Use your time as a tool, not as a cushion – John F. Kennedy
In September, my coaching group discussed how to sell oneself better. In our next monthly discussion meeting, in October, we had a new question: How can we improve our time management? A lively conversation ensued, in which we shared the systems that we use, our appreciation of how we use time, how others use their or our time, what we do with our time and, of course, how to be balanced in our dedication to personal and professional use of our time.
Out of our exchange came the following considerations. We think they will be useful for entrepreneurs, freelancers, artists, writers–most individuals who, like ourselves, work independently and often in solitary and must keep careful attention to all the aspects of our lives that we juggle and not get overwhelmed and, most importantly, be as “productive” as possible with our day in order to accomplish our work and fulfill our ambitions.
For the sake of clarity, and in case you the reader want to jump to what is most compelling to your interest, I’ve divided the considerations into three different areas: Self organization, Time and others, Time management tips and tools.
Topics addressed: personal rhythm, email, multi-tasking
One of the first points that we examined was how each individual has a particular rhythm, some are “morning people”, others are night owls, while others start revving up midday. In this case, it is important to know your rhythms and priorities, and plan your most important work for the times of the day when your energy is highest and your brain most active. For example, in my case, I am all abuzz first thing in the morning and until mid-afternoon. After 4 pm, I’m more sluggish. By 9 pm, my mind is mush. The early morning is when I prefer to do exercise, read, and then sit down at my computer to work.
In this area, we also considered that reading and reacting to emails throughout the day is a huge time-suck. A way to avoid the distraction of constant email reading (and banging into lamp posts as you read your messages on your smart phone while walking down the street), is to set aside three times a day when to read and address your emails: morning, noon, and night. We all agreed, as much research has also demonstrated, that the idea that multi-tasking is a demonstration of high productivity is nonsense. Having several tabs open on your computer and jumping from one to the other willy-nilly does not help in the fulfillment of specific tasks; nor does writing a blog post at the same time as you’re reading and reacting to emails as they come in.
Alana, a specialist in US and Spain political affairs, mentioned an article on reactionary workflow–the constant interruptions that are part of the day, no matter how planned out it is, and that you must learn how to manage or even ignore while not breaking the flow of the projects you have prioritized and want to accomplish. The goal is to not allow these interruptions to control you and your plans for the day. Here’s a nice article by Scott Belsky about how to manage reactionary workflow, based on his interviews with productive leaders and teams: 5 Ways to Combat Reactionary Workflow.
Time and Others
Topics addressed: family, relationship partners, respect, clients
Now this is a touchy subject. There are important differences in how your time is used or abused or needed depending on whether you live alone, in a couple, or have a family.
Those of us in the group with children recognized that no matter how you plan how your day or week will go, there will always be unexpected changes to your schedule due to illness, or last-minute meetings at the child’s school. Not to mention time dedicated to meal preparation, doctor appointments, homework, and music or sports practice. Juggling family time and work is an ongoing challenge. The only word to apply here is: flexibility. You should most certainly plan out your day, with your priorities and dates and lists, but allow that family interruptions will happen and that they are a natural part of your day, something you chose as part of your life, not something to be angry about or that should overwhelm you. After all, those of us who chose to have children chose surprise, chaos, fun, learning–we chose to be distracted, and to grow within that, to learn how to adjust to an ever-shifting life.
That said, even though we need to allow ourselves to be flexible, in consonance with our family life and its unexpected changes, we nonetheless have to ensure to others respect our time, whether it be our personal or our work time. If you work at home, then your children and your spouse need to respect that when you are at your desk, in your home office, on the phone, that there cannot be noise, interruptions, or demands made on you. After all, you are working for them.
Sonal, a business woman who now has a home office, mentioned the challenge she has of “turning off” from her work day–as a self-proclaimed workaholic, it is difficult for her to stop writing, attending to emails, analyzing projects, when her partner arrives home and expects attention. However, she knows that she has to plan her day in order to be able to do this. Lynne, an English language teacher and photographer, has somewhat overcome this issue by bringing her partner into her workflow–he goes over photos with her when she is planning a sale or an exhibit, and together they choose and organize them. This is one nice way to enjoy your work and share something that is important to you with your loved one.
Going back to the idea of other people’s relationship to you and your time, we also discussed how it is important that you respect other people’s time and ensure that others outside of your household respect your time. We all agreed it is disrespectful of others to show up late to a meeting, whether it be an interview or a coffee date. If you know the value of your time, then you know that the time of other people is valuable too. And vice versa.
When it comes to time management and clients, the other word that came up repeatedly was value. We need to know the value of our time. Clients need to understand the value of our time. And we need to plan the time we spend on our business, and our client work, in a sensible and ordered way. Sonal’s suggestion for the balance of time expenditure was as follows: What is a good time management regarding clients?
2) work on current projects (your clients)
3) selling oneself (in Sonal’s case, she focuses the bulk of her time to her marketing–newsletter, blog, posting blog posts on LinkedIn–which has generated her reputation as a thought leader and created leads and clients).
She understands that important chunks of her time have to be dedicated to marketing and sales. Of course, client projects are important and must be done well and according to set deadlines and objectives, but she also recognizes that she has no business if she is not also setting aside time to work on her own marketing and sales.
We also all recognized that with regards to our clients, we all tend to dedicate much more time to their projects than what we are charging them for. While this is a positive in the sense of “over delivering”, it is a negative for our bank account. And can lead to us charging a premium to other clients because we have undercharged on previous projects. Something we want to avoid. So we say: Don’t give away your time. You may have a tendency to work more hours, above and beyond what you are being paid for, for the sake of making the client happy. But will this help your business grow? And how will it affect other aspects of your life that need attention?
Time Management Tips & Tools
Finally, we came up with a few ideas and some tools that we will be focusing on and using to help us improve our own time management, and that may be useful for you.
Know how to set your limits — allow for “me” time as perfectly viable time to set aside.
Use a time management system to track your day. For example, you can use time management apps: Alana uses an app called Hours Tracker to clock her day; Vanessa uses Toggl. Here’s a list of recommended apps: 10 Time-Tracking Apps That Will Make You More Productive in 2014.
Find a way to value your time and focus better on your work. For example, Vanessa is an author. Since her writing is currently not generating the revenue she seeks, it is easy for her to fall into the trap of undervaluing her work, and for others to do so as well. She has joined a work space, paying a monthly fee, and set aside an allotted period of time a day to go there and write. Now her writing time has a value (the cost of the space) and she can focus her attention better.
Do To Do lists. Everyone swears by them. They’re useful. Daily. Weekly. Monthly.
Do nothing. We all agreed how important it is to have moments where we simply do nothing. We sit and stare into space. We lie down and breathe. We watch clouds go across the sky. These are not really “nothing” moments. These are openings in the day, when we are allowing our imagination to flow freely, when we are allowing our body to rest. These are the moments when we may get our best ideas, solutions, or insights.
Finally, here are a few articles that inspired our conversation:
The Many Benefits to Tracking Your Time by Jessica Stillman
10 Reasons Why Some People Will Never Succeed by Kayiba Mpoyi
How Incredibly Lazy People Can Form Productive Habits by Drake Baer
We hope these reflections will be helpful for you as your plan your day, your week and your life.
Alana Moceri, Political analyst
Vanessa Fabiano, Writer
Lynne Friedman, ESL teacher and photographer
Sonal Uberoi, Spa Balance
Gwen Alston, MocaMedia
PS I used Toggl to track how long it took me to write this blog post: 1 hour, 41 minutes and 14 seconds.