Entrepreneurs are always looking for techniques to help them be more productive. In fact, the time management section on Amazon Books includes nearly 3,000 titles that promise "stress free productivity," "big results in less time," and "an organized, happier life." But do their tricks produce results?
"Too often they don't," says Maura Thomas, author of Personal Productivity Secrets (Wiley, 2012) and founder of Regain Your Time, an Austin, Texas-based workflow management consulting firm. "Many of the tricks make things unnecessarily complicated."
To help entrepreneurs make the most of their day, Thomas reveals three time-management techniques that don't work and offers tips on what you can do instead:
1. Ranking tasks by priority level.
Several planning systems ask you to assign an A, B and C, or a High, Medium and Low priority level to your tasks. The idea is to structure your day so that you tackle the most urgent things first. While this seems to makes sense, Thomas says it's not specific enough.
"Something is on your list because it's important," she says. "People tend to mark too many tasks as being an A priority, with no clear way to determine what to do that day. And those things that are marked B or C don't get looked at until they're an A."
Instead, Thomas says you should be realistic about how much you can get done each day and prioritize your list by assigning a deadline to each item: "If you have 90 things on your list and you can tackle three things each day, you now know that three of the things on your list won't get done for 30 days, and three won't get done for 29 days, and so on," she says. "If this isn't OK, you can prepare by hiring extra help, cancelling weekend plans or renegotiating due dates with clients."
2. Writing a daily to-do list.
Many time management experts suggest spending the first 10 minutes of every day making a to-do list of the things you want to accomplish. Thomas says this is a waste of time.
"Instead of re-inventing the wheel every morning, spend 20 to 30 minutes each week or month emptying your brain, capturing everything you can think of that you need or want to do," she says. If you have prioritized it by due date, you will have a premade to-do list.
"You can go straight to your list each morning and spend the first minutes of the day being proactive," she says. And when new things come up, simply take a minute to work it into your master list.
3. Time blocking.
We've all been told to get things done by making an appointment with ourselves, but the first person you’ll break a date with is yourself, says Thomas.
"When people use the calendar to manage their to-do list, they often spend more time rearranging things and deciphering between real appointments and time blocks," says Thomas, adding that time-blocking has its place, but there are rules to follow to make it effective.
First, don't use it for everything; you'll artificially clutter your day and your calendar will lose its effectiveness. Second, don't block time far in advance; you often can't predict what a week from now will look like. And finally, don't assign a specific task.
"Instead, call it proactive time and choose to do what feels most appropriate," says Thomas. "Sometimes we feel creative and sometimes we are more linear. You'll get more done if you match tasks with your mood."