Life-Changing Time Management Hacks

Relentless focus is what drives businesses forward. And given that it’s New Year’s resolution season, it’s time to recommit to keeping yourself on task. With all the responsibilities that fall on small business owners, we know that’s a tall order. But these tried-and-true time management strategies will help make it easier to stay productive each and every day this year.

Rise early.

Successful people rise early. It’s before the noise of the day starts to escalate, granting quiet time to focus on tasks that require your full attention.

Focus on one thing at a time.

Task hopping (euphemism: “multitasking”) is a productivity killer. Set timers for yourself throughout the day to take care of one task, and one task only.

Protect your “in the zone” time.

Figure out when you’re typically most alert. Then set up boundaries so that you can get your most important work done then. Perhaps that means adding a “Do Not Schedule” block to your calendar, or going somewhere you can’t be disturbed. Studies show that for most types of demanding tasks, anything but silence hurts performance.

Keep meetings on task.

Meetings are notorious for going off the rails, thereby accomplishing nothing. So come prepared with an agenda as well as a clear sense of what you want to accomplish. Keep the meeting on a tight schedule — make sure you start and end on time. Learn more about how to run the most efficient staff meeting possible.

Set aside specific times for email.

It’s insanely easy to spend all day responding to email. So put up boundaries around how and when you’re checking it. A good strategy is to block out two or three specific times of day for plowing through (unless your business requires otherwise). During those set times, your goal is inbox zero. Lingering email tends to, well, linger (and stress you out).

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Make smart to-do lists.

We’ve all been there: have a few cups of coffee, create a caffeinated, overly ambitious to-do list. But that’s not going to do you any favors. In fact, it makes you even more frantic. Each day, give your to-do list a good, hard look and remove anything that isn’t critical (in other words, tasks you can move to another day). Also, batch similar tasks. That makes it easier to hit a couple of to-do-list birds with one stone.

Set hard (but achievable) deadlines.

For each of your to-do list items, give yourself a deadline. Or even better, relay it to someone else (“I’ll have our Valentine’s Day marketing strategy ready by next week”). This accountability holds your feet to the fire.

But set deadlines you can stick to. Oftentimes, a project can be broken down into smaller, bite-size chunks. If “finish Valentine’s Day marketing strategy” will take all day, think about what you could do in 10 minutes. Perhaps it’s researching what competitors have done in the space, or taking a look at what worked and what didn’t last year.

Turn off notifications.

There are certain notifications you may need on your phone — missed calls or texts, for example, or email. But anything that’s not completely necessary? Turn it off. Little distractions can equal big derailments.

Limit social media time.

It’s a time suck. If you’re not the one in charge of running social media for your business, create guardrails around it, similar to email time (maybe even more stringent).

Track your time.

You’d be shocked where the day goes. For a week, track how you’re spending every half hour of your days. If certain non-mission-critical tasks are eating up alarming chunks, find ways to increase their efficiency.

Build in buffer time.

That said, it’s not a good idea to plot every day down to the minute. Inevitably, things pop up. Bake buffer time into your schedule to deal with the unexpected.

Take care of yourself.

Last, but absolutely not least, you have to take care of yourself. If you’re burnt out or sick, all the productivity hacks in the world are useless. Eat well, exercise regularly, and take time to relax.