One of the most common complaints that professionals have in the 21st century is how little time there is in a day. The truth of the matter is that the day hasn’t changed, but how we manage our time has. Losing time on frivolous activities is nothing new; however, with the advent of attention-stealing applications, we lose more time than ever before without even realizing it.
If you’re someone who wants to reclaim those lost hours, there are practical methods of doing so. However, they require understanding what you want to get out of your revamped time-management strategy. Fifteen members of Young Entrepreneur Council share their insight into what any busy professional can do to reclaim those lost hours every day and make each one more productive.
1. Do a Time Audit
A time audit lets you learn exactly how you’re spending every moment of the day. Doing this for a few days can show you some important things. You may be surprised to learn how much time you spend on social media, playing computer games or whatever your particular habits might be. The first step in making better use of time is identifying what you’re doing now. Then you can make changes.
2. Set Standards
What gets measured gets accomplished. Most of the work people do in a day has little or no importance when it is measured with their goals. So set monthly, weekly and daily standards and keep working toward them without any excuse. Also, it is vital to take short quick breaks at regular intervals. Research has shown that taking brief breaks can increase productivity considerably.
3. Stay Organized
Being on top of your time is critical for efficient output. I keep a scrolling to-do list and allocate the first part of my day to knocking off three to five of those items. I look at the balance of my day or week and allocate certain times for certain activities. I minimize small disruptions from my team by having weekly meetings about projects in progress and sales activity updates.
4. Get Focused and Create a System
I’m lost without solid systems, and I’m sure others are the same. The reason that I can be so productive in a week and keep all of the balls in the air (most of the time) is due to the solid systems that I’ve worked hard on and put in place. Once the systems are in place, you need to get really focused on maintaining and optimizing them on an ongoing basis.
5. Schedule Time for Yourself
Trying to stay productive 24/7 is often the most unproductive thing you can do. We all have our limits before our attention fades and we start to wander. It’s impossible to stay focused all day without any breaks, so schedule in some down time to relax, regroup or have a meal with friends. Then your focus will be energized and you will be able to finish the rest of the day’s tasks much faster.
6. Get A Head Start
While this seems like a no-brainer, when you have kids or pets that need your attention starting early in the morning, this can be difficult. However, getting a head start on the day such as getting up early, preparing meals or planning outfits for the day can really get you ahead. Perhaps even using the quiet time before everyone wakes up to go on a walk or meditate would be helpful, as well.
7. End Your Day Early
Many of us overwork. We tend to work late into the night and don’t have time for anything else. I think you can reclaim some of your lost time if you’re willing to end your workday at a certain point in the day—for example, 6:00 p.m., all work tasks stop. Not only will this give you more time in the day, but it encourages you to get more done while you are mentally clocked in.
8. Disconnect and Say ‘No’
In every task you do, disconnect from unnecessary things that are stopping you from accomplishing a certain task. Reward yourself for every task accomplished—have an allotted rest time to make that call, open your social media account, watch an episode, eat a snack. Don’t stall and claim a reward without finishing a task. In that way, you’ll work double-time to finish a task so you can claim a reward.
9. Put the Phone Down
Being on our phones is a huge time-suck. Maybe you are constantly looking at the news or are obsessed with social media. Maybe there is a game you like to turn to to distract yourself. It all adds up. There is more than enough time in the day and week. By putting your phone down, that becomes very clear.
10. Block Social Media
Social media really does take away precious hours that can otherwise go toward something productive. The problem is that we tell ourselves that we’re not actually using social media when we’re reading an article a friend shared or if we’re watching another “news” video. Blocking social media apps, all of them, will give you back hours a week to truly grow.
11. Cut Back on Emails
Emails can be a huge, unnecessary time-suck in the office. They interrupt your workday, distract you from priorities and are hugely inefficient at back-and-forth communications. Do what you can to instruct staff on email best practices. Only include relevant parties, be clear in your communication to minimize follow-ups and encourage face-to-face meetings for all back-and-forth discussions.
12. Decline Time-Wasting Activities
Business leaders are forever stuck in meetings, which can take up large swaths of your day. Some are critical, but many are not. When you’re invited to a meeting, ask, “Will it remove a roadblock? Is it essential for team cohesion?” If yes, go ahead. If not, decline it and find another way to have the discussion. Protect your time ruthlessly and reclaim it for higher value activities.
13. Delegate Tasks
The best leaders delegate and empower others at every opportunity. Yes, you might be the best sales person or engineer, but your organization can’t grow if one person executes everything. Embrace letting someone else manage the lower-level items so that you can keep your focus on high-value tasks. Also, pro-tip: don’t use any product by Facebook as it is deliberately designed to waste your time!
14. Practice Smart Multitasking
While multitasking can be problematic when trying to achieve a strong workflow, it is very useful when filling in idle time. For example, leverage your commute to catch up on any personal errands or work that you will need to do eventually anyway. If your personal goals involve something digital, chances are you can apply this to your idle time and eliminate time that might be wasted daily.
15. Find Your Most Productive Time
There are times of day when I’m two or three times more productive than others. In the mornings when I’m fresh, I can do a lot more work in a lot less time. Protect those times. Don’t lose them to meetings or water cooler conversations. You’ll get a lot more done this way, and you won’t find yourself at 4 p.m. wondering where the day went.
These answers are provided by Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. YEC members represent nearly every industry, generate billions of dollars in revenue each year and have created tens of thousands of jobs. Learn more at yec.co.