Feel like you’re too busy? You don’t have a time problem. You have a time management problem. These three strategies will help you take control of your schedule once and for all.
“Don’t confuse activity with productivity. Many people are simply busy being busy.” Robin Sharma
Productivity isn’t about doing more. It’s not about being more efficient. It’s about being more effective. Your goal is to have more impact with less work.
The following time management strategies aren’t original or profound. Very few things are. If they look familiar, it’s because they work.
But they’re probably not part of your daily practice. You need discipline to stick with any practices long enough to reap the benefits, even simple ones like these. It’s execution, not innovation, that matters.
What all three have in common: proactivity.
Personal trainers who falter, flounder, and eventually fail spend too much valuable time reacting to the business they’ve already built (or fallen into). From the minute they wake until their heads hit the pillow at the end of the day, they’re reacting to texts, emails, and social media comments and DMs—on top of things they do for a living, like train clients.
They work hard, but too often have too little to show for it.
You deserve better, and if you follow these three strategies, you’ll achieve it.
Time management strategy #1: Touch it once
It’s the start of your workday, and you look at your inbox. You start at the top with a quick question from a client about her program. You fire off an equally quick answer, and you’re on to the next one.
It’s someone offering you a guest post, even though you don’t have a blog. Delete. Done. You’re cruising.
The third one is a client who wants to reschedule a session. You don’t have your calendar open, so you mark the email as unread and move to the next. It’s about a referral, something you’ll need to give some thought before you reply. This one also gets marked as unread, as does the next one, and a few more after that.
When you look up at the clock, you see you’ve been doing this for 30 minutes, and the inbox is still cluttered with emails you opened but didn’t act on. And now your first client is about to walk in the door and you still have programs to write.
If this sounds familiar, the “touch it once” rule is for you. Don’t start a task unless you can finish it and check it off your list.
It’s easiest to illustrate with email, but it applies to anything—writing programs, responding to social media comments and DMs, paying bills …
Time management strategy #2: Use lists and folders
To make the “touch it once” rule work, you need a way to prioritize your emails so you can set aside enough time to deal with them properly. But even before you do that, you need to decide how important those emails are, relative to other parts of your business, and pick a time to deal with them.
That’s why you need folders and lists.
Most of the time, you can tell what an email’s about by looking at the subject line and/or the sender. With a quick scan of the inbox, you can sort new emails into topic-specific folders like these:
- Client inquiries
- Programs to write
- Stuff to read
- Content ideas
Now, instead of your email managing you, you’ve managed your email. When it’s time to read and reply to them, you can start with the folder that’s most important to your business, which is probably “client inquiries.” You won’t look at the “programs to write” emails until you’re focused and ready to give them your undivided attention.
Here’s another way to use folders to organize information and make better use of your time:
If you’re like me, you get excited when you find something interesting to read online. The problem is, those things usually come to your attention while you’re in the middle of something else. Tempting as it is, you know if you click the link and start reading, you’ll lose all your momentum on the task at hand.
My solution is a free app called Evernote. It’s installed on my browser and iPad and syncs across both devices. I have a folder within the app labeled “to read later.” When I come across something that piques my interest, I simply tap the Evernote clipper on my browser, which I’ve preset to save a simplified version of the article to that folder.
I block off time once a week to open the folder. When that time comes, I sit down with a cup of coffee, open my iPad, and read anything that still seems interesting.
It took less than five minutes to set up my system, and it saves me hours a week. Another benefit: When I do sit down to read, I can focus on the articles, rather than giving them half my attention when I’m trying to finish something else.
You already know how important it is to plan your day in advance. But what I’m talking about is more than a to-do list you scribble down while waiting for the caffeine to kick in.
Before going to sleep, write down three things to accomplish the next day. Only include tasks that will move your business forward. If any of them is too long to finish in one sitting (writing a chapter, studying for a new certification), budget a specific amount of time.
Then make a second list with three important but routine things you do to keep your business rolling—answering emails, writing programs, paying bills …
Time management strategy #3: Clear the calculator
“Clear the calculator” comes from Psycho-Cybernetics, by Maxwell Maltz, MD. It was originally published in 1960, but it’s even more relevant today, when all of us routinely work on several problems at once, without focusing completely on any of them. Multitasking isn’t good for anyone. You get less done, with lower quality and more stress.
One of my favorite tricks is to write down a short description of whatever task I’m working on at the moment. When I finish, I cross it out and write “done” next to it. Then I move on to the next.
It sounds silly. Obviously, I know it’s done, because it just happened a few seconds ago. But by telling myself it’s done, I clear it out of my head and begin the next task with a clean slate and my full attention.
Blown away by these three strategies? Of course not. And that’s exactly my point. The fact they’re simple and kind of obvious is why they work so well.
To make them work even better, I’ve put together two free downloads:
Free download: Time Management Strategies Summary
Free download: Time Management Strategies Worksheet