Do you ever feel like your life is a balancing act of making calls, writing letters, dealing with the daily headaches of the business world-and then making time for your friends and family? Welcome to the real world.
Even the best business people often need help handling the "so much to do, so little time" dilemma. So here are a few time-management hints to help you get the most out of your days:
Plan tomorrow today. At the end of each workday, take a blank sheet of paper and write down everything you must accomplish tomorrow in the order the tasks should be done. The next day, you won't have to decide what to do first, and crossing off the things you accomplish will give you great satisfaction. Don't let the simplicity of a to-do list fool you; it's one of the best time-management tools ever invented.
Prioritize your tasks. All your activities can be broken down into three categories. The first, the "A" list, represents prospecting for new business. These tasks include making cold calls and networking, and should be done between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., the prime selling hours. Next is the "B" list-growing and expanding current business. It includes activities that build on existing relationships and generate more business from current clients. These duties (also best done during prime business hours) include making follow-up calls, obtaining referrals and maintaining customer contacts. Lastly, there's the "C" list, nonselling activities that include writing reports, proposals, follow-up letters and thank-you notes. They can be completed outside the prime selling hours, whether that means going to work early, staying late or bringing work home. The key to juggling time efficiently is to study and prepare in the evening so you can do the legwork during the day.
Don't waste travel time. One of the most valuable time-management tools is the tape recorder. When I'm driving, I speak into my recorder, dictating notes and reminders of things I have to do. Another great tool is the cell phone, which I use when I get a ride to my destination. In a one-hour commute, I can make between 15 and 30 calls, so I don't lose business or momentum. Airplanes are also great opportunities. Bring paper or a laptop and write letters, jot down ideas or set goals. It's also a good opportunity to catch up on reading.
Get started immediately. Don Fink is a time-management master. He took second place (in the world) in the Over-40 Ironman competition in 1998, a feat he accomplished while he was a managing director at Citibank. His favorite tip involves eliminating procrastination. "My people had to make cold calls every day, but they'd find reasons not to make them," Fink says. "People listen to the news on their way to work; by the time they get there, they're so depressed they need to spend time chatting with colleagues just to get going. That time is wasted. But I found a successful way to beat that.
"I asked them to spend 20 minutes on the ride to work listening to motivational tapes, and then make 10 cold calls when they walked in the door," Fink says. "Each morning they'd [arrive] energized and ready to work. Twenty minutes of motivation in the morning made the entire day more productive."
Take breaks during the day. Time-management techniques aren't going to give you effective solutions if you don't have the energy to give 100 percent. Take a power nap during the day if you can. Go to a park or play with your children for an hour if you feel overwhelmed. Take the time to clear your mind and refocus on your goals. The ideas that wouldn't come to you in the office might pour out once you're in a new environment.
Time management is the ability to balance your activities so that your life is not all work and no play. Leave time in your life to do the things necessary to keep your business growing, but don't neglect the things you need to do to keep yourself growing.