Updated: May 20, 2022
Time Management: Your Stretchy Schedule
I love my work. But, just like in a marriage, you can’t take that love for granted. You need to take care of the relationship. And I’m…a little sloppy with my time management skills.
In fact, if my work and I were going to couple’s counseling, this would definitely be our hot topic. So it feels weird giving advice on it.
But time management is sooooo important - for coaches, consultants, and entrepreneurs of all stripes. So I’m facing my time management struggles. You should too.
The truth is business owners are at risk when we insist on stretching our schedule beyond its boundaries.
The anecdotes related to entrepreneurial burnout - and far worse - are too many to separate. It can seem like a built-in feature of your mission. The good news is - it’s not.
Studies suggest that some entrepreneurs, the ones who actively seek out solutions, do really well at navigating time stress. In fact, entrepreneurs who “leverag[e] problem-focused coping” actually end up with lower stress levels than your average nine-to-fiver.
But you gotta do the prep work.
So chins up. We can do this. I’m learning too. This is what Brave Business ownership is all about - doing the prep work so we can live our ideal life.
In this blog we’re going to discuss:
The importance of business hours
The “ahhhh” effect of truly clocking out
How to navigate the demands of creative work
What to do when there really is no time.
Let’s get on it.
Setting (and Keeping) Business Hours
The obvious place to start with time management is scheduling. I know, duh.
But instead of calling it scheduling - which usually just means a to-do list with times in the margins - I want to talk Business Hours instead.
When you work for yourself - every problem is yours. That means the “doors” stay open on your business as long as your brain ruminates on the day’s issues. If that open project keeps you up until 3 am - guess what - those are your business hours.
But you’re not 7-11. You're not a roadside waffle house. And 24/7 is not time management or even good business. You need true-to-life business hours.
And, no, it doesn’t count if you just post hours on your website, but work all the time anyway.
First things first:
Demote the To-Do List - Here’s the thing, if you consider work in terms of your to-do list, you will never ever ever ever be done. Ever. There is always one more thing to do. No finish line.
To-Do lists are lethal to time management.
Don’t worry. I’m not going to make you give up your precious list, but it’s not a day builder. Feel free to pull priorities from it and jot things down so you don’t forget. But it’s not the boss of you.
Think of your to-do list as an office tool - like the stapler or the mousepad. When the day is done, so are you, and so is the list. Leave it at your desk with the mousepad.
Pick Hours that Make Sense for You - Time management for coaches, consultants, and free-roaming entrepreneurs doesn’t require “bankers hours. So choose business hours that work for you.
If you’re a late riser or you have to get the kids to school first, start your day at 10. It’s fine. But keep that hour holy.
Time management needs to be realistic and relevant to your situation or you’ll end up not respecting the hours at all.
Clock Out Officially - Author, professor, and Deep Work guru Cal Newport is famous for his shut-down routine. He came up with it years ago to combat his anxiety.
When it was time to shut down for the day, he would “say a quick mantra to officially
shut down [his] scheduling for the day...this was ‘schedule shut down complete.’
The words themselves don’t really matter. It doesn’t even have to be words.
Clocking out can be turning off your computer, stretching, and washing your coffee cup. It can be changing your clothes. (Remember Mr. Rogers?) It can be taking the dog out.
Whatever works for you, do something official to end your day. Do it the same way every time. Tell your body and mind that you’re shutting the door on your office, even if that office is just a desk in the kitchen.
Creative Work = The Buffer
What do you do at work? I don’t mean your job title. I mean…what do you actually do?
Do you maintain your company’s Instagram page?
Are you spearheading a campaign to keep your local parks clean?
Are you designing offers? Comforting clients? Problem-solving some gap?
Then I hate to break it to you, but you do creative work.
Creative doesn’t just mean you’re a fashion designer or you work in acrylics. Creative means that you combine elements, knowledge, and resources to make some sort of change.
Creative work is super exciting. It’s also a real tax on the brain and nervous system.
So, for you, time management means you need to insert The Buffer.
The Buffer is not a gizmo sold on late-night TV. It’s a time management cushion that creates space for your creative brain to work properly.
See, when we create time management systems, we start with good intentions. But it degrades pretty quickly into scheduling every single solitary moment that we have.
But tight schedules are a crisis for excellence, creativity, and - ironically - for efficiency.
“An important way to prioritize time management is to build in a few hours of unstructured time each week,” warns Forbes.com, “This means time where there’s no agenda or task to complete. Instead, it’s time to think, reflect, and relax. The result is that brain bandwidth can recharge, reducing the likelihood of making mistakes.”
Time buffers built around your creative work not only save you from the dreaded burnout, but are necessary to spark imagination, sharpen problem-solving, and re-orient your perspective on standing issues.
So don’t go straight from a meeting into writing a LinkedIn post. Buffer your creative work with a walk, a nap, talking with a friend. Even just some deep breathing.
Learn to redefine these buffers as real work. Not as a cheat or being lazy.
Buffers are a cleaner, faster way to drop into a creative process. That’s effective time management.
Time Management or Time Suck
I can hear you from here. "That’s easy for you to say, Katie. But things have to get done!"
Okay. Yes. But time management is about prioritizing and perspective. It’s about what’s essential and what needs to be tossed out.
Time management is about, well, management - not just plugging holes. Which is - I bet - what you’re doing.
But okay, yes - things do have to get done. So let’s talk some time management strategies that will get everything past the finish line.
You need to run to the store. In 5 seconds you can get in your car, buckle your seat belt, check your mirrors, start the car. It’s a routine
You don’t think to do it anymore. It’s automatic. You fly through the steps quickly, no fuss, no weighing options. Super efficient.
But a lot of us start our lives as entrepreneurs solving problems as we go. We sort of rig something “just for now” and never travel back to clean it up.
My guess is you have a lot of these quick fixes that are killing your workday. Instead of time management, you have time management’s evil twin - Time Suck masquerading as a system.
So take a minute. Step back and look at your life and work. What can be tightened up? What steps are a waste? What things make sense batched together? And when should you do them?
Can you limit emails to two scheduled times a day, instead of responding to them every five minutes? Can you do all your media posts at once on Sunday and schedule them for the whole week? Can you do all your accounting on the 15th of each month?
If you’re a coach or a consultant, you’re dealing with a workload that will try to push you toward an erratic schedule. Don't let it. You can do time management while creating some stability simply by stacking routines in your week.
Just figure out the cleanest way to get things done, dump what’s extra, and then do it the same way, the same day - every time. It will, magically, feel like you’ve been given extra hours and extra brain cells.
And look, if something can be turned into a routine, it might be something you can outsource.
When there’s too much to handle within business hours - don’t extend your hours. Get help. It’s time to delegate.
The magic of a virtual assistant, an online business manager, an accountant. These are people running their own service-based businesses. Their whole model revolves around getting your extra things done.
I know it feels weird for some of you. But it’s impossible to address time management properly if you don’t have enough hands to cover the jobs. So suck it up and let some work go.
Remember, there are parts of your business that only you can do. You are the face, vision, and voice of your business. You’re not the accountant. Even if you are an accountant.
It’s what can’t be duplicated that you should attend to yourself.
When you start a business, time management is wobbly because there’s so much learning and scrounging to figure things out. I get it.
But you didn’t start your business with the dream of a meltdown. You didn’t plan to work 24/7 and hate your life.
So you…and, yes, I …need to get a handle on this precious thing called Time. Because Time is just code for Your Precious Life. And that’s an asset that’s irreplaceable.
Wondering about how to set boundaries? I got you covered in Brave Biz Lab, free coaching with a new theme each month.