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In Good Time

Make the most of your precious minutes with a time-management system that works.

Getting your entrepreneurial tasks done in a reasonable amount of time is what time management is all about. We know it's not easy, so we asked James Clark, time-management expert and co-founder of Room 214, a marketing and communications company in Boulder, Colorado, for some tips on how to fit your everyday business tasks, both large and small, into your tight schedule.

1. Get a System. Everyone works in a different way, says Clark. Whether you live by your Franklin planner, Outlook calendar, Palm Pilot or whatever, make sure you have a system for organizing your to-do lists. "The hardest part is to dedicate yourself to a system and stick to it," he says. Clark recommends looking to Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen for a possible system of guidelines.

2. Schedule "Do Not Disturb" Time. To get any system to succeed, you'll have to make an effort--whether it's organizing your incoming e-mails and voice mails or clearing out your inbox into to-do files. All that takes undivided attention, notes Clark. He suggests using a bulk of time in the beginning of your day (say from 9:15 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.) to organize and plan your schedule. Let everyone in your office know you're unavailable during that time. "After a while, when [people] see you're really efficient, they'll start respecting that [unavailable time window]."

3. Take Action. Divide your list into action items by order of importance and the time it'll take to complete each task, says Clark. If you look at something in your e-mail inbox, ask yourself, "Can I complete this task in two minutes?" If so, do it, because it will take you longer than two minutes to file it. If not, take that time to file it and put it on your calendar.

4. Create a Project Calendar. If a task takes more than one step, file it as a project. Divide the project into smaller tasks, and plot those on your calendar. If you want to add a blog to your website, for example, you'll need to procure a blog server, designate an employee or employees to update the blog, meet with them, beta test, review for problems, set a start date, etc. All those smaller tasks can be plotted on your calendar. Clark also finds it helpful to work backward from a desired result to divide it up. Ask yourself, "One year into the future, what would success look like?" says Clark. "Defining the outcome will start driving the next action items."

5. Make Your Meetings Efficient. Meetings are often a huge waste of time, notes Clark. As the leader, you must run them smoothly--starting with defining what will be discussed. Also, have set start and end times, and stick to them. Organize what you want to discuss, keep the meeting moving, and let everyone know what needs to be accomplished by the meeting's end. Finally, notes Clark, "The worst thing about some meetings is sometimes you get out of [one] and no one understands what's happening next." Make sure there is a defined action or set of actions at the end of the meeting for you and your employees to follow.

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This article was originally published in the December 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: In Good Time.

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