As independent consultants, time management is imperative to juggle multiple clients and meet deadlines. Whether you’re just starting out or 10-years in, it’s always a good idea to assess your daily work habits to ensure you’re getting the most out of your most valuable asset – your time.
1) Eliminate distractions
As a sole proprietor or small team, it’s easy to get caught up in the detail-oriented work of managing the business (answering phones, replying to emails), marketing (social media, website updates), and learning (reading blogs and white papers). Although these activities are important, if they’re not scheduled appropriately, they are just distractions. Turn off your phone during focus time, close all of those other browser windows, and start a timer. Using an app like Harvest to track time helps you stay “on the clock” and may motivate you to stick to the task at hand. In between tasks, use that time for a 5-minute “check in” on email, text, and social – if that is your regular daily priority in between project work.
2) Organize tasks
What’s the best way to eliminate distractions? Organize tasks, and if you have the resources, outsource some of them. Using a software platform, like Asana or Basecamp, or a CRM platform, you can quickly prioritize, budget time, and follow steps by priority, not just chronologically. And you don’t always need to hire a new employee to get extra relief from the daily distractions and grind of running a business. Get a part-time virtual assistant to return calls and emails, budget in money for your expert consultants to write blogs for your website, and look for creative ways to automate, eliminate, or streamline tasks.
3) Practice mindfulness
This isn’t something we would have immediately thought of, but a recent article in Harvard Business Review made the case for mindfulness practice. Start the day in a calm, mindful way, and then “go to work,” following your prioritized, organized task plan and blocking out distractions. Don’t get up and check email and jump in to work that you haven’t assessed against your other competing interests.
4) Shorten, shrink, and schedule meetings
Clients love meetings, calls, and check-ins, but you need to gently push back, training your clients to schedule a time-limited meeting with a clear objective tied to a deliverable – and only inviting the people directly involved with that step. Write out a short meeting agenda – for yourself, even if you don’t need to share it with the client – and make sure you jot down the action items that should result from the meeting. Keep it brief – 15 minute meetings are our favorite – and spend a few (scheduled) minutes each week assessing how the meeting flow went, what you can replicate for future clients, and where you can improve. Eventually, you’ll have a good handle on the type of meeting, the length of meeting, and the important persons to include for different types of projects.
Use tools to help manage you and keep you focused on and track, but also be sure to schedule in some buffer time – a lunch, a workout, an office tidying session – to help your mind process and avoid burnout.
What techniques do you use to stay focused? Let us know in the comments.