The Ten Commandments of Time Management

When I ask self-employed people why time management is important, they mention things like efficiency, organization, prioritizing, etc. Yes, those are all very valuable to anyone who is self-employed, but then I ask, “Why are those things important?”

When we get to the bottom of it we realize that the reason time management is so important is that time is a non-renewable resource, we only live once, and we should be able to spend as much of our lives as we can doing the things we enjoy most with the people we love the most in a stress-free environment without a million business details running around in our heads. The reduction in stress and benefits of happiness and joy can add years of enjoyment to your life and the lives of those you love.

The alternative – not managing your time – produces stress, anxiety, depression, restlessness, insomnia, hypertension, indigestion, headaches, relationship problems, and just plain lack of fun in your life.

So with that in mind here are my Ten Commandments of Time Management for the self-employed:

1. You must have no other priority before time management.

Time is the god of productivity. It’s the basic underlying fabric of the work universe. It’s eternal, unchangeable. Be grateful for it! Give it due piety. Make it the first and last thing you think about during your work day and commune with it between each task throughout the day.

2. You must use a systematic time management tool.

If you’re not keeping a calendar then you have your entire to-do list running around in your mind. There are great pen and paper time management tools, but I highly suggest that you get used to using an online calendar, such as the free one provided by Google, and a smart phone. The ability to color code blocks of time, move them around on your calendar, and add related information is invaluable. There are plenty of how-to videos on YouTube for whatever application that you choose.

3. You must keep a “to-do” list.

Every time you commit to doing something – anything at all – it should go on your list. Did you just tell someone you would call them back? Put it on the list. Did you just get a bill that you need to pay? Put it on the list. Then translate your task list into your calendar system by adding a block of time for each task so you can prioritize and move tasks around as needed. If there are related tasks like paying bills, or returning phone calls, list them all in one time block.

4. You must make estimates and set time limits for all tasks.

Schedule your time in hourly and half hour blocks to keep things simple. If you need to spend two hours working on a sales letter, then put a two hour block on your calendar. If you need to move it as your priorities shift, you can move it just by dragging into a different day or timeslot. When you schedule your to-do list in this way you can see all those blocks of time that you have committed to and thereby not over commit yourself – a very important stress saver.

5. You must make routine those things which lend themselves to routines.

There are a lot of mundane chores that any business owner needs to do such as bill paying, file backups, cleaning, etc. If you have to do something every day or every week or once a month make a routine out of it. Schedule it as a repeating event. Even things like returning phone calls and emails can be confined to routines to greatly improve your efficiency.

6. You must always prioritize before doing – and always schedule top priorities first.

You should always be aware of which items on your to-do list are the most important to you. Don’t let the squeaky tasks get the grease, YOU decide which tasks are most important. Schedule those mission critical tasks first then all your other priorities can be fit into your schedule. You will find that after you get all your priorities for the week onto your calendar that you have a much better idea of what you can really commit to and accomplish. Again, it helps ease stress when you don’t over commit yourself all the time.

7. You must not multi-task (unless your work requires it).

Doing too many things at once means none of them get done efficiently. Interruptions such as answering an email here and phone call there can add up to a lot of wasted time as you try to get re-focused on the task at hand. Check your email and messages first thing each morning. Then schedule a couple hours of work, and then another communications check. You can help the person on the other end of the phone or email much better when they are the task and not the distraction.

8. You must know and stay within your limits and learn to say “no.”

Everyone you come in contact with wants something from you. Even things demand your time. Don’t try to help everyone that needs your help, and don’t take on too much responsibility which requires your time. Learning to say “no” to people and things is one of the most important time management skills. It’s not fun to disappoint people that would like your help, but it’s even less fun to over commit your time and have none left over for yourself.

9. You must practice the art of delegation.

Remember, time is the god of productivity, you only have so much of it. The more you can leverage other people’s time, the more you get done. Delegating simpler tasks or tasks in areas in which you’re not an expert leaves you free to generate more business. The size of a small business is generally determined by how many people the owner is comfortable in managing. Don’t go past your comfort level.

10. You must make a consistent, ongoing effort to get more organized and more efficient.

Those who make time management a habit will get better results from the use of their time. It’s as simple as that. Most people are not very organized. Some people believe they are not even capable of being organized. All it takes is a little practice! Start by simply keeping a to-do list and checking things off. Then make it a habit to try to get a little more organized each month. There’s always room for improvements that could make your life simpler, more efficient, and less stressful.

To summarize, the most important reason to mange your time is that the less time you waste, and the more organized and efficient you are, the less stressful and more joyful your life will be.

Until next time, may all your self-employment dreams come true!

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