Taming time: An entrepreneur’s advice

The members of the Consultant Cafe Conversation pause to smile for a photo.Time is the most precious resource we have. If you ever foray into the world of self-employment, you become vividly aware of that fact. Suddenly you have to bill your work, often on an hourly basis. Each moment matters. Sandra Boone was kind enough to invite me to host a recent Cafe Conversation about what it’s like to start and run your own nonprofit consulting business. 

I was happy to accept, and although the great group of smart professionals who joined me asked about a range of topics, one theme that cropped up frequently was the importance of time management. So here are a few tips culled from our discussion and selected to be applicable to anyone in the work world, regardless of whether or not you're running your own business.

Tip 1: Accept that you can’t always be “on.”

This might seem like a strange tip for an article all about making the most of your time. Counterintuitive as it might be, it’s an important one. There’s research that shows the average adult has trouble sustaining focus on any task for more than 20-minutes at a time.

Many of us try to fight this tendency, only to find ourselves in a foggy fugue state, scrolling through Facebook, wondering how we got there again and unsure of how much time has passed. Instead of fighting the wandering mind, embrace it. Once you do, you can enhance your ability to concentrate by allowing yourself breaks. Let’s talk about how with the next tip.

Tip 2: Give yourself a break.

So if you can’t always be on, what’s the right mixture of focus and day-dreaming to get you through the day? The Pomodoro Technique provides a good method.

This approach to time management recommends chunking up your time into 25 minute blocks of productivity, interspersed between 5 minute blocks of free time. You can use a cute little tomato timer to do this (like the Italian founder of the “Pomodoro” or tomato method), or better yet, just use the timer on your phone. Pro Tip: The best thing to do during your 5 minute break is to get up, move your body, and look away from a screen for those minutes. (Easier said than done, I know. I have the Pinterest boards to prove it.)

Tip 3: Make a list, and then track your time.

This is one of the most powerful ways to start mastering your time. In addition to using the Pomodoro Technique, I also try to start each day by looking at my projects, prioritizing them, and then prioritizing the tasks I need to get done for each. Then, I do my best to get the stuff I don’t want to do out of the way first. I write down what I want to get done, and then track how many 25 minute blocks of time (or Pomodoros) it will take to get things done. 

Why start with the hard stuff? When you start tracking your time, it’s actually stress-relieving to see how often the stuff you’re dreading doesn’t take nearly as much time as you think they will. It will give you more confidence about doing these things in the future.

So those are three tips that I’ve developed to make better use of my work time.

What are your tricks for making sure you stay on task? I’d love to hear them. Please share them in the comments below or find me on twitter @cwalski.

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Please Note: Each blog is written by the individual author, and the views expressed may not be shared by all YNPN members.

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