As an entrepreneur for the better part of a decade, I know firsthand that spending time on my most valuable projects is important, but having enough time to get those projects done is a struggle.
We fill our day with meetings, social media, emails, and before we know it, the day’s almost over. Over the years, I’ve learned we could all use a little Zen in our life.
With that in mind, here are my favorite life hacks that will save any entrepreneur tons of time.
1. Schedule & plan posts
Social media is an amazing tool to get your brand and message out there, but posting can be time-consuming. I found myself spending way too much time on Facebook and Instagram trying to find articles to share and getting frustrated searching for the right words for my post.
The secret is to, one, have a specific time for posting every day and, two, make a plan on what to post before you do it.
If you have a time slot to start and finish your posts, you’re more likely to finish up quickly. Plus, planning out general ideas of posts for the week will save time as well as give your pages a good variety. At the beginning of the week, do a quick write up of a posting schedule: one day you’ll post about an event, another day you’ll share an article, and then the next day you’ll share pictures of your product.
2. Disable phone notifications
Push notifications ruin my life. Yours too, I bet.
I get it, it’s important to stay updated, but checking notifications over and over can be a distraction. Even checking email or voicemails can take a while, and if you check them too often you might run into trouble.
I like to turn my notifications off and use Freedom to keep myself focused and free of distraction. I also only check my email 4 times a day. I love giving myself a “break” by checking messages between big projects.
3. Use these email hacks
But what if checking your email isn’t an easy task for you? Maybe you get a ton of emails every hour, and no matter how fast you answer them, they keep coming in. That can be really stressful and can take a lot of time out of your day. Here are ways to fix this.
The first thing you should do is get an FAQ page for your site. Take note of the questions you get asked most often and answer them thoroughly on your site.
The second thing you should do is write up some canned responses. I hate to admit it, but I love using these. Even with that FAQ page, you’re going to get a lot of emails. Your best bet is to make some pre-planned responses.
Keep a Google Doc with some answers to questions you often get and friendly responses to customer concerns. You can always change them up and personalize them when it comes time to send one out, but at least you’ll have something to start with. Plus, this will give you time to make your canned responses perfect. Nothing’s worse than sending out a quick email with a spelling error.
Finally, get Boomerang. If you often work late or check your email at odd hours, Boomerang is great for sending emails later (during the work day). It’s also awesome if you see an important email but know you won't have time to answer it until the next day. It will take the email away and send it back to you when it’s a better time for you.
4. To do lists with priorities
To do lists are great, they keep me on track and organized, but sometimes the traditional style of list doesn’t cut it. It’s important to prioritize the items on your list that need to be done first, and as an avid list-maker, I’ve gotten to be an expert at this.
Instead of the traditional list, I make four columns: (1) what needs to be done now and is very important, (2) what is important but can wait, (3) what isn’t important but does need to be done now, and (4) what isn’t important and doesn’t need to be done right away.
Of course, you’ll want to work on the things that are most important and are urgent first, and then work from there.
For an example, maybe one unimportant but urgent task is designing flyers for a company party. They aren’t very important but they do need to go out soon. Depending on how much time you have, this might be a time to send an email invite instead. An unimportant and non-time sensitive thing would be something like getting your haircut. Unless you’re really worried about your professional appearance, a haircut can usually wait. That’s something to reschedule if needed.
Your list will help you figure out what is most important to you and what kind of tasks you are usually getting done first. It will help you manage your time better and keep your priorities straight.
5. Make your to do list before going to bed
If you can, make your to-do list before going to sleep. It usually only takes about ten minutes, and it helps so much. You’ll be able to start of your workday feeling prepared and confident. Plus, it will put your subconscious mind to work while you sleep. You’ll wake up with clarity, focus, and an idea of how your day will go.
6. Structuring meetings
Meetings were always my biggest problem when it came to time management. I found myself sitting in meetings for hours when it could have been a 20-minute chat.
The easiest way to fix this is to set time limits. If you’re the one setting a meeting up, don’t leave it open ended: give it a start and end time. Put the time on the meeting invitation, and stick to it. If you meet with the same people over and over, you’ll want them to know that you start, and end, your meetings on time.
But even if you have an idea of when the meeting will end, make sure you accomplish what you want. Outline the purpose of the meeting clearly, and write down points that you need to cover. Then, send out those goals to everyone else. It will help you all stay on topic.
7. Figure out how long tasks take you
Whenever I want to make healthier food choices, I write down what I eat throughout the day. I’m always surprised at the patterns I find and it helps me make better choices. It’s the same with time management. I use Toggl that is integrated into Asana to see exactly what I do at certain times of the day: when I check my phone, how long it takes to complete a task, everything. It’s the best way to identify where you’re losing time, how long tasks normally take you, and figure out how to fix it.
8. Give yourself more time than you need
This might seem counter productive (especially now that you’ve figured out exactly how long a task takes). However, when I feel really stressed or overwhelmed, this trick never fails me.
When you plan out your days, give yourself some wiggle room with each of your tasks. If you know a task will probably take you 30 minutes, give yourself 40. When you have a little extra time you’ll feel like you can take the extra minute or two to look over your work and make sure it all looks good.
You’ll feel less stressed throughout your day if you don’t have a jam-packed schedule. Plus, if a client expects something at a certain time, and they get it a little early, you’ll look awesome.
If you’re worried you won’t get enough done in a day, remember, everyone doesn’t expect you to do everything all at once, and the truth is, you can’t. If you put too many things on your schedule you’ll just end up getting frustrated.
It’s better for your moral to complete your whole list than to be stuck looking at a half-finished list at the end of the day. There are usually at least a few tasks that don’t need to be done ASAP, so start with what you need to do and go from there.
9. Organize your desk
Not only is clutter distracting and stress-inducing, but it can really get in your way of work. I can’t stand it when I lose a piece of paper or a letter, so I always keep my workspace super organized and clean. It helps me feel confident to know where everything is, and I don’t spend time in a panic, looking for stuff when I need it.
10. Exercise in the morning
A little exercise can do wonders for a busy entrepreneur. It helps eliminate stress, improve your mood, and will improve your productivity. Plus, exercising in the morning will start your day off right. It doesn’t have to be rigorous, either. I love taking my dogs for a walk after breakfast. It puts me in a good mood, gets my blood flowing, and keeps me (and my dogs) healthy.
11. Start with something challenging
Someone once told me to start the day with my least favorite task, but I’ve been the most productive when I start with my most challenging task. I find that if I have a clear head, I can wrap my head around a difficult problem easier. I save my easier tasks for the end of the day when I’m tired.
But, this might not work for everyone. I know a lot of entrepreneurs who have to start with something fun and simple. It helps them ease into work and get their head back into the game. Know what works best for you, and stick to it.If you start your morning off well, the rest of your day will go better.
12. Breaking down tasks
Some tasks are too big (and too daunting) for any part of the day. When tasks still seem too daunting, break them down. It can feel intimidating to look at a big project and you might want to put it off. Cutting it into smaller sections will help you get through it.
13. Know when to multitask
Multitasking can be tricky. It can actually account for productivity loss and you might end up with less-than-perfect work because you didn’t focus on one task completely. However, there are times when multitasking is ideal.
Find time in your day when you don’t have to think very much about what you’re doing, and try multitasking then. If you don’t drive yourself to the office, you can definitely catch up on work in your Uber or on the train. You can answer emails when you’re at the gym or waiting in the doctor’s office. The key to multitasking is to focus on using your time better and not overwhelming yourself.
14. Keep a journal
Keeping a journal is great for letting out your feelings in a safe place, but it’s also perfect for tracking your progress and work habits.
I use a Passion Planner as my journal. In my journal, I like to make a short list of things I accomplished that day and think about what I could work on. I usually don’t look back on my journal very often, but just taking the time to reflect on my day, and my week, is very helpful. Learning from my mistakes helps me not make them in the future and it saves me lots of effort and time.
15. Don’t obsess about mistakes
One of the best things you can do is learn how to move on from a problem. I used to spend a lot of time beating myself up over every mistake and spending hours on finding ways to avoid them. While it’s good to try to find solutions, spending too much time on one issue can throw the rest of your day off-track. Sometimes things go wrong, but if you can learn to accept your mistake and move on, you’ll get back on track faster.
Being an entrepreneur is hard work, and with so many things to do in a day, it can be hard to manage your time. With lots of hard work, and plenty of trial and error, I’ve found some amazing tricks to get me through my workday. While I know that all of my tips will not be ideal for everyone (every entrepreneur is different), I hope they’ll help you get closer to your best, most time-efficient self.