Ever work late hours or weekends to meet a project due date? Most entrepreneurs have. But you can reduce stress and spend less time worrying about deadlines if you front-load your calendar, says Elizabeth Grace Saunders, time management coach and author of Three Secrets to Successful Time Investment: Achieve More Success with Less Stress (McGraw-Hill, December 2012).
Front-loading is simply scheduling your most important tasks early in the week and saving nonessential items for later. The technique allows you to use your time more effectively while building in a cushion for the unexpected.
"Time management experts often suggest leaving 20-25 percent of your time free to accommodate emergencies," says Saunders. "No one wants to do that -- we all want to maximize our time."
Saunders say front-loading is a two-step process:
1. Identify Priorities.
First, look at your to-do list and find the items that are the most important. These will be the tasks that have an impending deadline or are vital for growing your business.
"Most entrepreneurs can effectively work on two or three important tasks at a time," Saunders says.
2. Focus on the Most Important.
Next, schedule the important tasks from your to-do list at the beginning of the week. For example, if you have a big presentation on Thursday morning, the preparation work should appear on your schedule by Monday afternoon. Something due on Friday should start appearing in your schedule by Tuesday afternoon.
Saunders says front-loading your week will help accommodate unexpected items that always seem to come up. Your amount of planned important tasks should decrease from Monday to Friday. And by the end of the week, you can work on the non-critical items, such as administrative tasks.
Projects with deadlines that fall at the beginning of the week should be scheduled for the week prior, says Saunders. She suggests allowing two or three working days for each project. For larger projects, plan in more time.
"When I was writing my book, I applied the front-loading technique in a macro point of view," says Saunders. Working backwards from her deadline, she took the number of chapters she had planned and divided them by the amount of weeks she had to write.
"I purposely scheduled my deadline two weeks in advance, so I would have a buffer to finish up or do final editing," she says. "Things always take longer than you anticipate."
Saunders says front-loading gives you the ability to stay on top of projects that take longer than expected without getting stressed or working into the wee hours of the night.
"If you never step back and see how all of your to-dos will fit in calendar, you won't have realistic sense of how everything will get done," says Saunders. "This is a way of giving your to dos the ability to flow from day to day without creating stress."