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Overcome the challenges of working from home

In this blog post, I'm going to introduce four steps to managing your time effectively for better work-life balance. In fact, managing time is really a bit of a myth because time is essentially ‘fixed'. Time is a finite resource. We all have exactly the same number of hours in a day and days in a week. When it comes to time management what we're really trying to achieve is task management.

I'm using the letters T. I. M. E to represent the four steps for allocating your 1440 minutes a day. When expressed in minutes it sounds like an awfully long time. If you think about it's amazing what you can actually do in a single minute. For example, take a photo for posting on social media, send a thank-you email to a client, phone a business associate to arrange a one-to-one meeting or, on a personal note, make yourself a cup of coffee.

What is Time Management

The aim of this article is to give you some pointers to becoming more organised and productive.

According to Dictionary.com

The analysis of how working hours are spent and the prioritization of tasks in order to maximize personal efficiency in the workplace.

The aim for most people who run a service-based business is to minimise the amount of time spent on ‘winning the work' and ‘admin' tasks, in relation to ‘doing the work' or ‘revenue generating' time. Our goal is to reduce the non-revenue generating time and increase the time spent on client work.

Evidence suggests that if you are unable to make a decent living working on client work for 60% of the week then your prices are too low. Frequently we underestimate the amount of time we need to allocate to admin tasks, marketing, accounting, and a contingency for the unexpected overruns and activities which we hadn't accounted for. I talked on this in the article about planning fallacy.

The T.I.M.E Process

The four steps are:

T for Targets
I for Information
M for Mindset and,
E for efficiency

Time management is all about working smarter not harder for better productivity. Even though we all have the same 24 hours in a day, why is it that some people achieve so much more than others? The answer is simply good time management. We need to shift our focus towards results and away from activities concentrating on what is effective and efficient and avoiding being busy for the sake of it.

Why is time management important?

A state of work-life balance is a goal many aspire to but find difficult to achieve, particularly when you work from home and have family responsibilities. If you are working part-time in order to look after children before and after school then your working day is going to be significantly shorter than if you are in a traditional corporate job.

It may mean that you have to split your day into several parts. I have read that some people manage to get up before their children and do an hour before breakfast and equally put in several hours in the evening. This takes great discipline and drive.

Having control over how you allocate your time is cited as one of the main reasons that people leave the corporate 9 to 5. However, because many of our clients are still tied to traditional working hours, it is challenging to buck the trend and work when you have the time rather than when you feel you should be working.

One thing you do have control over is shifting the number of hours you work on non-revenue to revenue generating work. If you charge £50 an hour then every extra hour you shift away from non-revenue towards client work makes a difference to your revenue. And these figures add up.

Save 10 hours a week and that's an additional £500 added to your revenue. Over the course of a month this is £2,000 or £24,000 a year. So you can see that simply saving 10 hours a week makes a huge difference to your income. This shift isn't something that can be achieved overnight but it is something that can be planned for and worked towards.

Graph showing impact of time management improvements on revenue

 

“My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”
Steve Jobs

So why is it that we hear, or say, I'm so busy yet we are all guilty of squandering time. As someone who has worked from home for 20 years bringing up two children on my own and running a business, I know what it's like to have an endless to-do list seemingly running around all day and still ending up worried about getting things done.

As a business consultant, I have experience of running multiple client accounts alongside one another. this means I have at times struggled to keep on top of what needs to be done and in which order.

Time management isn't just about the working week. We all have a total of 168 hours in a week. If we take away the average recommended 8 hours a night sleep that leaves 112 hours. Deduct 35 hours a week working and we are left with 77 hours a week or 11 hours a day so-called free time. Time to spend with family and friends, on daily chores and personal interests – allowing time for doing nothing!

Time is a Finite Resource

Time is the only finite resource. When it comes to running a business I like to think about the two limited resources of time and money. In simple terms, we can find more money (by borrowing it, being more economical, raising prices) but the only way to expand our time is to:

  • use it more effectively or
  • use money to buy in help and therefore ‘gain' more time

T is for Targets

What gets measured, gets done.

The mere act of physically recording a goal and putting a target on it acts as motivation to achieve it.

On my office wall is a chart of my social media accounts and a set of simple targets. I use tools to monitor my keyword rankings, Google analytics to see how the website is performing, open rate statistics from my email service provider, and Xero for monitoring my income and expenditure.

In my experience of running several businesses, there are actually very few figures you need to keep an eye on to determine whether you will hit your goal for the year. It's actually monitoring them and shifting your efforts when things aren't going to plan that's most important.

If you are a consultant, coach, freelancer or solopreneur a business plan can be a simple  one-page document. The kinds of figures you need to monitor are your:

  • sales,
  • cost of sales
  • gross profit
  • expenses
  • pre-tax profits.

As I said earlier there are essentially only two categories of activities – those that are revenue generating and those that are non-revenue generating.

SMART Goals

Any goals you have should conform to the SMART principles and be:

  • specific
  • measurable
  • achievable
  • realistic and
  • time bound.

Goal setting is a topic we'll return to in an upcoming post. When it comes to analysing time, simply remember that every goal needs a plan, every plan is a set of processes or actions, and every process takes time.

Being productive is about managing our tasks or actions to work smarter and not harder always focusing on the end result or goal.

In addition to the numbers in your simple business plan you may also have targets for:

  • revenue
  • number of clients
  • number of products
  • average sales order
  • expenses
  • marketing costs
  • operational costs

Time management target

We also need a time management target. A time management target is particularly important if you have family commitments especially if you look after children. It's unrealistic to set yourself the same business targets as someone who works in the corporate 9 to 5 or who has no caring responsibilities. Research shows that working long hours isn't necessarily productive. So if you're working day extends long into the evening on a regular basis, it's time to set some targets and put some time management practice in place.

For example, my time management target might be that I want to save 10 hours a week reducing my work schedule from 45 to 35 hours over the next 10 weeks.

I've set this goal to comply with the SMART principles of goal setting.

It's specific and measurable – saving 10 hours.

It's achievable –  10 hours out of 168 shouldn't be that challenging, and it's time-bound. 10 hours a week over a period of 10 weeks is just a shift in my behaviour of 1 hour a week.

I have a question for you: How many hours do you currently work in the average week?

I is for information

In order to meet our time management target, we need to carry out a time audit. Over the next week use a calendar with half-hour intervals marked on it to monitor and record all your tasks both work-related and personal. It's just like filling in a food diary for a dietician. At the end of a week, or better still a fortnight, you'll have a picture of exactly how you spend your time. So when it comes to making adjustments to how you spend your time they'll be no guesswork.

Once you have done your time audit calculate the following:

  • total number of hours worked
  • total number of hours spent on client work revenue generating
  • total number of hours spent on non revenue generating work such as marketing, accounts, IT, admin

Ask yourself how much additional revenue you would make a week by switching 10 hours from non-revenue to revenue generating work? In other words, the aim is to shift our focus towards ‘doing the work' rather than ‘winning the work and admin time'.

For example:
My Time Audit showed I work 45 hours a week and that 50% is spent on revenue-generating work. i.e. 22.5 hours. Increasing the percentage of revenue-generating work to 60% of the week would result in 27 hours up 4.5 from 22.5 hours.

If my hourly rate is £75 my revenue increases by £337.50 per week, up from £1,687.50 to £2,025.00 – in a 45 week year that’s an increase of over £15,000. Impressive!

M is for Mindset

The unproductive mindset has:

  1. a lack of vision
  2. weak processes and
  3. poor habits

We tackled the lack of vision in the section on targets by demonstrating the importance of having written down goals. Weak processes arise when we have no plan or schedule and I'll come on to this in the next section. Even if you have great processes these can be sabotaged by poor habits.

The main poor habits include:

Procrastination and impact on time management

  • lack of focus
  • being easily distracted
  • perfectionism
  • multitasking
  • procrastination
  • overcommitting and

This is an extremely large topic and one which I could write a whole book about, let alone part of a blog post.  If you would like a copy of a book list on habits, I have a free download for you. Just email me.

Here's some practical advice for a productive mindset.
1. Reflect on and plan your day
2. Reduce decision-making to what matters by using the 80/20 rule
3. Work with others. The positive peer pressure really helps with motivation and sticking to a set of tasks throughout the day. You are less likely to be distracted and be more focused on what needs to be done.
4. Get an accountability partner. I am currently talking to someone else who is developing an online course like myself and we are holding each other accountable for reaching specific milestones by a certain time. This means our projects are less likely to slip.

E is for Efficiency

The Eisenhower Matrix is a helpful tool for reorganising a to-do list into a workable document. List all your tasks and then assign two labels to each task – whether they are urgent or non urgent and whether they are important or unimportant.

Group the tasks into four:

  1. do first – important and urgent
  2. do later – non-urgent and important
  3. delegate – urgent and unimportant
  4. eliminate –  unimportant and non-urgent

For example: an important urgent task is a report for a client with today's deadline.

non-urgent important task is to register on a training course for learning a new skill.

Sending off a birthday card or buying a ticket to a conference before the early bird deadline passes are examples of urgent but less important tasks which can be delegated to someone else such as a virtual assistant. We cover outsourcing and delegation in the Productivity Course.

You are unlikely to have listed the ‘eliminate' activities i.e. the non-urgent and unimportant ones on your to-do list but these might include watching more TV than is good for you, playing video games or going down the social media rabbit hole!

12 tips for efficient time management

1. Use a schedule for planning either on paper or use an app such as Trello
2. Organise your workspace
3. Chunk down tasks into small tasks
4. Batch similar tasks together
5. Reverse engineering – start with the outcome
6. Allow buffer time in between different tasks
7. Have contingency time for planned tasks
8. Allow time for the unplanned
9. Learn to say ‘no’ or ‘not at the moment’
10. Outsource to a virtual assistant or specialist
11. Reduce social media time
12. Turn off notifications

Time management summary

Go back to your targets and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you have the information you need to hit the targets you've set yourself for time-saving?
  2. What resources do you need to achieve your target?
  3. What changes do you need to make to have the right mindset? And finally,
  4. What impact will better time management have on your revenue and your work-life balance?

Whilst you may wish to shift your time towards revenue generating work, you may also want to spend more time with your family and to improve your personal life by having time to pursue a new interest.

Saving 10 hours a week is totally achievable.

At one extreme the time saved can be used to spend on your personal life and at the other, it can be used to allocate to client work adding additional revenue.

If you are interested in discussing your specific time management challenges then please get in touch and schedule a 15 minute free consultation where I can answer questions in relation to your particular business.

Categories: Productivity

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