You have a new client meeting today.
You have high hopes for the new opportunity and your visions of how this will help your business keep growing and morphing, until you have a vision of yourself working exactly the way you always hoped it would be.
And then you remember the pile of work that you have to do after that client meeting – the literal pile that holds its standard place on your desk. Those papers that need to be filed, those receipts you’ve been holding onto in order to adjust your financial spreadsheets, and that random credit card offer you got three weeks ago and simply keep forgetting to deconstruct.
Your to-do list is an overwhelming jumble of complete and incomplete, there’s one on there that you can’t quite remember your intentions for, and the rest you look at and feel unbridled anxiety because they desperately need to be done and you haven’t gotten things straight to help get anything finished by the standards to which you hold yourself.
This used to be me. My total lack of systems jumbled everything together into absolute chaos, leaving me in over my head. I’ve learned, over a long period of time, that organization can cover my weaknesses, helping me to learn and grow, rather than flounder. With a little organization, my work process became more streamlined and accessible.
Here are three tips I used to maximize my efficiency.
- Use (and plan) your time wisely.
This phrase is annoying, I know. I heard it from my mom all the time while I was little, and for a long time I didn’t know exactly what it meant or how to do it. Through trial and error I’ve learned a couple things that help me to stay on target with my time.
When I feel overwhelmed, one of the first things I do is write a to-do list. This helps me get everything out of my head so that it’s not floating out there somewhere in space, but it’s somewhere concrete. Once all of my tasks are recorded I number them by priority, then transfer them to a second list that I can use as a reference while I’m working.
If you’re feeling ambitious, consider multiple lists, one for the day, one for the week, and one for the month. These serve not simply as a to-do list, but also as goals, providing something to aim for and helping to hold onto the big picture.
One suggestion I have for your daily to-do lists is not to cram them full of everything that needs to get done. Put a manageable amount of work on them or they will be intimidating and impossible. Finishing all of the work on your list is an amazing accomplishment, and if it’s overloaded you’ll deny yourself the privilege of checking everything off. Instead, consider planning ahead with your to-do list for the next day, and if you finish all of the work you were intending for today, you can work ahead.
The last bit of advice I have for time management is to treat your day like a workday, starting and ending at pre-planned times. Part of the appeal of running a business is often its flexibility, but structure is helpful to give a sense of intention to the day, as well as giving you a cut-off point to relax and regroup for the next day of work. Without some sort of routine you may find yourself feeling constantly guilty for work not being done when, in reality, breaks help you recharge and function more efficiently.
So, to recap, my suggestions for managing time would be to create organized lists of what needs to be done, to structure them in a way that gives you opportunities to achieve success, and to create a regular work schedule for yourself that gives ample time to recharge and think about things other than work.
- Organize your space.
It can be hard to think in the midst of a chaotic space, whether physical or digital. That’s why I suggest keeping everything as organized as possible in your space. Remember that this looks different for everyone! Some people like to have a methodical madness that makes sense to them, while others systemize with tried and true methods. Either works. Just realize that if you can’t find or keep track of items you may generate some extra work for yourself in the time you spend looking for them and trying to recreate the lost ones.
In physical space, go with what works for you. Are you most productive in a clean space? Organize in a way that makes it easy to stay organized. Do you like to have clutter on your desk? Try categorizing the clutter to make it simple to find and keep track of things.
It can be harder to get away with chaos in digital files. Things go missing, and simply by having a plan for naming conventions and file structures you can minimize this risk. To create a file structure, try zooming all the way out to the basics. Are there several different services your business provides? Split those into their own categories and divide projects into those. Or if you have a lot of projects for repeat clients, create folders for them, keeping all of their projects in one centralized location.
Getting into the habit of organizing can be difficult, but by keeping on top of everything you will save yourself the heartache and extra work of finding or replacing missing pieces.
- Find apps that help you in your process (and stick to them).
There are so many apps available to streamline your workflow, so before committing to one try to be aware of your options. Trello, Toggl, and Google Calendar are all tried and true, and have been successfully used by many. I personally use Trello, Toggl, and Apple’s built-in Notes app to keep track of my work, and find that they have ample options to cover everything I need. If you like keeping things analog, consider trying a bullet journal – they’re easy to maintain and straight-forward to learn – and they also give that satisfying opportunity to take a pen and physically cross things off a list.
With such a broad array of options it’s no trouble to find good apps, but try not to have too many of them. The more information you can keep in one place the better, keeping your browser to a minimum on tabs and reducing the need to jump from app to app to collect necessary information.
If you’re having trouble keeping track of all the apps and websites you use, create a bookmark folder exclusively for everything you use and put it all in there. That makes it both simple to access and remember!
These are all big changes to make, but once you start implementing it’s not hard to stick with them. If it’s intimidating to start, make little changes, eventually adding more and more organization to your system. It’s a process, so take your time, and don’t worry if it takes a little while to optimize and work out the kinks.
So get organized! It will save enormous amounts of time, and not only help you to get all the work done that you can, but also make time for you to kick back and relax.