“Time management” is kind of like infrastructure: Politicians complain that the latter is not a sexy topic and that no one wants to hear about it, much less deal with it. But we ignore it at our peril.
Similarly, time management is an essential system that matters a lot to daily life: When it's not maintained, chaos can happen, just the way chaos happens -- bridges collapse -- when we ignore infrastructore.
Fail to examine how you manage your time (or fail to manage it at all), and life becomes a scrambling race that leads to missed tasks and total exhaustion.
We entrepreneurs need to stop and think about time, because we tend to be larger-than-life people, with big ideas, big goals and big responsibilities. Yet, because we’re so often the glue that holds everything together, especially in the early stages of growing a new company, we can lose track of time in the minutiae involved in running everything, recruiting people and maintaining direction. Most of us don’t even think we have time to learn a time management system.
In fact, time management is less a bore or a chore than it is the gateway to freedom. A great time-management system allows us to prioritize, devote time intelligently and create more balanced lives. When you find consistent methods to better manage your time, you’ll suddenly open your life to more room for creativity, which in turn will lead to more big ideas. Here are some steps for how to do that:
1. Be open to the idea of a time-management system in the first place.
Productivity can have such a dull connotation. When we hear “productive,” a lot of us imagine robots, but the trick to being a better manager of your own time is not to be a robot, but to put robots to work for you.
2. Work with a few different software systems until you find the best fit.
Time management is personal. What works well for a colleague, mentor or friend may be a waste of time for you. It’s wise to invite suggestions from people you respect, but don’t think you have to absolutely commit to a certain system just because someone else likes it.
For example, I ended up settling on Trello to manage my work life, but before that, I also used Basecamp and Asana. Trying out different systems before you commit lets you experience new frameworks and ultimately make a better, more sustainable choice.
Related: The New Era of Time Management
3. Give the process . . . time.
If a time-management system is going to be complex enough to help you manage your work life, it’s also going to be complex enough to take a little effort to learn. When I first tried Trello, I set aside two entire hours just to watch tutorials and play around with it so I could get comfortable.
Scoping out different systems and learning how to truly use those tools could take a few months, but if you’re patient, you’re much more likely to settle on a system that you really love.
4. Try new ways to use an existing system.
I first gave Trello a shot because a friend raved about it, but when I tried using it, I didn’t see what was so special. I called up my friend and asked what made the system any different from the ones I had already used, and he started telling me about the tricks and tips he had picked up along the way.
All of a sudden, I saw that the system itself might not have looked like genius at first, but the way my friend was using it was seriously smart. A great system isn’t just about the layout or functionality, but about the ways people can bend the system to do what they want to do. Talk to fans of a certain system about how they use it, and read about it on online forums for eye-opening ideas that might apply to the way you yourself want to work.
5. Determine what’s your personal secret sauce.
The great thing about cloud-based time-management and document-sharing systems is that they are flexible. They don’t just have to be used one narrow way, which means that if you have a hunch about how to make something work better for you, it’s fine to try it out and see what works.
Consider the Square credit card reader, which was designed to help small business accept credit cards more easily. One of my friends first got his own Square so that it would be easier to split the tab at dinners, collect donations for his kids’ charities and go in on group gifts. So few people carry cash, and he found a way to use Square to make life easier, showing that the potential of any system is only as limited as the ways you want to use it.
That can apply to most anything, including time management.