I recently attended a webinar on time management from Jane Friedman, everyone’s favorite business strategist for authors. Hearing about how other people budget their time and set their schedules is like a hobby to me. Nope, scratch that; it’s more like a guilty pleasure. So the idea of spending an hour hearing how Jane Friedman manages her time was, to me, like the circus came to town. Before signing on to the webinar, I made myself a latte and put on lipstick.
The webinar was one of Friedman’s Sunday Sermons, where she talks to authors and others about various topics on writing, getting published, marketing your own work, and managing your writing career. And it was part of my own personal strategy to participate in at least one course, webinar or other learning opportunity for my own development every week.
As I was furiously taking notes on her advice on how to manage your time more efficiently, I texted my friend Barbara, who was also sitting in on the session, and shared my glee over some of the tips we were getting. And while some of them weren’t applicable to me (Friedman was up front about the following facts: She has no children, no family living nearby, and her husband does the housework) I got a lot of valuable tips.
And it led me to more. After the webinar, I went on an internet hunt for time management tips for the self-employed among us. Most are tested and true, since I’ve used them myself. And some come from people whose careers are so successful, you can pretty much figure that it’s good advice.
Learn to use technology. If you’re still writing with a pencil in a daybook, save that for your personal journal. (And knock yourself out and add some stickers. I do!) But for your professional life, you’re going to need something with more techie meat on the bones. There are scores of scheduling apps and calendars that can be customized to fit your life and work. Admittedly, it won’t be easy – in fact it will probably be more time consuming at first – but it will pay off in the end. And you’ll have learned new skills. Score!
Defend your time like a mama bear with a couple of precious cubs. Set aside time for certain tasks and don’t let anyone talk you into bending or breaking your rule to fit their schedules. If you’ve decided that every Thursday from 2 to 3 p.m. you’re going to work on your e-newsletter, guard that time. Give it the importance it deserves. If someone wants a piece of your time during that slot, nicely explain that it can’t be done. “Even if they beg,” Friedman says.
Schedule transitional time. It’s not that it takes all that long to wrap up your client recruitment for the day and get set up for blog writing, but that transitional time does add up. If you don’t include it in your schedule, you’ll lose some of the time you need to spend on certain tasks, and you’ll be behind schedule right out of the gate. You’ve put thought into how much time you need for certain things; don’t let it get carved into. When I was first starting out and trying to figure out how much to charge clients, I told my husband it didn’t seem right that I was charging for an hour when it sometimes only takes 50 minutes to do the job. He reminded me that it takes time just to sit down at the computer, grab a cup of coffee and open a document. Don’t forget that.
Schedule in some downtime. You’ll need it to stay focused and productive. An eight-hour workday needs a few breaks. If you schedule in a mid-morning coffee break, a lunch break and a late-afternoon pet-the-dog-and-take-a-lap-around-the-yard break you’ll be surprised at how much clearer your head will be when you return to work. Efficiency requires breaks!
Solve the email dilemma. Few things can mess up a schedule quite like email. If your type of work allows it, don’t check email throughout the day. Set aside two short blocks of time – morning and end of day – to pick through your emails and respond to them. My work requires that I check email throughout the day, but I don’t allow myself to respond to every email that requires a response, unless it’s a client or a VIP in my life. One of my first early morning tasks is to check email and respond or file. I do the same thing at the end of the day, when I do a lot of junk mail deleting.
Remove distractions. The day I disabled notifications on my laptop was the day I became more productive. My computer, ever so helpful in wanting to let me know every time someone from my high school commented on my Facebook post about my dog, how the Kardashians were showing up on Apple News, and every shipping notification for fabric, had to be put in its place. While I’m grateful, I can get filled in on those things in the 4 o’clock hour, the time I’ve set aside for catching up. (Although the Kardashians don’t make the cut for even that.) My calendar shows a blocked out section then called Desk Work. I check email, the real mail, pay bills that are due, send notes to friends, and check in with my kids, look at what’s on the menu for that night’s dinner, and start checking things off my to-do list for the day.
Speaking of your to-do list, prioritize it. Many time management experts recommend putting your to-do list in order of importance and do the most important thing first. That way, if the day gets away from you, you’re more likely to have accomplished the most urgent tasks. Others suggest that if you’re a classic procrastinator, you should “eat the frog” – take the thing you are dreading, the thing you hate doing and have been putting off, and just do it … quickly before you can come up with an excuse not to.
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Diane Laney Fitzpatrick of Digital Content and Services helps small businesses DIY their social media and digital media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.