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What’s one thing every single one of us has in common?

We all have 24 hours in a day.

And unless someone starts experimenting with some really weird science, this fact isn’t likely to change in our lifetime. This means we’re all bound by the same parameters. So, how are some people able to output incredible amounts of work while others struggle to finish their daily to-do list, let alone work on long-term projects?

It’s time management, my friend. Understand that time management isn’t about trying to squeeze as many tasks as possible into a day. It’s about finding a way to work smarter. You’ve heard that before, right? Work smarter, not harder? This is exactly what it refers to. Those who work smarter can increase their productivity to almost superhuman levels, while the rest of us are left in the dust.

Developing your time management skills is essential in order to claim your place in the race and outgrow your competition. While everyone may have their own time management “hacks”, here are 5 fundamental skills you need to master in order to improve your time management and increase your productivity.

1. goal setting

Time management isn’t a standalone skill. While you can’t manage time itself, you can control how you use your time. The way you use your time should be directly driven by effective goal setting. When it comes to time management, the most fundamental skill to develop is the ability to use the time you have in a manner that serves your goals. Here are a few planning tips to get you started.

create a long-term roadmap

Planning is a repetitive task that can drag you away from your day-to-day activities. Creating a long-term plan allows you to better focus on your goals and help you decide whether new tasks that come up are in line with your goals. When you can define the well-known duties that are crucial to your success, you can determine the expected outcomes and measure them every month. Preparing a long-term roadmap will also provide you with a clearer picture of your weekly availability.

use your calendar

Most people only use their calendar to remember special events and birthdays, but there’s a much better way to use this simple tool. You can increase your productivity by scheduling the major tasks you have to accomplish during the day. Don’t just create a to-do list with the things you need to accomplish, but time block important tasks and projects that need to get done.

plan your day in advance

While most entrepreneurs have a long-term plan on how they’re going to reach their goals, they fail to plan and prioritize their days. When your days aren’t planned out, you end up scattered and you’re not able to make the best use of your time. If you want to get more done, set some time aside every evening to plan out and prioritize the tasks you need to accomplish the next day.

coral desktop with candle, smartphone and planner

When you take the time to do this, you provide your mind with the opportunity to work through the tasks while you’re sleeping. This allows you to start your day with many of the subtle details already worked out! Before you go to bed each night, take a few minutes to evaluate what you achieved. Spend a few minutes clearing your workspace, and create a list of the tasks that you need to complete the following day.

create routines

If you want to take your productivity to the next level, you need to create a morning routine that preps you for the day ahead. How you spend the first few hours of your day sets the tone for the rest of the day, which means it’s important to start your mornings on a positive and relaxed note. Find something that works for you and start putting it on your calendar.

Some of the tasks you work on throughout the day require little to no thought. Try creating a routine for these tasks. This will allow you to accomplish them without becoming distracted from the real tasks at hand. Establishing routines is similar to your overall planning and execution, but with the sole intention of automation.

psst!

For tons of helpful business goal setting tips, check out my post on setting business goals you’ll actually achieve.

2. prioritization

When it comes to prioritizing work tasks, most people attempt to prioritize the items that are on their to-do list. What they don’t realize is that many tasks on their list shouldn’t even be on there! To improve your time management skills, prioritization efforts should start with eliminating tasks that you shouldn’t be performing. Once you’ve done this, you can begin to focus on finishing the most valuable work with the time and resources available to you. Keep reading for more ways to prioritize your tasks for maximum efficiency!

tackle the biggest tasks when you’re alert

Understanding what time of day you feel most alert is key to completing your big projects on time. No set schedule works for everyone. If you’re a morning person, tackle your big tasks with fresh energy when you first start your day, which will make the lighter tasks flow quickly later.

or, start with a simple task

For other people, mornings are simply not their most productive time. The quickest way to become demotivated is by failing to complete a complicated and broad task over the course of the day, which will prevent you from realizing progress with your weekly planning. The best way to break the ice is by starting your day working on a trivial task that will give you a head start. When you start your day with a simple task, it puts your productivity in motion and allows you to focus on more complex projects later on (after 3 coffees or something!)

break down activities into manageable chunks

Large tasks often feel overwhelming, which inevitably leads to procrastination. By learning how to simplify your larger or more complex tasks, you can reduce the overwhelm. For effective time management, you can establish a process and then break it down into smaller, automatic operations that you can grasp quickly and that don’t require intensive consumption of your resources. Successful entrepreneurs take the time to break complex tasks down into smaller pieces to make the process easier to comprehend and follow.

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create a prioritization system

Priorities differ from business to business and are generally shaped around deadlines, importance of specific tasks, return on investment (ROI), and reach. Learning how to prioritize both your long-term goals and short-terms activities is critical and requires you to plan your tasks carefully.

be willing to say “no”

Successful entrepreneurs have to contend with many demands on their time. To maintain productivity, you need to know what you really want to achieve and be willing to say no to other projects. Working less and achieving more is necessary for a balanced life. If you can’t achieve that balance, then you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed and on the verge of burning out. Prioritize your tasks and be willing to pass on other work and projects.

implement the 2-minute rule

Make the most of your time by filling those tiny windows of downtime with actual tasks. For example, while you’re waiting for a Zoom meeting to start, finding and completing tasks that take less than two minutes to finish will save you time during the day. If you have tasks that you can complete in two minutes or less, just jump in and do them.

Here are a few 2-minute task ideas:

  • Decluttering your work space
  • Deleting emails
  • Adding paper to the printer
  • Reviewing your calendar
  • Any other quick task that can be done in 2 minutes

employ the 80/20 rule

If you want to get more done in less time, try creating your daily work schedule around the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. Creating a daily work schedule using the 80/20 rule will allow you to spend 80 percent of your day working on the most critical tasks, and 20 percent of your time on the menial, but necessary tasks.

3. self-motivation

There will always be days when you don’t want to do anything. On days like this, you need the ability to motivate yourself into action. By improving your self-awareness, you gain the insight necessary to get yourself motivated to work. While you may have all the other time management skills necessary to remain productive, if you cannot motivate yourself, you’ll find yourself yielding to stress and pressure. Here are a few ways you can motivate yourself to get things done.

just 5 minutes

Make a commitment to work for just 5 minutes. Set a timer to go off at the 5-minute mark, and know that you can stop after that, if you wish. Getting started is usually the most difficult part, and you’ll be surprised to see that once you’ve started working, you’ll turn off the timer and keep going for the next 2 hours! This principle applies to any task you are reluctant to do. Give yourself that 5 minutes to do it. This is a short enough duration to not be intimidating, but it’s long enough to get you in a flow state to keep going.

create a sense of urgency

Not having a sense of urgency will not only keep you from increasing your productivity levels, it will also keep you from reaching your full potential and achieving your goals. Create a trigger that will remind you to move forward with a sense of urgency. Whether you write a reminder down on a notecard or put it in your smartphone, you need to have something that will continuously remind you to get moving. Setting deadlines and committing to them will also help you prioritize and focus on tasks that yield actual results.

use a timer

A pomodoro timer is very effective for keeping you focused on your task. Alternatively, you can just use the countdown timer on your watch or mobile phone and set it to go off at the 20-minute mark. You’re in a race against time, so you’ll work fast and with concentration. Most people love a challenge and the countdown will motivate them to beat the clock!

blue clock on knitted background

4. focus

Often, we don’t realize the importance of being able to shut everything out and focus on the task at hand until we start struggling with it. The best way to achieve focus is to stop multitasking, identify the most crucial task and block the rest out. Try some of these tips to help improve your focus.

get enough sleep

As entrepreneurs, we often don’t hesitate to sacrifice our rest and sleep to gain more time in the day. However, we sometimes forget that getting enough sleep can actually lead to an increase in overall productivity! When you’re well-rested, your focus is sharper, your attention span is longer, and your quality of work is higher, which lends itself to an increase in productivity.

eliminate distractions

Every time an email pops up on your screen, every time your phone buzzes, or when your office door opens, your train of thought is destroyed. We all like to believe that we can both participate in a group chat and write our blog post, but the truth is, we can’t. Your best work comes from sustained distraction-free focus. If you want to increase your productivity, turn off all distractions.

take breaks to disconnect

You might think that spending more time working will help you get more things done. This is far from the truth! When you’re burned out, your focus slips and your productivity drops. Studies show that taking regular breaks during the day will dramatically help increase concentration and boost your mood. To increase your productivity, take short breaks and walk around your office or grab a mid-day latte. Allow yourself a weekend away to recharge your mind and body.

woman coffee break

stop multitasking

Ahhh, multitasking… I know it can be incredibly tempting to want to try and take care of several tasks at once. However, several studies show that multitasking just doesn’t work, at least for complex or intellectual tasks. If you think that you can efficiently juggle phone calls, emails, and presentations without losing your productivity, you’re only fooling yourself. To reach peak productivity, it’s important to focus on one task at a time.

create work bundles

In the same line of thought, the various tasks you perform require different skills and different ways of executing them. To save yourself time with re-orienting yourself between jobs, create “work bundles”.

Group together similar tasks that require related skill sets will allow you to more easily flow from one segment or task to the next without needing to reorganize everything. For example, doing all your social media stuff together lets you stay in that specific mindset until you’re done, allowing you to finish much faster.

TIP: A free Chrome Extension called Session Buddy lets you save “collections” of tabs that you can quickly open anytime with one click. This means you can have a collection of tabs for your social media work, one for your blogging work, one for your research and one for your image design work!

5. delegation

As an entrepreneur, you need to ensure that all the necessary work gets completed. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to be the one to do it. One of the most vital (and often overlooked) time management skills to master is delegation, which means knowing when you’re not the right person to perform the task. If you have a task that is more suited to someone else’s skill set, consider delegating those tasks to free up your time for other important duties.

outsource where you can

This doesn’t just apply to work tasks that someone else would be better suited to complete. Think about the 20 percent of menial, but necessary jobs that you have to complete every day and determine if you can outsource them to a freelance or contract worker.

hire a project manager

If you’re working on a particularly large project like a course launch, consider hiring a temporary project manager to help ensure that everything runs smoothly.

Project managers have experience in overseeing all the necessary tasks, anticipating problems before they arise, and coordinating a team of other contract workers.

If you’re just getting started with outsourcing, here are a few project management tips that will point you in the right direction.

take action!

To better understand how you spend your time and how your time management skills could be improved, commit to a full day of writing down everything you are doing that day, along with the time spent on each activity. At the end of the day, examine your list and identify any time wasters as well as any tasks that weren’t necessary to reach your goals. This can be a real eye opener!

Repeat for another day or two, depending on how different your days are from one another. Use the data you’ve collected to create a daily schedule that works for you and allows you to maintain peak productivity.

Chances are, you’ll see your productivity go through the roof!

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