As entrepreneurs, all we’ve ever wanted is to be our own boss. But ironically, most of us are pretty terrible at managing ourselves. Our to-do lists are long, time is short, and the pressure for results is high, and we often don’t know where to begin. Everything seems important. It’s hard to prioritize. And we often realize at the end of the day that all we’ve done all day is respond to emails.
There are hundreds of time management gurus out there, each who promotes a different way to be more productive and “finally get organized!” If you’re lucky, you might find that one of those ready-made system works for you. Most of us, however, have to cobble those techniques together and make something of our own—something that accounts for our unique preferences, habits, strengths, and weaknesses.
That being said, I’ve found that there are a few universal tactics that work for nearly everyone. Here are four simple ways to be a better boss to yourself:
Separate To-Dos and Projects
It’s tempting to think of everything that needs to be done as falling into the same category. But the truth is, your to-do list likely contains both small, concrete, actionable items as well as more in-depth, multi-layered projects which will require development and dedicated thinking. And these two categories should not be intermingled.
Instead, let only the quick hits live on your to-do list, and tackle them in dedicated chunks of time designated for busy work only. Then, equally importantly, carve out independent time to work on your long-term projects, free from the distraction of your smaller tasks.
Make a Know/Don’t Know List
Many times, even when we know there’s a lot to be done, we aren’t sure what to do or where to start. The enormity of a project overwhelms us, and we get paralyzed staring at something gargantuan like “write business plan” on our to-do list.
Anytime you start feeling like this, it’s important to take a step back and break those projects into actionable chunks. To start, think about one project at a time and make a list of the things you know and the things you don’t know. Recognizing the things you already know will help you from reinventing the wheel and give you more comfort that you aren’t in so far over your head, and the things you don’t will provide you with direction.
Take the task “get more speaking engagements” as an example. That goal isn’t actionable. But, you could make lists that look something like this:
Know: target audience, my preferred format
Don’t know: best venues, how to pitch myself
Now, you can allocate some time to identifying the best venues—researching on the web, asking around to colleagues, and looking at the lists of places your peers have spoken. And then once you have a target list, you can allocate time to figuring out the best way to pitch them.
Make Appointments with Yourself
Things are more likely to get done if they’re on your calendar—it helps keep you accountable and prevents you from giving the time away to something else. But more than that, it forces you to estimate and allocate a set number of hours to each item.
So, for everything you need to do, set aside a specific chunk of time, and try to stick to it. This includes blocking out periods for the never-ending potpourri of short tasks (including emails!)—that way, they won’t suck up your whole day or bleed into more focused activities.
As an added bonus, this approach helps you to separate one day from the next. Instead of just plugging away at one never-ending list of things to do, each day is allowed to take on its own shape. And this way, you can construct the flow of your day and week in a way that works best for you.
Know What Tomorrow’s Focus is Today
I’m a big fan of previewing tomorrow’s plan the day or night before. I find that even a quick look at the things I will be working on helps me to get mentally prepared for the next day. It decreases my transition time the next morning and lets me get “excited” about things that might not even be that exciting. Instead of bounding into the office full of energy only to find that that day is dedicated to bookkeeping, I’m prepared and can focus on the high that comes from getting things in order. Knowing your plans in advance enables you to work in a way that is proactive versus reactionary—and that feels so much better.
Entrepreneurs, what’s the hardest part about managing yourself? What are the best techniques you’ve learned to manage your time and get things done?