You are your own boss – so how best to manage your time?

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This comes up frequently with clients. They’ve taken the leap, they’ve started their own business, or they might have taken up full time study. Either way they have become their own time managers – and that can be hard! Clients have often read up on ‘time management’ before coming to me. They have a few rules which they try to stick to such as having a 10-email inbox or having segmented to do lists. My view is – these are outdated, and don’t account for the individual’s particular ways of working.

Clients come to me saying that they have to wear all hats. They are the CEO, they are the FD, they are their own marketing manager. And some days they feel like they have no structure, or they don’t know what they have achieved. Or a whole week can go by focusing on only the operational parts of the business, without any strategic business development.

Here are some of the questions I ask my clients.

What does a perfect day or week look like to you? We map out best spent day, using a pie chart or another visual chart. We compare it to how their time is being used today and see what is draining their time.

When do you lose track of time? This can be a great indicator of your natural strengths but also your time weaknesses. Do you love detail, so much so that you might spend too long composing an email that didn’t require that much attention? And does this stop you from having time set aside for some of your bigger picture thinking?  Once we have worked out what your favourite and worst types of work are, we consider positioning these at times of day which maximise your energy. Having a lul? treat yourself to one of your favourite types of task. All fired up? Take yourself somewhere distraction free and that gets your higher brain functioning – we always manage to find somewhere like this, even if my clients tell me at first that there is nowhere. Sometimes clients are uncomfortable moving out of their usual workspace, particularly if the team will be surprised by this. One of the things that helps them do it is realising that the results will speak for themselves.

What is your ritual for getting ‘into the mood’ for doing high quality work? I would often turn up to my art studio after a day at work feeling totally drained and uncreative. I would put my music on, started sorting through my brushes, then started mixing paint and working on a live piece rather than starting from scratch. This was my ‘warm up’. I ask clients what their rituals might be for getting their heads into gear, or to think back to a time when they were doing this without naming it as their ritual. For one client, this involved doing a one minute clear up of their desk, getting a cup of water, and seeing their alpine screen saver. I asked what broke the ritual, and for them this was reading an email that put them in a worried or negative mood, so we accounted for this in the ritual.

What is the thing that you need to do that could progress your business / study / work the most? Often clarifying this takes a lot of discussion with clients. It requires clarity over where you want your business to go or what you want to achieve in your work or study.  For one client, it was devoting the time to winning a big contract, but he wasn’t sure of the approach so diverted himself with more operational matters. For a student client, we identified that it was getting repeated practice of writing up cases, but it was a task she put off because she felt it needed to be perfect before submission, resulting in an ‘all or nothing’ approach.

Good luck in owning your time – let me know how it goes!

*all examples have been anonymised and included with client’s permission.

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