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Time Out

Never enough time? Practice these simple time management techniques, and get your life back in control.

Karen Behnke is CEO of Juice Beauty, a San Rafael, California, organic beauty products firm that projects sales of more than $10 million this year. "Our top line is doubling, our EBITDA is doubling," says Behnke, 49. "We're doing very well."

But like the rest of us, Behnke has days when life gets in the way. She recalls one chaotic workday when her husband, Howard Luria, an interventional cardiologist, was away and she needed to make an hour-long drive to Napa where her dad, who is battling a brain tumor, had gotten worse.

To add to the stress, Behnke was between babysitters and didn't have anyone to watch her son and daughter, ages 9 and 7, until she got back. She made hasty child-care arrangements with another mom and began making her way over the winding roads to Napa with her phone ringing nonstop. One minute, her 83-year-old mother was calling; the next minute, she was taking a scheduled client call or speaking with one of Juice Beauty's 30 employees. Then there was the emotion involved in checking her dad into the hospital.

It was 9 p.m. when Behnke finally got home and put the kids to bed, but it wasn't lights out for her yet: She opened her laptop to find 120
e-mails waiting for her. "Those are the days that you think, 'Oh, my God. How am I going to do this?'" she says. "When something lands on top of [my schedule], that's when it just kind of falls apart."

As an entrepreneur, you'll have days when you feel like you're falling apart at the seams, too. Juggling everything--from watching your kid's soccer match to managing customers and suppliers and replying to e-mail--can leave any business owner in a reactionary mode. Things are getting worse as the pace of work speeds up and we're less willing to wait, says Peter Turla, founder of the National Management Institute, a Dallas consulting firm that helps companies with time management issues. Prioritizing tasks, meeting tight deadlines and handling interruptions are his three most popular subject areas. Turla says one question he often hears is, "What do you do when everything is top priority?"

Time for Change
E-mail is just one time management pitfall for businesspeople: Turla estimates that 65 percent of the participants in his time management seminars compulsively check their e-mail. "Psychologically, I think it's like opening a little surprise package," he says.

Jacob Guedalia, co-founder and CEO of iSkoot, a 39-employee Boston mobile VoIP firm that makes "buddy lists" for cell phones, isn't coy about the love he has for his BlackBerry. "It's the first thing I say hello to in the morning and the last thing I say goodnight to at night," says Guedalia, who gets 60 or more messages delivered to his BlackBerry during a typical morning and will reply to three-fourths of them within five minutes. Guedalia, 40, even uses his BlackBerry while he sits at the computer.

There are disadvantages to being a fanatical BlackBerry user--"You're never disconnected," says Guedalia--but he feels remote e-mail helps him close deals in shorter time frames. He can instantly contact iSkoot's R&D people in Israel and its partners on the West Coast. He also likes the freedom it gives him. "There are opportunities I've had to spend time with my kids or my wife that otherwise I wouldn't have had," he says. "I don't think of [BlackBerry use] as a disease. I think of it as a vitamin."

Vitamins can be dangerous in large quantities, however. The typical person spends between two and four hours a day answering e-mail when the majority of these messages can wait at least six to eight hours for a reply, says Paaige Turner, an associate professor of communication at Saint Louis University in St. Louis.

The problem with e-mail is that we haven't decided whether to treat it as a form of written communication where a delayed response is expected or as face-to-face communication that requires an immediate response. BlackBerrys only drive the perception of e-mail as a synchronous form of communication. "For most people, it's very confusing," Turner says. "They feel like they're obligated to respond immediately." Here are some tips for better e-mail management.

  • Delegate less important e-mail to employees.
  • Set up different e-mail accounts--one for vendors, one for clients and one for employees--so you can organize and prioritize.
  • If it works for you, set up an automatic reply that says you check e-mail at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., for example, and advise people with urgent requests to call instead.
  • Prioritize your e-mails in terms of urgency, so every e-mail doesn't require a quick reply.
  • Set aside 15 to 30 minutes in the evening to reply to detail-oriented e-mails. This will give you time to craft a good response instead of typing on the fly during the day.
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Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the April 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Time Out.

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