If you’re chronically busy, your working life can feel like a circus: acts and performers shifting around in a blur, a hungry tiger looming over your shoulder and a hot spotlight shining down on you alone. With so much going on, one mistake can cause the whole thing to collapse.
It’s a lot of pressure being a ringmaster, which you know if you’re a business owner or project manager. You make important decisions, delegate tasks, decide which projects to accept and generally make sure your organization’s show — whatever it may be — runs smoothly.
But what do you do when there’s so much on your plate that things start to spin out of control? There aren’t enough hours in a day to manage everything, but what can you cut out?
If you’re struggling to juggle tasks, you need to take a serious look at the way you are organizing your time. By defining your goals and priorities, planning well and cutting out unnecessary distractions, you can make your business more productive and, by extension, more successful.
Though your working life may continue to appear hectic from the outside, by using a few essential time management strategies, it is possible to get almost everything under your control.
Set Well-Defined Goals
It’s impossible to get anything done if you don’t know what you’re doing. Just as you wouldn’t start driving without a destination, you need to set your goals before you start working. Once you have well-defined, achievable goals, you’ll be able to allocate your time more effectively.
When setting goals, make sure they meet the SMART guidelines — that is, your goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Productivity gurus swear by this strategy, and they are correct to suggest that setting these sorts of goals improves time management.
The measurable and timely goal requirements are directly linked to time efficiency because they clearly establish what you need to deliver and when. When you remember the end product and deadline, it becomes easier to focus your efforts on tasks that will help you accomplish your goals.
If you were the ringmaster of a traveling circus, for example, a SMART goal might be “to book shows in 20 different states by 2020.” Notice how this goal is much more attainable than the goal “to be the country’s best traveling circus.” Though you might ultimately want your business to be “the best,” setting goals is how you decide what defines “the best” and how you’ll get there.
Come up With a Plan
Once you have a few long-term and short-term SMART goals, you need to figure out how you’re going to execute them. Part of effective time management involves breaking up larger goals into steps to make a realistic plan.
Break up every goal into a list of tasks, bite-sized goals you can ideally tackle in one sitting. Then, assign and set individual deadlines for the tasks. These tasks together should lead up to the accomplishment of a larger goal.
Once you have a plan, you can delegate tasks to the people who will be able to accomplish them the fastest. By having a goal-oriented plan, you can ensure every member of your group knows what they should be doing at all times to help your business progress.
Stop Taking on More than You Can Handle
One of the most common traps busy people fall into is taking on too many projects at once. Though you might feel pressured to tackle more and more as your business’ success grows, remember this can only lead to chaos. Unless you have infinite arms, you can’t keep every plate in the world spinning without expecting to drop at least a few.
To avoid wasting valuable time on projects you’ll eventually have to abandon, only agree to take on new projects that lead directly to your goals. If people are constantly asking you to do things that don’t benefit you in the long run, you might need to learn to say “no.” Coincidentally, this is also a good way to avoid excessive stress and burnout.
Just as a ringmaster can’t hire every performer who comes to auditions, your business can’t accept every request you receive, as much as you might want to. Implementing productive strategies for your business means prioritizing projects within reason. You need to make selections wisely to make sure your hard work adds up to your desired outcome.
Get Your Priorities Straight
When you schedule your work days, you need to have a good handle on your priorities if you want to make the best use of your time. One way to prioritize tasks is to use economist Vilfredo Pareto’s 80-20 rule, which states 80 percent of a reward is the result of only 20 percent of the work.
This rule is great news if you’re looking to make efficient progress, because it means to reap the rewards of your work, you only really need to focus on the most important 20 percent of any given project. The hard part, however, is deciding which 20 percent that is.
At ClickUp, we judge how to build new features based on the Pareto Principle. We only create new features if we think that 80% of teams would use them at some point.
When deciding where to spend the bulk of your time, consider which tasks will move you closest to your goals and budget more time for them. While answering emails might be a necessary evil, you should use the majority of your time working on tasks that are more important to your mission.
For example, consider the traveling circus metaphor from before. To meet the goal of booking shows in 20 states, a smart ringmaster would want to spend more time reaching out to venues than recruiting new performers, since the former is more closely related to the goal than the latter. Make sure you’re making time in your workday to tackle the projects that will propel you forward.
Manage Your Team the Way You Manage Yourself
For your business to be a stunning success, you need everyone to be at their best. High productivity requires workers to manage their time effectively throughout the organization.
If you’re a project manager or business owner, it’s your job to make sure your employees are using their time as wisely as you are. Communicate your organization’s goals clearly to everyone involved and make sure your employees know those tasks come first. That helps improve coordination and enables your team to meet goals faster.
Additionally, seek out inefficiencies in your process. Make sure teams work together productively, and cut out unnecessary steps when possible.
In the end, time management for any enterprise is an exercise in balance and coordination. Like a circus act, the individual components of day-to-day work may appear chaotic. But led by the right person, the moving parts can coalesce into a performance worthy of applause.
When you meet a big goal using time management skills, congratulate your team, take a bow — and then move on to the next one.
Kayla Matthews is a tech journalist and writer. Find her work at productivitybytes.com