As creative business owners, we understand how important time management is and the role it plays in our creative endeavors. Our creativity only shines when we actually get our works done and out into the world.
But many of us have kids, other jobs, and other responsibilities. There is so much to get done in a week that it’s easy to get overwhelmed and fall behind. Luckily, there are a few proven time management principles that will help you have a more productive week.
1. Understand Your Goals and Priorities.
The first and most important time management principle is to understand your priorities for the week. Having a productive week is largely about knowing what you want to accomplish. To do that, you must set your expectations.
Productivity looks different for every person and every business. Without focus, you may do a lot of work during the week but not actually make progress towards your most important goals.
Sit down in advance and mindfully set your priorities. Decide what you want to get accomplished by the end of your work week and take time to visualize how those accomplishments will set you up for success in reaching your goals.
If you haven’t yet clarified your creative business goals, then THAT should be your first task. Check out my blog post: Setting Goals that Actually Motivate You, and follow the steps to figure out what you most want to accomplish in your business.
Once you have set your goals, break down each goal into actionable steps and prioritize those steps by time and importance. When setting your priorities for each week, focus on the step that comes next chronologically or will take you closest to meeting your larger goals.
The Pareto Principle
Apply the Pareto principle, or 80/20 rule, when setting your productivity priorities. The Pareto Principle states that 80% of results will come from 20% of the effort put in to any task. Figure out what the most effective 20% effort is in your business and prioritize those activities first.
2. Scheduled tasks get done. Unscheduled tasks get forgotten.
Building a schedule is an essential time management practice. But the number of people who don’t actually take the time to make a schedule for themselves is staggering.
By scheduling your time, you are solidifying priorities for your day and week. Without a schedule, it’s easy to get side-tracked or to spend more time than intended on the wrong tasks.
You can schedule your time using a planner or a desk calendar. However, I recommend also using a scheduling app that syncs between your devices.
I don’t keep my planner with me everywhere I go, but I do keep my phone with me. Tasks and appointments scheduled on my phone get done. Tasks marked only in my planner sometimes get forgotten.
When choosing a scheduling app, look for one that works well with your device and offers multiple views. You may also want a color-coding option, which makes your week-at-a-glance easy to understand.
My favorite is google calendar, but many people like Calendly and Todoist.
Whichever you choose, make a point to sit down and prepare for your week. I like to do this at the end of the previous week. If I wait until Monday, something inevitably comes up. By scheduling out the following week, you set yourself up for success before that week even starts.
3. Time Blocking saves time and energy.
When you schedule your tasks and appointments, use the time blocking method to get more accomplished in less time. This method is one of the most important time management skills you can learn.
What is Time Blocking?
Time blocking is the opposite of multitasking. It’s the practice of setting aside a specific time period or “block” to do similar tasks together. For example, writing all emails for the month at one time, or recording all video content for the week at once.
Some of the most productive people in the world use time blocking methods as a cornerstone for time management. Both Elon Musk and Bill Gates credit time blocking practices for their abilities to get more things accomplished than the average individual. Even Forbes Magazine talks about the benefits of time blocking on productivity.
Why is time blocking so effective?
There are two reasons blocking your schedule will help in managing your time effectively.
First, time blocking prevents the productivity lag that happens when you switch between tasks. According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, you can lose up to 40% of your productive time when forcing the brain to switch between tasks. That time can be even longer when doing highly immersive tasks.
The second reason is that time blocking helps you use the same equipment over a longer period, so set-up and prep time are cut down considerably.
For example, it takes about 5 minutes for me to turn on my computer and pull up the appropriate programs when I want to sit down to write a blog post. If I write 10 posts per month, then that is 50 minutes that I am spending just waiting on my computer to load.
If I instead write all 10 of those posts on the same day, I cut out 45 minutes of waiting.
Now think about how long it takes to set up the camera equipment for a product photo shoot or to make a YouTube video. Set up and take down can be 20 minutes per video, or longer.
However, you save most of that time when you only have to set the equipment up once.
How to time block
I find it helpful to time-block by week, by day, and by hour. First, I schedule all of my monthly tasks to get done by the week. Then, I assign each working day of the week a certain focus. Finally, I block my time on that day by 90 minute increments with a 10 to 15 minute break in between.
For example, if Monday is social media day, I will plan all of my social media posts for the next week on Monday. I will spend an hour and a half taking pictures or making graphics. Then spend the next hour and a half writing captions and researching hashtags. Finally, I finish up by uploading my drafts to my social media scheduling software and assigning them to the appropriate days in the following week.
If Tuesday is blog post day, I spend the first Tuesday of the month doing research for all the blog posts I will write for the following month. This includes keywords, headlines, and statistics or quotes I want to include.
The following Tuesday, I write my first draft of each of those blog posts. On the third Tuesday of the month, I make graphics for the blog itself and corresponding social media posts. The final Tuesday of the month, I edit the blog posts and put the drafts up on my website to be ready for publishing.
This method helps me segment my time, and accomplish more with the time I have.
4. A distracted mind is an unproductive mind.
Reducing distractions in one of the most obvious and yet most important time management principles. No one can work productively with constant distraction. See the section above about mental lag.
If you have a tendency to get lost in social media, or flip through Netflix instead of getting things done, remove those distractions before you start your day. You are the only one who can set yourself up for success in this area.
There are many apps that you can put on your phone and computer to keep distractions to a minimum. Use them if you need them.
But really, avoiding distractions comes down to intention and discipline. Silence your phone or turn it off completely. Unplug your Xbox or ask a roommate to change the Wi-Fi password until you finish working.
Whatever you have to do to keep yourself on task, do it. Distractions rob you of your productivity and thus rob you of success in meeting your goals. You deserve more than that, so do something about it.
5. Your time is only as valuable as the boundaries you have set for yourself and others.
Sometimes, other people are the biggest killer of your time management and productivity.
Have you ever sat down to get something done and gotten a call from your mom or best friend right at that moment? It’s almost like the universe knew you were about to focus and conspired to distract you. And, of course, because you love them, you answer the call and end up spending two hours talking instead of getting your work done.
This is an easy trap to fall into because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings by turning down a phone call or an invitation to coffee. We justify it to ourselves that it will only take a few moments or that it’s the polite thing to do.
Sometimes, we are even looking for an excuse to procrastinate on something we know will require a lot of mental energy. But in the end, that “polite” distraction is the reason you are not as productive as you could be.
Don’t let other people steal your productivity anymore. It’s time to set boundaries with your time.
To have a productive week, you must use your time wisely. Let your friends and family know in advance that you are going to be working during certain times of the day. Then, don’t make exceptions.
It’s going to be hard at first. Just remember, your time is valuable, but no one is going to treat it as such if you don’t.
Luckily, you can use those time blocking methods to help with this problem, too.
Schedule in specific blocks of time in your week to call your mom and meet your friend for coffee. Setting boundaries like this gives you back control of your own time and productivity while still letting your loved ones know that you care.
A productive week leads to a productive month, a productive year, and a productive life.
If you want to reach your goals and make progress on your dreams, practice these time management principles:
Set your priorities, schedule your time using time blocking methods, remove distractions, and set boundaries to protect the time you have.