5 rudiments of time management

Knowledge base from Boox

By Jonathan London on 15th September 2015

5 rudiments of time management

For most freelancers, contractors and small business owners, a typical day’s activity can span three categories:

  • profitable: fee earning work, business development or preparing to seal a new deal – this is the good stuff that motivates and gets you out of bed in the morning
  • unprofitable but unavoidable: the chores you can’t get out of – examples are tax returns, admin, general correspondence, servicing equipment and business travel
  • just plain distracting: neither necessary nor profitable but they happen anyway. Spam emails, cold callers, computer crashes and endless telephone queues all fall into this category

Rudiments of Time Management

In the ideal world, the last category would vanish completely, but this won’t happen anytime soon. As for the second category, these tasks will always be with us. However, there are ways to deal with conflicting priorities and free up more time for the enjoyable and profitable activity. And finish work before bed time.

Here then, are our 5 rudiments of time management.

Assess priorities, set targets

If your ‘to do’ list is getting out of hand, you’ll need a strategy to get things under control. Re-order it by priority, starting with anything that may incur a penalty for missing a deadline. Once you’ve dealt with the urgent tasks, assess which ones will need the most time or your undivided attention. These will be best dealt with during quieter periods. Where possible, prioritise fee-earning work over admin at this stage. This will keep you feeling productive and profitable rather than swamped by paperwork. When your list is complete and ordered, evaluate how long it’ll take to complete everything on it (allowing time for those distractions, of course). Now set yourself a theoretical deadline. Why not throw an incentive in, too?

Think outcomes, not process

Quality work trumps quantity every time. Focus on what you need to achieve with each task and focus all your energies on that single result. Don’t be too much of a perfectionist, though – if you’re spending time adding unnecessary embellishments to a task, it’s time better spent elsewhere.

Make tasks manageable

Complex, admin-heavy tasks can have us running into the warm embrace of procrastination in no time at all. Don’t succumb. If it feels like a real mission, break it down into manageable portions with a visible endpoint for each stage. The distinction between being ‘only a third of the way through’ and having ‘already ticked three boxes of nine’ is subtle, but powerful.

Take a break

Never underestimate the value of a short break. People who spend just half an hour away from their desks at lunchtime are usually more productive in the afternoon than those who plod on relentlessly all day long. Switching off for a little while gives you a chance to renew your focus and see things differently when you return. That little distance will also equip you to hit on ways to work smarter and faster that you won’t otherwise see.

Get ruthless with email

For many of us, processing emails, both legitimate and spam, is the single most time-consuming element of a working day. If email is slowing you down, it may help to keep your email account closed while you work on essential tasks. Then, when you do check your inbox, start by selecting all the junk and deleting it in a single, satisfying stroke. From what’s left, decide which emails you need to action or respond to straight away and which ones you can deal with later. If you have people working for you, consider delegating the response.

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