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6 effective time management tips for leaders

No matter how much you have on your plate, effective time management is always possible! Use these six tips to make better use of your days, from prioritizing to delegating and automating.

While running a business, 24 hours a day just doesn’t always feel like enough. Even when we think we have our work cut out for us, there are always new inquiries, surprise meetings, and last-minute project changes that cut into our time.

That’s why it’s important to understand effective time management, whether you’re managing a small team or leading your business solo. Through the day-to-day and the long-term, good time management will help you stay organized and on track to complete your goals.

Poor time management can lead you and your team off track. Instead, use these six tips to stay focused. 

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1. Take control of how you spend your time

The first step toward more effective time management is taking ownership of how you spend your time.

Start using a time-tracking app to better understand when you work most effectively. If you notice you’re getting more done in the morning vs. the afternoon, try to structure your day around your most productive hours. During this time, focus on the most important tasks so you can complete them with more efficiency.

During the times when you work slower, complete other tasks like admin work or checking your email–anything that requires less of your creative energy and attention.

Once you know what time or part of the day you work best, you can take steps to protect it. It’s your most valuable time, so you should be spending it on the work that’s also the most valuable to your business. Think of the tasks that require your leadership and strategy rather than tasks that feel like you’re just checking boxes.

To protect your time, use block scheduling to make sure no one can schedule over your most valuable hours. You can also set boundaries with employees and clients, either in your SOPs, contracts, or office hours. Protecting your own time is one of the best time management skills you can use. 

2. Avoid time wasters and use time management techniques

We can be our own worst enemy when it comes to wasting time. There’s no use feeling guilty about it,  it just means you’re human. Everyone has time wasters, but acknowledging what they are is the first step to avoiding them while you’re working.

For most people these days, aimlessly scrolling social media is a primary time-waster, but it could also be reading articles, watching TV, talking with friends and family, and more.

When you acknowledge the activities that steal your time, it doesn’t mean you have to cut them out completely. Instead, just block your schedule so that you have a set time to enjoy those things, whether it’s during breaks, in the morning, or after you’re done working.

Start using time management strategies to better protect your time. Some ideas include: 

  • The Pomodoro Technique: Working in set 25-minute time blocks
  • The Eisenhower matrix: Prioritizing tasks by importance and urgency
  • Timeboxing: Working on similar tasks for a set amount of time

3. Prioritize important tasks and goals

When you have a lot on your plate, why is it so much harder to get anything done? For some lucky ones, work can be a good motivator, but for many others having a lot to do often makes it harder to get things done.

When we feel overwhelmed, a natural instinct is to avoid the very thing that’s stressing us out. It usually feels easier to procrastinate or focus on less important projects rather than try to tackle the more difficult ones.

To beat procrastination, use a prioritization method so you’re always able to organize your work and know what needs to be done and when. Prioritization can help you make your work more manageable and look at the bigger picture of what needs to get done–ultimately making it less overwhelming.

Ideas for prioritizing your work

Try the following methods to see what helps the best for prioritizing. Whether you’re a visual or conceptual learner, you can choose the method that works best for you.

Use a visual matrix

If you’re a visual learner, a prioritization matrix can be the best method to prioritize your work. On a blank piece of paper, draw a 2×2 chart. On the vertical axis, label the top “Importance.” On the horizontal axis, label the right end “Urgency.” Within the matrix, start mapping all your tasks for the day or week.

When you’re all done, the tasks in the upper right quadrant are the ones that you need to prioritize first– these are important and urgent. From there, you can prioritize the rest based on where they fall in the matrix.

Bullet journaling

Bullet journaling is more of a long-term method for organization and prioritization. It works best when you start with a longer time period, like a month, quarter, or year.

With your journal, start big to small. Create a list of everything you need to get done in the total period of time. So, if you choose to focus monthly, first create a list of your goals and tasks for the month.

From there, you can break down the month by each week and day, always referring back to the master list to keep yourself on track.

bullet journaling for effective time management

Create lists 

If you’re less of a big-picture person but you still work well with lists, you can use simple prioritization lists each day.

Start with a big brain dump of everything you know you need to get done. Don’t worry about the order, just get it all written down. From there, use a code to assign things by importance and urgency, just like the visual matrix.

For this example, 1-3 are the level of importance and A-C are the level of urgency. So, your most important and urgent task should be 1A, while the least important and least urgent will be 3C.

Once everything is assigned, you can create a new list with just your 1A tasks and so forth to break down the list into more manageable chunks.

Set SMART goals 

If you really like to zoom out on your work, prioritizing SMART goals can help. Like the bullet journal method, this one is also best to start when you have a longer period of time.

First, set some SMART goals for your business. These need to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.

For example: To gain 15 new enterprise-level clients by the end of the fiscal year.

  • Specific – Not just any clients, but a specific type (enterprise)
  • Measurable – 15 new clients
  • Attainable – 15 clients should be a realistic goal (perhaps you’ve already been gaining 10 new clients per year)
  • Relevant – Enterprise-level clients should be highly relevant to the business mission and values (you might be a business coach or other)
  • Time-based – By the end of the fiscal year

Whenever you have a list of work piling up, write all of it down and determine which tasks align with which goals. If you have tasks that don’t align with any, you’ll know you can save them for another time since they aren’t as important.

4. Acknowledge that downtime doesn’t mean time wasted

For many business owners, we feel like we have to be “on” all the time. But the truth is, taking breaks and prioritizing your rest actually helps you become a more effective leader. In fact, 86% of people in one study agreed that breaks made them more productive.

Above, we mentioned using block scheduling to help protect your time. As you’re blocking out your schedule each day, be sure to build in breaks and downtime during the hours when you find yourself slowing down.

Try a breathe app to slow yourself down–you might not even realize how stressed you’ve been feeling until you take the time to calm your mind.

Scheduling your personal or downtime might not seem intuitive, but it’s a great way to ensure you’re building proper work/life balance into your routine.

Overhead shot of someone using the HoneyBook mobile app breathe feature

5. Automate as much work as possible

Even as the dedicated, passionate, and hard-working business owner that you are, you can’t do it all on your own. In fact, trying to do each and every little thing in your business is a recipe for burnout. Even if you don’t have team members to help out, you can still take advantage of other resources to help manage your time.

With business automation, you can make sure a lot of your busy work is running in the background while you focus on more important tasks, like managing your team, drafting contracts, and sending deliverables.

If you’re nervous about using automation, start slowly and see how much time you can save with just a few tasks running on their own.

Some ideas of tasks you can automate include:

  • Inquiry responses: Instead of responding to each new inquiry, try automating your email instead.
  • Payment reminders: No one likes chasing down payments, and automation can easily take this off your plate.
  • Requests for reviews and testimonials: Close out each project with an automated email to ask for online reviews, testimonials, and/or referrals. 
  • Task reminders: Never forget to do something by setting up notifications for due dates, internal tasks, and more.

6. Don’t be afraid to delegate and outsource

If you do have a team, don’t be afraid to hand off bigger projects that you aren’t able to automate. Nearly 53% of business owners agree that delegating even 10% of their workload can help grow their business.

You might feel like you always need to oversee certain projects or types of work, but letting go can help your business grow. You’ll probably find that your business even runs more smoothly when you’re focused on effective leadership rather than producing.

Offer time management resources to your team members so they can manage their own time and you can feel confident in their prioritization. Remember the prioritization methods we covered? Your team can benefit from them just as much as you.

Take actionable steps toward effective time management

Effective time management is a combination of skill and process. It might not happen overnight, but you can get started immediately by creating personal guidelines and SOPs for your team.

Try out different time management and prioritization techniques to see what works best. Focus on blocking your schedule and setting up automation, and you’ll be surprised at how much time is already back on your plate.

Bring it all together and use a small business CRM like HoneyBook that allows you to automate tasks and manage other parts of your business!

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