As an entrepreneur and author, you have a unique set of time management needs. From juggling multiple projects to dealing with tight deadlines, it can be difficult to manage your time and stay on track. However, it doesn’t have to be! With the right tips, you can conquer the challenges of entrepreneurship while still getting high-quality work done. In this article, I’ll discuss some essential time management strategies specifically tailored for entrepreneurial authors.
An Introduction to Time Management Concepts
There are a lot of time management techniques available, and at least one of them is going to work for you. Most likely, more than one will work for you. For me, I’ve found that one technique works well for one area of my life, and another works well in another. So, my advice to you is to try them all on for size. See which ones fit and in which situations.
Some techniques for managing your time include:
- Creating a schedule — logging when you will do what on a calendar and sticking to it.
- Writing down clear goals, prioritizing them, and focusing on the most important goals first.
- Creating a “To Do” list and ticking things off that list as they get done.
These are the core techniques of traditional time management. And all of these can work together to help the entrepreneurial authors manage time.
However, I think it will be helpful if we dig a little deeper. On the surface, these techniques seem straightforward. But they won’t work unless you have some other underlying skills:
- Decision making — can you make good decisions quickly and effectively?
- Critical thinking — can you discern important tasks from busy work?
- Self-understanding — do you really know who you are and what you want out of your time?
Effective Time Management Requires Self-Knowledge
Time management is about getting results, not about being busy. And to truly get the most out of your time, you need to know yourself, be able to evaluate tasks that take up your time, and make decisions efficiently.
Let me go into a little more detail about what I mean.
Let’s say you’ve decided to work on a new eBook today. You’ve spent your morning outlining what will comprise your eBook and are ready to start writing it. The phone rings and it is a friend of yours who just happens to be in town and would like to get together for coffee this afternoon before she heads back out. In that moment, you need to evaluate several things and decide.
- Do you want to take time away from your project, thus affecting its momentum?
- Is this friend worth the interruption?
I can’t answer these questions for you. And, most likely you won’t even be aware that you’re asking them. Depending on who the friend is and the timing of the get-together, you may decide to meet her, or you may decide that today is not a good day. But you need to make that decision and then be O.K. with it. Whatever you decide, you need to accept it and not look back.
You’ve created a list of things you want to accomplish today. They include:
- Outline what you want to say in tomorrow’s webinar.
- Pay some bills.
- Organize your supply closet.
- Call five prospective clients.
- Work on your goal planning for the next quarter.
Can you tell which of these tasks are key to your success if done today? Which can be put off for tomorrow? Which should be struck from your list altogether? Again, the answers will be subjective. For example, if the bills aren’t due for another week, that task can be put off a day or two. Maybe your goal planning for the next quarter is really something you think you should do to fill your time, but you really don’t need to do it. You need to be able to evaluate which tasks are important for today and which are not. As an entrepreneurial author, this skill can make or break your business!
In case you didn’t notice, this skill is the core skill. Without it, you won’t be able to make effective decisions and your critical thinking results will be off. For example, if “Pay some bills” was on my list — that would be a very important task for me. My ADD can cause me to lose bills if I don’t take care of them as soon as I receive them. This is something I’ve learned about myself, and so have adjusted how I do things to accommodate this quirk.
Maybe you know that you are much better at giving webinars on the fly than off an outline. If so, you would know to cross “outline what you want to say in tomorrow’s webinar” off your list.
Another thing you need to know about yourself is your typical circadian rhythm. Each and every one of us has a peak time and downtime when we slow down. These natural cycles are what make up our personal circadian rhythm. When you know what time of day you will be the sharpest, you are better able to schedule tasks that require you to be alert during those times.
Basically, you need to know your own behavior patterns and your time-wasting buttons. With this understanding, you’ll make better decisions about how to use your time.
The Time Inventory
In addition to understanding how you do things, understanding how you actually use time is important. That’s where the Time Inventory comes in. There are a couple of ways you can do this.
When you do a time log, it is kind of like making a schedule, but in reverse. You take a scheduler — it can be a grid you’ve made for the week, or it could be your Day Planner, and instead of writing in things that you are planning to do, you write down things as you do them. At the end of every hour, jot yourself a quick note about how you actually spent your time for that hour. The note needn’t be long — one sentence or less should suffice. This gives you the most accurate view of your time, but it can be a little frustrating at first.
You want to have a good record of at least three days, a week is better. So, you may have to do this for a week or two to get accurate data. You might be surprised by how you use up time. I know that some activities take much longer to do than I imagined!
Back Time Logging
This method is not as accurate, but it can help you at least block out large chunks of time. And that may be all you need to do.
Take a blank week schedule or grid and fill in blocks of time that you know you use. For example, maybe you go through your email every morning between 9 am and 10 am. Block that out. Then you add a block for lunch. Another block for picking the kids up from school. Another block for your weekly Bridge game. Whatever you do on a regular basis, block that in.
Some people find it helpful to modify a planning page to facilitate tracking time. This modification is easy enough: Make two columns on your schedule for each day of the week. In one column, write down what you plan on doing with your time. In the second column, make notes on what you actually did with your time. The side-by-side comparison is very telling and an excellent way to figure out where you’re not using time in the way you intend.
What Does Your Inventory Tell You?
Now that you’ve taken an inventory of your time, what does it tell you?
- Are there blocks of time you still have unaccounted for?
- Are there blocks of time that you could re-arrange for better efficiency?
- Are there blocks of time that can be delegated to someone else or otherwise eliminated?
Whatever your time habits, time tracking can help you adjust and fine-tune your time management practices. Having accurate information about your time usage patterns can serve as another important point of reference for self-monitoring.
This exercise can be very helpful when you are struggling to find time to work on your next book. It will help you identify which tasks can be put off or delegated, as well as find pockets of time that you are currently using ineffectively and can now use to work on your book.
Procrastination: The Time Management Killer
Procrastination is a real schedule buster. At times it can be so easy to put things off until later, but if you do that too often, nothing gets done.
There are plenty of reasons people procrastinate:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Dislike of the task
- Misalignment of task and person
I’d like to talk a little about each one and provide some tips and advice for overcoming them.
Sometimes, when a task seems so big and overwhelming, you can feel so daunted that it is easier just not to start. You may not know where to start. Or you may feel like nothing you do toward that goal seems to get you anywhere. One way to overcome this challenge is to break the larger task into smaller, easier-to-handle tasks. Give each mini-task a deadline, so that you can still feel accomplished. And be realistic about how quickly the tasks can be completed. If you are still getting behind, you can always re-evaluate the time you’ve allotted and give yourself more time.
Creating an outline for your book before you start writing can help with this particular challenge. Each section or subsection within your book can be a mini task that has its own deadline. It also breaks your book up into much more manageable pieces.
Dislike of the Task
For me, cleaning the floors and dusting the house are the things I procrastinate about the most because of this reason. I really don’t like cleaning. One way to overcome this challenge is to delegate the task to someone who does it better than you and, possibly, even enjoys the task. Another is to take a look at the task and see if it really needs to be done. If not, take it off your schedule. (Boy, I wish I could do that to cleaning!)
If you think you dislike writing your book, there could be several possible issues at work here. I discuss them in this post: 5 Reasons Authors Procrastinate Writing their Book (and Remedies!).
Misalignment of Task and Person
Sometimes you’ve set yourself a task that you may not be good at. Other times you set yourself a task that goes against your core self. If the above two reasons aren’t behind your procrastination, this one probably is. Take a look at the task. Ask yourself how you feel about it. Does the task make you feel negative emotions such as anger, discomfort, or fear? If so, you really need to take a look at why you feel the task needs to be done and done by you.
For example, when I was in my 20s, I had moved to a new city and was having trouble finding a job. I found one that was — you’ll love this — on the cleaning staff of a local hotel. The very thought of going to the interview made my stomach hurt. But I needed the money, so I went. The interview consisted of donning a uniform and following a member of the staff as she showed me how to clean the rooms. It was dreadful! I had an allergic reaction to the cleaning solutions and felt like climbing out of my skin. At the end of the shift, I turned in the uniform and said no thanks — I didn’t even take payment for my work!
Now that’s an obvious misalignment between task and person, but I hope you get my point. Misalignment can be blatant, and it can be subtle. But, if you can’t explain your procrastination by the first two reasons, look hard at the task to find where this third reason may lie.
I discuss this topic in more detail in this post: The Truth About Procrastination and Writer’s Block.
Motivation’s Effect on Time Management
What motivates you to get up in the morning and start working? And, when you aren’t getting things done like you think you should, where did that motivation go?
First, let me tell you that you can still get things done if you aren’t motivated — it’s just more of a challenge to get started. If your motivation seems to be on vacation, tackle your to-do list in smaller chunks. Just start, with a goal to work on that task for a set amount of time. You may surprise yourself by finding the motivation in the act of doing.
Most time management advice advocates creating a schedule and sticking to it. However, if unforeseen things come up, this can really screw with your mind. It can also drain all the motivation out of you. You start to think, “What’s the point?” So, here’s an idea that can help: Create two to-do lists. On the first you list the things you HAVE to do. On the second, you list the things you’d LIKE to do.
This is just another way to prioritize, but because the lists can be physically separated, it can help you ease your discomfort around your to-do list.
Oh! And be sure to work in some fun every day. All work and no play …. You don’t want to turn into Jack Nicholson in The Shining do you? ; )
Another psychological trick you can play to help you with motivation: use a highlighter to “cross out” accomplished tasks. Crossing out has a negative connotation and highlighting has a positive one. Also, the to-do list looks cleaner and less cluttered without the crossed-out text. Better yet, you can tell at a glance how much you have accomplished in the day!
Delegating tasks that don’t necessarily build your business, but maintain it, is a very good time management technique. And you don’t have to hire an assistant (virtual or in-office) full-time. You can even hire a high-school or college kid to do some of your work for you for next to nothing. It’s a win-win situation. They get work experience, as well as additional funds, you get to free up your time to do more important things.
Advanced Time Management Tip
You can’t manage what you don’t understand. If you want to get a handle on your time, the first step is understanding how you are actually using it. Once you have that information, you can start to make changes to beat procrastination and create motivation. And if those changes aren’t enough, sometimes the best solution is to hire help. A coach or consultant can work with you one-on-one to help you make the changes necessary to take control of your time. Here are a couple of suggestions:
- Sheila Hawkins at Third Eye Group: I hired Sheila to help me become more productive. She helps you see time, time management, and productivity in a whole new way. I highly recommend her work.
- Book Kickstarter V.I.P. Intensive: During this private, 1:1 Bootcamp, we will: Nail your book idea so that you don’t waste your time writing the wrong book; gather all the information you need to complete a winning book outline; and create your book outline; and develop a book completion strategy.
Editor’s Note: This post is a combination of several posts originally published on CarmaSpence.com in March 2008. The content has also been updated.