You've got 24 hours in a day, seven days a week-so why can't you get every last task done? You've given up sleep, are considering forgoing meals, and have already said goodbye to your family, but your to-do list isn't diminishing. So how can you gain control of your time?
In Time Management From The Inside Out, Julie Morgenstern explains why it seems like time is slipping away from you and how you can overcome time management obstacles so you can get everything done. So take the next few minutes-even if you feel like you don't have the time-to find out how you can organize all your minutes.
Entrepreneur.com: How is organizing time similar to organizing space? How can you make the idea of time tangible?
Julie Morgenstern: It's essential that you make time tangible because it moves so fast and it seems so amorphous. It's really hard to get a grip on. But if you think about it, [managing your time] is identical to organizing your space. A cluttered closet is a really good analogy because it's almost the same as a cluttered schedule. They both have a limited amount of space. [Each is] crammed with way more stuff than can possibly fit. Nothing is ever put in the same place twice. You just shove anything new into any available pocket of space in no particular order. Then when you need to find something, it's impossible because nothing similar is grouped together. And in a schedule, you can't tell proportionally how balanced your time is if you shove things in in no particular order. And both of them make very inefficient use of organizing products and tools. With your closet, you keep buying new dividers and baskets and bins, and none of them seem to do the job. With your schedule, you keep buying more planners, and none of them do the job either.
|"You don't want to schedule everything down to the minute because something unexpected always comes up. That's the one thing you can count on."|
So in other words, a schedule really has boundaries; it has edges. If you start to think of your schedule as a container into which you need to fit a limited number of objects-your tasks-you start to get more selective about which you'll put in. And if you group similar tasks by category, you can have a better handle on the kind of balance you're achieving.
This is particularly important for entrepreneurs. An entrepreneur tends to have to juggle a lot of hats, and it's very easy for any one of those hats to monopolize your time. Entrepreneurs tend to lose their balance very easily. I've seen entrepreneurs who do nothing but work that translates to billable hours, and what ends up happening is when those projects are done is they haven't done the marketing necessary to keep the till full. [I've also seen] entrepreneurs get so caught up in the marketing or the administrative stuff that they end up not making not enough money. You really have to juggle your time between those three areas: administration/financial management, billable time and marketing. And you have to create a structure to your week to keep that balance or you'll really suffer.
Entrepreneur.com: When you're scheduling all your time to create this balance, how do you deal with unexpected tasks?
Morgenstern: You shouldn't overschedule yourself. You don't want to schedule everything down to the minute because something unexpected always comes up. That's the one thing you can count on. So you need to build time cushions in, and that's going to vary [depending on] your own unique style, what kind of business you're in, and how much downtime you need to build in to your schedule. I recommend that some people don't schedule more than two or three hour's worth of work in an eight- or nine-hour day because they're in the business of crisis management, like a financial planner or someone who's in a very heavy service-based business where clients call and you have to jump.
I spoke at Amazon.com [recently], and they said it's an environment where whenever somebody says "I need something," you have to respond to it. So I suggested that everybody alternate hours. For every hour of scheduled activity, you should keep the next hour completely open, and then schedule an hour of planned activity and an hour of unplanned [and so on]. So you can control four hours of your day and keep four hours of the day open, but you alternate hours. And that really appeals to people because it spreads your availability for the crisis across the whole day. No one will ever have to wait more than 59 minutes for a response from you, and you still have enough private time to get uninterrupted work done.
Entrepreneur.com: What is the biggest obstacle for overcoming procrastination?
Morgenstern: I think procrastination results mostly from two things. One is that the task is overly complex and you're trying to do too much at once. You're just paralyzed and overwhelmed. The solution for that is simply to break the project down into manageable work sessions. Can you handle a half-hour task better than you can a four-hour task? Well, break your four-hour task into eight half-hour tasks and then just do one half-hour task at a time.
The other reason people tend to procrastinate is, quite frankly, they simply hate the task they have to do. And often they hate it because they're not good at it. I highly recommend that people ask themselves if [they're procrastinating] because they're not good at the task. The next question is, Can you get someone else to do it? Seven times out of 10, you can, and if you can, you should, so you can free up your time for the things you're good at. Then procrastination disappears.
Entrepreneur.com: What is your advice for choosing a suitable organizer? How can someone tell if they'd be better-suited with a paper one or an electronic one?
Morgenstern: The first question you have to ask yourself when you're looking for a planner is, Do I go paper or digital? Some people are what I call visual/tactile people, and they're much better off with a paper planner. You're visual/tactile if you can remember where on a page you wrote a piece of information. Another sign is that you tend to group things by category as opposed to chronology-these are my phone calls I need to make, this is the paperwork I need to do. And your thinking flows and solidifies better when you're putting pen to paper, and that doesn't happen for you as well as when you type into a computer.
A linear/digital person's thinking flows very easily when they're typing into a keyboard, and they think chronologically rather than categorically. They can just see things on a list with a numerical date, like "Get car tune-up 4/19" and they instantly know where in the week that is. And they can work very well on a digital planner.
Entrepreneur.com: What is the biggest mistake you see people making when trying to organize their time?
Morgenstern: Underestimating or not calculating or denying how long things take. [People will] just make a list of what they need to do and never ask how long [each task] will take to do. What will truly fit in this hour that I have? Writing one letter, making six phone calls? If you don't quantify how long things take, you'll end up spending the wrong amount of time on a task and not getting to something that's really important.
If there were one skill I would highly recommend entrepreneurs tackle first, it would be the skill of estimating how long things take. And that's a very simple skill to develop; you just have to concentrate on it. If you ask [the best time managers] to do anything, they say, "How long is that going to take me? I have to gather the equipment. I have to set it up. I have to check for batteries. I have to sit down and think a little bit." If you go through this process, then you're in the position to make smart decisions about which tasks you will do, which tasks you won't, what you should delegate, and how you can create shortcuts. It's a breakthrough skill.