1. Set goals
Goal setting is crucial to any good time management strategy. To make sure you’re engaging in activities that support your business goals, both short- and long-term, you need to define those goals in terms that are clear and attainable. After all, if your goal is to just “to grow your business,” you might find yourself overwhelmed and not know where to begin.
To counteract this paralysis, many companies find that the SMART goals methodology helps keep them on task and on track. Standing for “Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound,” SMART goals provide clear, step-by-step tasks to help you get where you need to go.
For example, a SMART goal might be: “Increase traffic to my website from 1,000 to 5,000 unique monthly visitors in the next six months.” When broken down, we can see that this is, indeed, a SMART goal:
Specific: The goal states exactly what needs to be attained.
Measurable: The goal can be measured with a specific tool, in this case, Google Analytics.
Attainable: Rather than vaguely wishing to increase visitors — or setting a goal too high to reach — this goal states a specific number that is well within the realm of possibility but still ambitious.
Relevant: Instead of measuring something like site sessions or overall site visitors, the goal is to reach potential new customers — always crucial when growing a small business.
Time-bound: There is a due date set at the end of six months to attain this goal.
Once you’ve set your SMART goals, you can work backward to determine the individual steps you’ll need to achieve your goals. Everything else is a potential time-waster. Your daily plan should revolve around working on tasks and activities that directly relate to growing your business and generating revenue.
2. Prioritize wisely
Once you’ve set your goals and determined the individual tasks you need to complete to achieve them, it’s time to prioritize. Of course, you want to make sure you’re getting things done, but they should be the right things.
Stephen Covey—author of the classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and co-author of First Things First—offers advice on how to work through your to-do list based on urgency. His advice is to evaluate what’s on your plate, placing each task into one of the following buckets:
Important and urgent: If a task falls into this category, you know it must be done right away. Focus your energy on completing your most important and urgent tasks before moving on to less time-sensitive items.
Important but not urgent: These are tasks that may appear important, but upon closer examination, can be postponed to a later date if necessary. While these items are likely integral to smoothly run your business — perhaps you need to update your website or find a more efficient payroll solution — they are not do or die.
Urgent but not important: Tasks that make the most “noise,” but when accomplished, have little or no lasting value. In this category, you might find a sales call from a potential vendor seeking to work with you, or perhaps a coworker drops by your desk unexpectedly to ask a favor. Delegate these tasks if possible.
Not urgent and not important: Low-priority stuff that offers the illusion of being busy. Do these later.
Write down your three or four “important and urgent” tasks that must be addressed today. As you complete each one, check it off your list. This will provide you with a sense of accomplishment and can motivate you to move down the list, so you can also tackle less essential items in a timely fashion.
3. Just say no
You’re the boss. If you have to decline a request in order to zero in on what’s truly important and urgent, do not hesitate to do so. The same goes for any projects or activities that you’ve determined are headed nowhere. Be prepared to cut your losses and move on to more productive tasks.
When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” — then say “no.”
But, how do you determine what get nixed? Derek Sivers’ advice on this front is powerful:
Learn from experience to avoid wasting time later on. And remember, for every “yes” that goes into building a great career or business, stands an army of nos.
4. Plan ahead
One of the worst things you can do is jump into the workday with no clear idea about what needs to get done. While it might seem like a waste of time to take five to ten minutes to think ahead rather than getting straight down to business, you’ll be surprised at how much more efficient you can be just by dedicating a little time to planning out the rest of the day.
If you plan your time wisely, you can focus on one task at a time, rather than wasting time jumping from one thing to the next (and rarely completing anything). This allows you to work smarter, not harder. Depending on your personality, make one of the options below part of your daily routine:
Plan the night before: At the end of the day, take 15 minutes to clear your desk and put together a list of the next day’s most pressing tasks. It’s a great decompression technique, and you’ll feel better sitting down at a clean desk in the morning.
Plan first thing in the morning: Arrive a few minutes early and assemble your prioritized to-do list (see tip two). This may prove to be the most productive part of your day.
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