There will always be fellow entrepreneurs with more funding, better connections or years of experience. One thing, however, that puts us all on a level playing field: the number of hours in a day. Figuring out how to effectively spend the 24 hours in each day is one of the most challenging parts of being a business owner.
When I first started out, I thought the main perk of working on my own as a publicist would be being able to do things, according to my own schedule. I didn’t have a daily routine. My schedule would just depend on my mood.
After about a year of functioning in this way, I realized that I needed to work during more normal business hours if I really wanted to grow my company. I decided to create a schedule and I still stick to one today. Not only did this make me feel significantly less stressed, I was getting more done in fewer hours!
Heather Pierce, designer and CEO of Raya Hanon in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., says it best: “On top of the duties and pressures that come along with being a business owner, there is always people needing your immediate attention," she writes via email. "A skill that is helpful is prioritizing your tasks and keeping a list of everything that needs to get accomplished.”
If you don’t create a plan on a daily or weekly basis, becoming disorganized is easy. Even if you have all the resources in the world, not using your time wisely can cost you.
Here are some ways to set up a routine and get more done:
1. Embrace mornings, nights or weekends. Pick one of these times, when other people aren’t working, to focus on projects that require a lot of concentration. Every morning from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. is my uninterrupted time to write articles, answer emails and work on research projects.
If I tried to get these projects done in the middle of the day, it would take me twice as long because I would be constantly distracted by phone calls, emails and meetings. Those four hours in the morning are my most productive. I probably get about 75 percent of my work done then.
2. Schedule everything in one spot or organizational device. This may seem like it's taking out all the fun in life. Wrong! It makes life more fun because you aren’t constantly worrying about how to fit everything in.
It's "crucial to make sure you record all your meetings and appointments in one place instead of having them scattered throughout different calendars, notebooks, and apps," writes Alexandra Weiss, a partner at CA Creative in New York, via email. "Not only will it save time to only have to check one calendar but it will also help ensure that you are not double booking or missing any meetings.”
When I first began my public relations work, I often canceled plans with friends because projects would take longer than I expected. I didn't feel I was getting anything done. Then I started scheduling both my professional and personal commitments in one place and assigning equal importance to both. This way I can really see how much time I have for each.
3. Find a method that works for you. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all method for scheduling. Try a few different things and see what works. If your calendar or to-do list isn’t easy to use, you will never keep your schedule organized.
For example, Jamie Walker, CEO of SweatGuru and Fit Approach in San Francisco, shares via email, “I schedule EVERYTHING on my calendar and every little thing I need to do goes on Trello." About the organizational app, she says, "I love Trello because I can create a to-do list each week and access it from my phone or computer."
Adds Walker: "I can also assign my team tasks and check in to see what [different individuals] have on their plates for the week. It's such a great way to stay organized and on schedule.”
In contrast, Pierce usually creates "a long, to-do list containing everything that needs to be completed," she says. "I then mark the most urgent tasks and the things that I am able to get done later in the day and the things that need to be done during business hours. The tasks that need to get done that same day I call my SOS list.”
4. Don’t panic when things don’t go according to the plan. This is probably something I could work at. I become anxious when meetings run late, conference calls go over the budgeted time or projects take longer than anticipated. The reality is this type of thing happens on a daily basis, and you can’t get too stressed out about it. Figuring out how to deal with the unexpected is just part of being an entrepreneur.
When you have set up a structure, and the things arise at the last minute, it's a lot easier to deal with them. There is no point in worrying. That will just cut into your schedule even more.