My new book is "The Poetic Path To Getting More Done." It includes inspiring productivity tips, all in rhyming couplets.
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