If you struggle with managing your time, professional organizer Lorie Marrero says you're operating in the wrong paradigm. "Time keeps ticking away and you can't control it," she says. "You can only manage your choices as they relate to time."
Marrero, author of The Home Office Handbook (Reason Press, 2013), encourages small-business owners to rethink the way they schedule their day and consider a system of choice management instead of time management. Successful choice management involves a series of actions, all of which are flexible based on what works best for you.
Here are five steps you can take to get more done by managing your choices:
1. Capture information in one place.
The first step in managing your choices is capturing the information that bombards you each day, such as emails, appointments and meetings and text messages. Too often entrepreneurs try to keep stuff in their heads, Marrero says, which only causes stress.
She suggests limiting yourself to one or two of the many tools available for saving information, such as a physical inbox, a software program like Evernote, or a paper and pen. "The key is to find tools that you enjoy using," she says.
2. Commit to what you can accomplish and delete the rest.
Once you capture all the information you receive, it's time to do something with it. This phase is when you make choices based on the things you've saved; decide if you want to take action now, file it away for later, or discard it. For the items that require action, signify your commitment by writing the task on your calendar or to-do list.
"This can be done daily or weekly depending on your business's needs," says Marrero, "but it's important to not let captured information pile up."
3. Set up a cue system to remind yourself to act.
Often, entrepreneurs capture information and commit to it, then get busy with something else. Marrero says it's important to set up a cue system to serve as a reminder. You can set an alarm on your phone or calendar, write a to-do list, use post it notes placed in places where you'll see them, or create a tickler file that is reviewed weekly.
“[Create a system for] whatever your brain responds to, but beware of the novelty factor," she says. "Some of my clients use reminders and then snooze them. If your cue is no longer effective, try another one."
4. Complete the task.
You've captured, committed and cued yourself to do a task, it's time to act. Marrero says people complete tasks for one of three main reasons: it's urgent; you're internally motivated due to the sense of satisfaction you feel when you do it; or you're externally motivated by someone else, such as a client. Urgent and internally motivated tasks tend to get done because the reasons you have to complete them are evident and strong. For tasks that you put off, you may need external motivation.
She suggests finding an accountability partner. At the beginning of the week, share your tasks and deadlines. Then check in periodically to report your progress. If you're still not completing the task, Marrero says to consider whether or not it should be eliminated.
5. Correct any flaws in your system.
Set a time once a month to review your tools and systems, and evaluate your choices. If one of the components of the system isn't working, consider using another tool.
"I ask myself, 'how can I do this better and faster'," Marrero says. "Don't be afraid to try something new until it works just right for your brain and your style."