Time management tips from the pros

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When the workload is overwhelming, how does an entrepreneur or CEO manage all the tasks and responsibilities, with a finite amount of time in the day?

Several time management experts and entrepreneurs explain their tips and tricks, including how imperative it is to simply step back from work now and again.

Rita Smith, Toronto East Coach for the Dale Carnegie Business Group, teaches time management to entrepreneurs, and uses a custom visual cue for motivation.

When she doesn’t achieve a certain day’s goal, she colours that to-do item with the dreaded Pink Highlighter of Shame.

“When I see several days or even weeks with lots of pink, I know I need to revisit my goals and apply some self-discipline,” she says in an interview.

In the sense of balancing the important and not urgent, to the urgent and important, she advises to proactively deal with the former before it becomes the latter.

“Spending half of your day on items which are admittedly not strategically important indicates a self-discipline problem which needs to be addressed,” Smith says.

Vered Lerner, business services specialist and CEO and founder at Bizstance Services, extols the virtues of Microsoft Outlook as a valuable tool for time management.

“When used properly, it doesn’t just organize emails but enables task tracking, both for yourself and those assigned to someone else… One important tip is to categorize the emails by assigning them to specific folders and color coding them. Setting specific times for checking email and disabling the alerts can save time and prevent unnecessary distraction.”

Prioritizing, rather than multi-tasking, can be a better option, she adds, since taking on too much at once could lead to a mental or physical shutdown.

“Recognizing the signs leading to burnout is critical in preserving good health. Being alert, confident and prepared is attributed to proper eating habits, plenty of sleep and maintaining a positive attitude,” she adds.

“The most important thing to remember is that throughout the day priorities may change and urgencies arise.”

Michael Cooper of Entrepreneur.com recently suggested eight ways to perfect time management: Sleep, regeneration, vacation (he recommends four to six weeks a year), a social life, strategy time, business development time, business administration time (one to two hours a week), and client service time.

Meanwhile, Liz Pearce, CEO of LiquidPlanner.com – an electronic service to track tasks – advises starting the lengthier tasks first.

“But, if you feel like you can’t focus on your meatier projects before you finish up the shorter task, then go with your gut and do that,” she adds.

When you’re overwhelmed, sometimes the best piece of advice is to simply be choosy.

”Know when to cut. You probably can’t get to everything on your list. After you prioritize your tasks and add up the ranged estimates, cut the remaining tasks from your list, and focus on the priorities that you know you must and can complete for the day.”

Finally, be aware of the minutes and hours.

“Watch the clock: good timing is everything in business and leadership. Estimate what needs to get done, then re-estimate once started,” Pearce says. “It’s good to raise the flag and let the team know when adjustments need to be made so that everyone is aligned and working to achieve great results.”

Pearce says her meditation – from 5:30am to 6:30 am – helps her focus and be ready for the work day.

Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com, a B2B business-filing services company, is a proponent of the old-fashioned pen and paper to keep track of what needs to be done.

“I know this may be an unpopular opinion, but low-tech solutions really are the best for executive time management,” she asserts.

“There are tons of calendar apps and scheduling programs you can use, and if they work for you, great. But a pad of legal paper and a personal calendar have always served me well, because they let me disconnect from running the company during my off-hours without totally forgetting my schedule.”

But Maura Thomas, founder of RegainYourTime.com, has a different point of view.

“I recommend an electronic tool rather than a paper one. The next day, you can take a look at your ‘red’ overdue items, and re-assess them with regard to the items you’ve assigned to that day,” she says.

Thomas, the author of Personal Productivity Secrets and the upcoming Work Without Walls: An Executive’s Guide to Attention Management in the Age of Distraction, also advocates prioritizing by due date, for more efficient task completion.

“What seemed really important yesterday might seem much less important today, in light of what’s going on today. Or it may still seem very important and make you realize that some things that were scheduled for that day now have to get bumped.”

Photo via Flickr, Creative Commons

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