It's About Time
"I just don't have enough time to do everything!" From all indications, this is the single most common complaint among independent business people. "If I only had more time, I could get more clients, answer all the mail, do the books, write a killer proposal, clean up the office, upgrade my equipment, maintain the database, take some courses, hang out with the kids and take a vacation. If you felt pressed for time in a regular company job, wait until you try running your own operation!
The old business adage says time is money, but in many ways it's even more precious, because although you can spend time (wisely or foolishly), you can never acquire one second more than your fixed allotment, which is exactly the same for everyone (nobody has more time than you!).
Technically speaking, it's impossible to "gain time," "save time" or even "manage time." But you can act efficiently, and that makes all the difference. Time cannot be modified, but behavior can. The key is to unlearn old, dysfunctional habits and replace them with productive ones.
The first step is goal setting. Ask yourself: What do I really want? Your long term goals are your rationale for being in business and working hard. They might be financial, such as a comfortable retirement nest egg ample medical coverage, college tuition for the kids or the freedom to travel. Or they might be more altruistic or intangible.
To succeed, you'll need to know yourself well enough to be certain that your stated aims are in line with your true calling in life. This is the issue we addressed in the early chapters, yet it never goes away and is reflected in the many details of your daily activities. Keep your long range goals in mind.
Your intermediate goals should begin to address the question, "How do I get there?" These are measurable accomplishments you want to complete over the coming weeks, months and perhaps years to realize your dreams. They might include raising capital, getting significant exposure in your field, building a viable client base, or even selling the business at a large profit. These objectives may be ambitious, but make sure they're also realistic and attainable according to your abilities, or you'll surely crash and burn long before approaching them.
Seneca, the Roman philosopher, said, "When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind."
Short term goals are the ongoing jobs that constitute your everyday work. You define them by dividing up your larger objectives into smaller, action oriented tasks that can be placed on your agenda, along with all the other obligations and details of running a business. This is where skillful planning is essential. Good planning eliminates indecision and actually increases your flexibility.
First, make a list of all the items requiring your attention. Prioritize, using triage, putting the most urgent business first, postponing others and eliminating all unnecessary time wasters. (Americans spend eight months of their lives opening junk mail and a year searching for misplaced objects, asserts Michael Fortino, president of Priority Management in Pittsburgh.) What's left becomes your daily "to do" list of immediate physical tasks, such as gathering information, entering data, composing reports, making presentations, reading important mail, making calls, attending meetings, brainstorming and traveling.
This daily action list is what marketing consultant and author Jeffrey Feinman calls "the single most effective time management tool." Use it to budget blocks of time for each job, setting practical deadlines you can meet. Avoid overloading your calendar, a classic cause of job stress. Allow some free time every day for mental rests, spontaneous impulses and unforeseen events. Remember, you don't have to become a slave to the clock to be time efficient. Be flexible. The trick is to find your optimal productivity zone, somewhere between laziness and compulsiveness, between boredom and panic. And lest you fear that you're leaning too far in one direction or the other, make necessary adjustments and then remember, as Feinman notes, "Successful people rarely spend more than minute regretting even big mistakes."
Procrastination is the first (or maybe last) big obstacle to productivity. This self sabotaging behavior inevitably leads to anxiety, panic and despair. It stems from self doubt, indecision, worry and regret, which are negative emotions you can't afford. The antidotes are certainty, self confidence, focused concentration, positive enthusiasm and action.
Counteract your fear of the unknown with information and knowledge. Ask for advice and study the successes of others. Identify and eliminate distractions and time wasting behaviors and their negative reinforcements, such as snacking, idle socializing or chronic day dreaming. If you can't tackle a big job, begin with small steps. When in doubt, do anything but nothing!
Never allow yourself to imagine worst case scenarios. This is a paralyzing mental habit. Instead, visualize in detail your ideal desired behaviors and their positive outcomes. Picture your success. Be specific. See yourself calm, clear and effective. Repeat positive affirmations, such as "I'm completely capable and in control." Then put it in writing.
Our experience of time is subjective. Naturally, the more tasks and appointments on our schedule, the more pressure we feel. But what's not so obvious is that our time sense is also relative to our prevailing mindset. When you're on a close deadline, time is the enemy. But if your long awaited vacation starts next week, then this week's days can't go fast enough. Our relationship to time is also a function of our habits, beliefs, values and expectations. If you find yourself constantly racing the clock and begrudging the inexorable passage of time, something is fundamentally askew in your approach, which is most often the only thing within your power to change.