time management

Time management is a high wire act, one that most, if not all, entrepreneurs are familiar with. On one side of the high wire, you have all the things that you need to get done right now, today, tomorrow, this week, this month or even this year. And on the other side of the wire, you have everything that you need to accomplish to reach your long-term goals in business and in life. Focusing too much on the side with your ‘present’ to-dos (a common occurrence with business owners) can be problematic as all of your small daily, weekly, and even monthly or quarterly tasks rarely add up to the big picture goals. So, to successfully cross the high wire you need to learn how to manage and balance what Stephen Covey coined the clock of scheduling as well as the compass of purpose and values.

Let’s watch this video of Covey’s “Big Rocks” exercise for a visual example.

There is not a doubt in my mind that you can relate to what Elizabeth went through as she was trying to cram all of those big rocks into a bucket filled with tiny pebbles. While the rocks and the pebbles represent different things for different people, the steps to manage them are the same.

Covey also advises people to categorize their tasks and responsibilities according to his matrix of four quadrants, which ranks activities based on their level of importance and urgency. In the top left quadrant, we have high importance, high urgency tasks, while in the bottom right we have those of low importance and low urgency. This matrix helps people prioritize their ‘big rocks’ and strike a balance between tasks that must be done right now (top left), responsibilities that should be focused on over longer periods of time (top right), and then all of those ‘little pebbles’ that can fit into the nooks and crannies of our schedules (bottom right). Anything that fits into the bottom left quadrant is to be avoided – you do not want to be interrupted with unimportant or irrelevant tasks!

Introducing the Skill Fun Box

Moving on from Covey’s approach to time management, I’d like to layout a similar method which I encourage everyone to do. In this method, we still have a four-quadrant matrix, but this time we’ll call it a ‘Skill Fun Box’ and categorize our time based on the level of skill it takes compared to the level of interest, enjoyment, or fun it produces (for business tasks think of fun in terms of revenue generated).

  • High skill tasks: those not everyone can do – they require your specific set of skills
  • Low skill tasks: those that could easily be delegated to someone without the need for much (or any) specific training
  • High fun tasks: those tasks that you not only enjoy doing but also that produce revenue for your business
  • Low fun tasks: those that give you a bad gut feeling when you take them on, or those that do not directly generate revenue for your business

To complete your own Skill Fun Box you need to begin with auditing how you spend your time for a full week. At the end of each block of 15 minutes during the week write down what you spent that time doing. This experience can be a bit painful – and not just because it can get tedious to write down everything that you do in a day based on 15-minute increments! I find that when my clients perform this time audit exercise they often realize that they are not as productive as they think they are. Once you have performed your time audit, every single item that you wrote down needs to be placed into the Skill Fun Box. Do not be afraid to categorize tasks as low skill, low fun.

Now that your Skill Fun Box is complete, it’s time to prioritize and build out what I call a Default Diary in which your time is blocked out according to tasks. Your goal is to focus as much of your time as possible on things that fall into the high skill, high fun category. At first, your Default Diary might need to include more of the smaller activities that lead to the creation of high revenue opportunities (emailing, networking, prospecting, etc.), but as you bring in more revenue you will have more and more ability to outsource and delegate those smaller tasks, making room for more revenue-generating work. While your Default Diary changes over time as your business grows, what remains important is that you prioritize your revenue-generating (high skill, high fun) tasks as much as possible, otherwise those ‘little pebbles’ from Stephen Covey’s example will take over.

Additionally, there are two key leverage points to take note of in your calendar:

1. 20 minutes at the start of each week
Use this time to plan out what you need to accomplish and what you want to accomplish before your week starts. Remember to prioritize, plotting out your ‘big rocks’ before filling in the spaces with your ‘little pebbles’.

2. 10 minutes at the end of each day
10 minutes might not seem like much, but it is enough to set you up for success the following day. As each day comes to a close take a brief review of what you accomplished that day and prepare for the next – making adjustments to your plan as needed. Again, prioritize. This way you will start the next day able to get down to work and be immediately productive.

Finally, remember that multitasking and switching back and forth between activities is not productive. For example, if your calendar has a lot of phone calls with clients or prospects, then remember to schedule in time to prepare. Doing your research and planning out what needs to be done on the call ahead of time eliminates the need for calls to run long, allowing you to stick to your schedule. In this case, if you have five blocks of time dedicated for calls in your Default Diary, make sure you take the first of those five time blocks to prepare for all of the calls. That way your planning and preparation are complete, and you can move on to making your calls and seamlessly transitioning from one to the next.

How valuable is your time, really?

This is a great exercise and one that I encourage every business owner to do, especially those who are unsure about the thought of hiring another person to take over some of their smaller tasks.

So, what do you do? First, as always, you list out the tasks you do each month. Next to that indicate the number of hours it takes to complete each task. And next to that note down the “Energy Score” for each task on a scale of 1 to 10. Energy Score refers to how energized you feel about each task – how eager are you to do it, or how much do you dread doing it?

You have three options for anything on your table that scores below an Energy Score of 8:

  1. Automate
  2. Outsource
  3. Delegate

But the commonality amongst many of those who are hesitant to hire additional assistance for these tasks is that they do not truly understand the value of their time. So it’s time to figure that out, and you do that by asking yourself two questions:

  1. If you were to hire someone to do what you’re doing now, how much are you willing to pay them? Be honest with yourself.
  2. When you hire someone in business you generally hope to generate 5x their salary. So, multiply your ‘hourly rate’ from the previous question by 5, and now you have your true value.

That doesn’t mean to say that you need to pay someone the value you generated in the second question, it simply shows you just how valuable your time really is. You will quite easily find qualified, capable people who can take on your outsourceable, delegatable tasks for far less than what you are essentially paying in time to do them yourself. And once you have freed up that time in your month, invest one-third of it back into your personal life – your relationships, your creative outlets, your passions – so that you can come back to your business refreshed, inspired, and ready to continue working on your high Energy Score, high-value activities.

Always remember that time isn’t money, in fact, it is more valuable than money. Once you spend your money you can always make more, but once you spend your time, it is gone forever.

If you’d like some help managing your time, please reach out to me as I’ve helped many business owners gain control over their calendars. If you have one or two quick questions, please book a free 15-minute meeting with me here. For more in-depth assistance I would be happy to meet with you in one of my one-time fee single coaching sessions. Learn more about single-session coaching and book your time slot here.