Summer Success Series: Owning Your Time
This summer, I’m taking advantage of the spirit of renewal that I often feel this season and using this time to reset, retool, and revisit some of my small business practices. In particular, I only want to focus on areas that will make a material difference in my small business and won’t take a ton of time.
I’ve created my no-BS summer to-do list and I’m inviting everyone along for the ride. Sign up and you’ll receive three emails per week (no more than a 5-minute read each) with one super actionable task in each email that will take you no more than 30 minutes to complete.
Here’s a sneak peek: Our first topic is “Owning Your Time.” Keep reading for three actions you can take this week that will help you better manage your time as a business owner.
Action Item #1: Record Your Time Spent
The reality is, many of us aren’t owning our time like we should. We find ourselves being pulled in multiple directions, beholden to email responses, to answering our phone whenever it rings, to interrupting deep work to check an instant message — the list of distractions goes on. (Don’t get me started on Instagram, a.k.a. my Holy Grail of distraction.)
What we’re going to do this week is understand that we own our time. If we’re not taking ownership of our time, others will do it for us. Not because they’re a**holes wanting to distract us from our priorities, but because we’re giving the perception that our time is free for the taking.
It’s time to change that.
By the end of this exercise, we’ll have:
- A reality check of how we’re spending our time now
- A full understanding of how we want to spend our time
- A set of tools that will allow us to own our time and spend it where it needs to be spent
To take control of our time, we first have to understand how our time is being utilized. Once we can physically see the distractions, time wasted, and time given to efforts that aren’t useful, we can start to fix it.
The first actionable to-do takes us back to the basics. We’re going to complete a time log. I’ve added a simple Google Sheet we can use to log our time throughout an entire day.
I’d start with the moment I’m up and active (OK, maybe grab a cold brew first) because, for me, I’d like to include my morning routine and see where my time is spent there. But start where it makes the most sense for you — whether that’s sitting down at your desk to start your day or walking into your office in the morning.
Get as detailed as you’re able. Once you have your completed log, quickly scan through and highlight, star, or circle distractions or time spent where you don’t want to spend it.
Action Item #2: Outline How You Want To Spend Your Time
I know how I’m spending my time currently. I can certainly see from my log where I’m not spending it in ways that I want or need to be spending it, but how do I want to spend my time?
This brings us to the next step of owning our time. I absolutely love this step. It starts with a brain dump and ends with a clear list of the things we want to be spending our time on and when we want to be doing it.
Step One: The Brain Dump
Let’s start on paper. Take a blank sheet of paper, it doesn’t matter what kind, just give yourself a lot of room and make sure there are no notes or other writings on it.
Draw a column down the middle and in the left column write, “less of” and in the right column write, “more of.”
Now set a timer for three minutes and when you start that timer, just dump everything out of your brain that you want more of and less of in their respective columns. It doesn’t matter how you phrase it. If it’s repetitive or might even be a bit vague, just dump it all out there.
- What do you want more of in your day and less of?
- Do you want more movement, flow state, time with your spouse and kids, play, or laughter?
- Do you want less distractions, answering emails, junk food, Twitter, or noise?
Just get it all out there.
Step Two: Clarify, Eliminate, and Organize
Take a look at your two columns. I’m sure there are items that need to be clarified and some duplicates. When I run through this exercise, I find I often have overlap between the columns.
Once you’ve made your notes, crossed out duplicates, and clarified everything, move your list into this Google Sheet Template and rewrite the list so that every item is a “more of.”
For example, if you want fewer interruptions in your day, rewrite that as, “I want more time focused on each project.”
Another example, if you want less of those pesky WFH distractions, rewrite that as, “I want more focus when I work from home and to save household chores for a specified time in the day.”
This should take you about 10 minutes.
Step Three: Get Specific
For each item on your list, check to make sure it’s specific and something you’ll be able to act on. For example: “I want more control over my emails.”
What does “control over emails” mean to you? There’s no wrong answer, it just needs to be clear and specific so you can act on it.
Instead, try something like: “I want to focus on my emails during specific times and ignore them the rest of the work day as well as when I’m not working.”
Step Four: Quantify Where Possible
If you’re able, add a quantity to your “more of” time intentions. Something like, “I want to focus on my emails two times a day and ignore them the rest of the work day as well as when I’m not working.”
This process should take you the remainder of your 30 minutes and leave you with a pretty clear list of where you want to spend your time.
Action Item #3: Create Your Time Blocks And Communicate
The final step to owning our time is to ensure that we have the right mechanisms in place to ensure we’re building great habits and mitigating the constant need to push back on asks for our time.
Let’s start with time blocking.
Time blocking simply means deciding when you want to spend time on various activities and blocking your calendar to dedicate that time. Adding blocks to your calendar helps hold you accountable and communicate your time needs to everyone else.
Add recurring time blocks on your calendar for things like checking emails, specific client outreach, data analysis, exercise, or whatever else you added to your “More of” list.
A quick note on blocking time for specific activities. Make sure you’re considering when you’re at your peak performance for the activity you’re blocking. For example, don’t block time for data analysis first thing in the morning if you’re typically not in a great mental state to go heads down and really dig into data. If that’s a late afternoon activity for you, be sure you’re taking that into account.
Next we’re going to talk about limiting time for appointments.
Appointment blocks are a bit different. These are the blocks of time you set aside for requests for your time. That might be a vendor asking for a 15-minute demo or a connection asking for an hour to grab a coffee and advice.
Decide how much of your time you want to free up for others’ use each week, and, as much as you’re able to, stick to it. Maybe Tuesdays are a great day for coffee meetings — create a recurring appointment slot on your calendar and have the link ready to share.
A quick note on limiting your appointment times throughout the week. Your business might be a consultative business that includes a lot of time needed for your clients. Make sure you’re differentiating between those client appointments vs. general connections, vendors, and networking, and leaving plenty of time for them.
Here are a few free tools for creating appointment blocks and a link to share with individuals as needed.
This app allows you to create recurring appointment slots in your calendar and provides a link to your appointment page. It’s not pretty, but if you’re already utilizing Google Calendar, it’s fast, free, and requires no additional integrations.
Calendly is pretty recognizable now. It’s worth noting that it offers a free calendar that is perfect for these types of appointment blocks, looks great, and is quick to set up.
Next we’re going to talk about limiting self-imposed distractions.
There is no point in blocking time and limiting daily appointments if you’re distracting yourself constantly during periods of heads-down work. Build the discipline of focus by limiting distractions into your day. Don’t give your time away to Instagram or Amazon (it just burns me up just thinking about how much of that time I’m handing over for free).
Here’s a quick list you can implement right now and every work day to optimize your focused time:
- Turn off text notifications on your laptop. It’s almost impossible not to respond when I see those messages pop up.
- Shut down your email application. Make sure to only open it during the times you have blocked for email.
- Put your phone in the other room. I do this a lot. If I’m not expecting a call, that thing is basically a distraction machine.
- Mute your chat client!
- Prep your team. Let them know you’re going heads down and to check your calendar for availability.
- Block time to surf the web. Addicted to surfing the internet like me? Block time for it and know you’ll get to it. Treat yourself, but earn it first.
- Prep that snack and drink before your start. You know you’re going to get distracted with a snack, which is why you should just have it there when your time block starts.
- Don’t block too much at one time. Make sure you’re realistic with how long your time blocks are.
Last point: Communicate changes to your team and colleagues as needed.
If you are concerned about resetting client and colleague expectations, create an auto-response to all emails that acknowledges receipt and let them know your window of response. Something like, “…I do my best to respond within 24 hours…”
Make sure your team is aware of these changes as well. Don’t frustrate them with guessing at your new availability or working structure — walk them through it! Encourage them to take the time to own their time. This exercise will benefit the entire team.
Finally, be flexible with yourself. You might find your email blocks don’t work where you’ve put them, or you’re more distracted than you anticipated during your heads-down blocks. Just move them! Experiment, be flexible, and enjoy this process of owning your time.
I recommend checking in on your time quarterly to ensure you’re sticking with it, owning it, and that necessary adjustments have been made along the way.
A quick summary of your final action steps:
- Set up your time blocks on your calendar based on how you want to spend your time.
- Set up appointment blocks on your calendar based on when you want to share your time with others.
- Decide what your self-imposed distractions are and mitigate them daily.
- Communicate changes to your colleagues and team as needed.
- Check in, adjust, and enjoy the process!
That concludes week one of the Summer Success Series! I hope you have a better sense of owning your time. Feel free to reply to this email with questions or feedback or schedule a 15-minute call using my calendar link below.
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