3 Top Time Management Tools and How They Help You Stay Organized

Time Management Weekly PlannerSometimes we get the feeling that it’s almost impossible to manage our time. Getting a handle on time management seems like it’s actually a time waster! Enter time management tools. There are all kinds of online tools and software programs that automate everything for you. All you have to do is set them up, plug in the info they need, and they’ll take it from there. Here are three great tools that are a big help to lots of folks who work at home.

Evernote

Evernote offers a huge variety of functions. You can use it to jot notes, create to-do lists, capture screens, bookmark websites, take pictures, record audio, and manage passwords. One of the cool things about this program is that it automatically saves everything you do so that you don’t have to do it manually or worry about losing data.

Evernote is a Web-based application so you can access it anywhere. It automatically synchronizes everything across platforms, which means that you can share data using your PC, laptop, and smartphone.

The program also makes it easy to share your notes and data with other people. There’s a simple share button that lets you do it. This is a useful tool if you have staff or a virtual assistant that you’re working with.

It’s free to use the basic Evernote program but if you don’t mind paying $50 a year, you get the Premium membership which gives you 1 GB of space. I have Evernote, and I’m seeing if it fits my business operations.

Google Calendar

Google offers its own version of pretty much everything. Google Calendar is a free online calendar that’s easy to use for organizing your schedule and sharing it with other users. Like Evernote, it’s a web-based program so you can access it anywhere.

The simplicity is really what makes Google Calendar so popular. The interface is easy to use. You just click on the month, day, year or task and you can easily navigate. If you’ve already got your schedule laid out somewhere else, you can import it using a number of formats including Microsoft Outlook, Yahoo Calendar, iCal or SMS. One of the things people love about this application is that it lets you color code your schedule so that you can take it in at a glance.

Like every other product this search engine giant produces, Google Calendar is automatically integrated with all things Google through a bar at the top of the screen. You can use it with documents, spreadsheets, Google Plus and your Gmail. It can also be easily configured to send alerts to your email account.

As you know, I actively support Christina Hills and her Website Creation Workshop (full disclosure, I’m also an affiliate, but that’s incidental… I really respect her program). She uses Google Calendars each time she is setting up her next class (she runs them four times a year) to keep all of us who support and promote her up to date on the class schedule… works well.

The only downside of Google Calendar is that it’s not as comprehensive as other programs. It’s missing some of the common features you’d expect to find, like prioritized to-do lists.

Toodledo

Toodledo is the most fully customizable time management program on the market. You can get it to do virtually anything, but the only downside is that it’s not quite as easy to figure out. It’s not intuitive for everybody and it may take you a while to learn, especially if you’ve never used a time management software program before.

The interface isn’t pretty but it’s highly functional (and like everything else about the program, customizable). The usability is great; you don’t have to save your changes or reload the page to see the changes you made. Just click and the change is made.

A unique feature in Toodledo is its advanced search function. You can search your tasks, calendar and other data using just about any parameters you can imagine. The program saves your searches so you can easily go back and find something you were looking at a few days previously. All of this is easy to do with a minimum of clicks.

I just found Toodledo when researching this post, and I signed up for a no charge account in addition to my Evernote account to see which fits my business model. I’ll let you know in the future.

I’m going to make an exception to the no charge concept here and add one more program that, from my experience, is a really great time management tool. It’s called, Priority Management, and I went through their class when I was at Minolta – and I still use some of their tools and techniques today even though I don’t actively maintain the program. As you read through the various articles I’ve posted on Time Management over the years, many of the techniques I recommend are ones I learned in the Priority Management program, so I think it’s well worth checking out – and no, I don’t get a commission for recommending it.

In addition to Priority Management, all three of the no charge options are well worth checking out, but before you invest a lot of time in one, give them all a test drive. All of these programs take a little time to customize and get used to, so make sure it’s what you really want before you start leaning heavily on them.

DanSig-02


Time Management – Saying No When We Need To

7K_Intro_02One of the hardest things to learn in time management is how – and when – to say no.

As communicators, we always want to be helpful and almost feel that we owe it to others when they need something. The problem is that this time spent helping others often takes away from the things we really should be doing for our business’ success. Saying no doesn’t mean cutting yourself off from them or denying the help they need; as good time management practice, it just means setting boundaries, and earning respect for those boundaries, so that our time doesn’t disappear. People who request our time need to understand that when we say no, they know that we mean it and that we’d really like to help… but at THIS time, we just CAN’T. What I’ve always found is that when I find ways to accommodate these kinds of requests as often as possible, then, when I have to say NO, I get the respect for my time that I need.

The Truth about Saying No

So what happens when you always say ‘yes’ to others? You benefit them but often it’s at the cost of your own well-being. You can end up burned out and stressed. When this happens too much, it’s impossible to be productive.

But when we’re able to say no to others, this shows that we value our time. It sets a value that others recognize; and when we value our time, others will too.

It’s important to realize that there’s nothing rude or disagreeable about declining a request for your time. When you say no, you’re simply being honest with them. You can’t be truly helpful to people if you don’t really have the time to spare… and helping them would force you to not give proper attention to their work, but your own work will probably suffer also.

Best Way to Say No?

Be brief, direct and honest and don’t leave it open to debate. We need to tell the requester why we’re unable to help… but keep it simple. For example, say that you’re overloaded right at the moment and you wouldn’t be able to give their request the attention it deserves.

A great way to say no effectively is to offer the person a time to talk about it later. Tell them that you can’t do it now but you’d be happy to do it when you’re not so bogged down. As I said above, this shows your willingness to help them even though it’s impossible at the moment. Set a specific time, schedule it, and keep to that schedule… but again, be honest. Don’t overextend your future schedule!

If needed, we can be a bit more vague by telling them you’ll think about it and get back to them. But only say this if you really will consider helping them. Honesty, always honesty! Don’t use an empty promise just to get someone to leave you alone. Giving a vague time frame is often the most stress relieving way to handle a request when you’re really overwhelmed with work.

Another effective technique is to be a manager and delegate! If you have the resources available, like freelancers or virtual assistants, accept the challenge and hand it off to someone else – you’re the hero for getting it done, and you haven’t put yourself behind on the rest of your work. The nice thing about this option is that’s how we make ourselves indispensable… we get known as the people who get things done!

And If They’re Not Okay With Your Answer?

All these tactics are a piece of cake when the person on the other end says ‘okay.’ But what if they press you to explain more or try to get you to change your mind? It will take a bit of experience to learn how to handle these situations, but just remember that you don’t have to give them every detail of what you’re doing – that’s your business, not theirs. And of course, if you explain, they’ll just use your explanation to try to wheedle your time out of you – isn’t that what you would do? That’s bad time management practice. Just tell them that you’re too busy at the moment and leave it at that. You don’t owe anyone and explanation unless it’s your direct boss… but if you’ve sincerely tried to meet the interruption challenge, you’ll be the winner.

DanSig-02


Time Management – When Life Interrupts Your Work

Time Management Child ScrapeIt’s always important in time management to stay on task and be as productive as possible, but here’s an idea that goes against common wisdom – when life interrupts your work, let it. Go with the flow and don’t try to fight it. When your kids need you or there’s a sudden household emergency, you’re much better off setting your work aside and coming back to it later.

You’re probably thinking – ‘But what about getting stuff done?’ It’s true that if you let little things distract you from your work, your productivity will suffer. But here’s how you strike the right balance between getting things done and getting interrupted.

Your Detailed Schedule

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, you start each day with the tasks you scheduled the night before. You decided how much time you’re going to spend on each task and when you’re going to do it. Stick to this schedule as much as you can but be a bit flexible. Be willing to step off schedule when you need to.

While you’re driven to get work done and push yourself to be productive, you also need patience and the willingness to stop when you need to. When you get back to the task later, you’ll have more focus for it than if you’d tried to work through the interruption.

Prioritize in Preparation for Snags

What may happen is that there will be a task or two that you don’t get to. This is why it’s important to prioritize. The best way to do this is to create categories. These categories should be for things that have to be done, things that should be done, and things that can just as easily be skipped. Another way to prioritize is to start with the tasks that require the most concentration and brainpower. The tasks that don’t require as much can be saved for later in the day when you might be trying to get your focus back after an interruption.

When you do have to skip tasks because of your interruptions, decide when you’re going to finish them. Put them onto another day’s schedule and be realistic about when they’ll get done.

Keep an Interruption Log

It’s good to keep track of your interruptions. Keeping an interruption log reveals to you exactly how much time is getting wasted. You might feel like your kids are stopping you from working all day long, but if you actually log your interruptions, you’ll see that they’re only taking minutes of your working time.

Write down each interruption and how long it took you to resolve it. There’s no reason to be detailed about it; after all, you don’t want to take up more of your precious work time! Just jot down a quick note and review at the end of the day.

Schedule Your Interruptions

A great way to deal with interruptions is to add an hour of ‘distraction time’ to your day. If you plan to work 8 hours today, make it 9. This gives you an hour of leeway for getting stuck in traffic or cleaning up emergency spills. When you have plenty of time set aside in your schedule, your interruptions become nothing more than breaks in your working day.

The important thing is to be flexible. Proper planning is essential, but don’t be overly rigid about it. When you’re inflexible, your distractions cause stress. They’re going to happen anyway, so you’re better off not trying to fight them.

DanSig-02

Time Management – Tips for Organizing Your Workspace

Time Managemet Neat OfficeIf you work in a home office as I do, or a small office in a small business, one of your biggest time management challenges is to create a workspace that makes you as productive as possible. How your workspace is organized can have a powerful effect on your mind and you’d be surprised how this can affect your efficiency.

There’s a commonly voiced objection to this: ‘My workspace is cluttered and disorganized but I like it that way. It works for me!’ But good time management says that when you get organized on a consistent basis, you’ll quickly see what a difference it can make. You’ll be amazed how even modest organizing gains will clear your head and make you much more productive.

Your Chair

You really need a swivel chair with wheels to let you roll around from one area of your workspace to another and the swivel gives you maximum mobility – I can easily turn from my typing position to my reading position on the swivel. Make sure that the chair is comfortable because you’re probably going to spend long hours here. And you know something… you may even occasionally sit back in your chair for some planning and consideration… and even rest your eyes for a few minutes! So all aspects of your workspace should be visually and physically comfortable so that you actually want to be there.

Your Lighting

Though I prefer more subtle light, most people need bright, adjustable lighting that’s suitable for any time of day or night and illuminates your workspace evenly – no hot spots or glare. What works best is to have a nice window nearby so that you can use your artificial lighting together with natural light from outside. I have the window, and that usually gives me enough light for most tasks. But I also have energy saving compact fluorescent desk lamps for those early or late hours.

Your Schedule

A calendar and/or whiteboard above your desk where you can easily see it keeps your daily to do’s and your overall schedule visible at all times. Your most important tasks should be written here along with motivational quotes and anything else you want to see daily… a lot of people use this for keeping their vision ideas top of mind. This board or calendar will become one of the focus points of your work area.

Kill the Clutter

You should only have things you use daily out on your desk. Everything else should be put away somewhere. Where you put it should depend on how often you need it. Many people use their desk drawers for this. As you would expect, the top drawer is for the stuff you need most, the second drawer less, and the third drawer the least. Don’t keep things that you might use on your desk. Whenever you finish something, put it away immediately and don’t tell yourself you’ll do it later. One of the tools I find handy is a wire file rack on my desk. Then I can take project folders out as I need them. The important thing is to put things away as soon as you’re done with them… it makes clean up time easier.

Clean-Up Time

Schedule straighten-up time at the end of every day. No one can stay clutter-free all the time. Make it part of your daily schedule to do a quick tidying up of your work area. You should also schedule a big cleaning as needed to dust surfaces, remove trash and vacuum. Do that, and you’ll find that it’s much easier to come into your office ready to work the next morning without the irritation of a mess greeting you as soon as you walk in the door.

Don’t Eat at Your Desk

There are two reasons why you should never eat at your desk. One is that food and drink are not compatible with computers. A large percentage of computer problems are caused by spills or food-related accidents. Another reason is that you need a strong division between work-time and break-time. When you’re taking lunch, getting away from your work area is a mind clearing activity – you’ll come back refreshed and ready for your afternoon tasks.

Ironically, you don’t want to spend too much time organizing. Some people organize and shuffle things around in order to procrastinate and put off doing other tasks they need to do. Your aim in organizing your workplace should be to create a clutter free work space because it helps you maintain a clutter free mind to concentrate on producing work that produces income for your business.

DanSig-02

Time Management – Making the Most of Our Ups and Downs

When we’re working on improving our time management and increasing our productivity, we’re usually looking for some tip, strategy or tool from outside to help us. Actually, what we may need is to focus on something that comes from inside. We all have natural energy cycles and learning how to work with them rather than against them is a great way to improve productivity.

An Introduction to Our Energy Cycles

Time Management Up_and_Down_GraphWe’re not machines. Our energy levels ebb and flow throughout the day. If we know when they’re at their highest, we can schedule our most important tasks for that time of day. If we know when they’re low, we can use that time for breaks or more mundane tasks that don’t require much mental or physical energy to accomplish.

Research in biochemistry has found that there are certain energy patterns that most people have. They’ve found that from the hours of about nine in the morning to noon, our mind is the sharpest. The early afternoon until about three is the best time for analytical activities that use reasoning and verbal skills. From three to six, the mind becomes sluggish but the body is at its peak.

What does this mean for us? We might try scheduling tasks that require the most focus in the morning hours. Spend the early afternoon communicating with people or solving problems. Save mentally undemanding tasks or physical work for later in the afternoon.

Discovering Our Own Energy Cycles

The research mentioned above found that this pattern is common; however, it’s not the same for everyone. We all have our own unique way of working. The first step in maximizing our energy levels is to discover how we work.

A good way to do this is a chart or a journal. Stop working at certain times throughout the day and write down how you’re feeling. It can be as simple as bullet points. Don’t worry too much about wording. The point is simply to identify our own energy cycles. Or maybe try this: create a rating system of one to five. Five means we’re ready to climb a mountain and one means we’re half asleep. Add some simple statements describing how we feel, and pretty soon we’ll have a good picture of our own energy/work cycles.

Another way to uncover these cycles is to look at our behavior. For example, if there are times in the day when you feel like reaching for a cup of coffee or a chocolate bar, you can be fairly certain that this is when your energy is at a low point.

Time Management – Using Our Energy Cycle Data

Use the data we’ve collected about our energy levels as you make up your daily work schedule. Put the most demanding tasks in highest-energy time slots. And when energy is low, schedule easier tasks or take breaks. These also might be good times to reflect or just relax and daydream.

Though we want to follow our up and down times pretty closely, we also need to stay flexible. Learn to recognize when we’re moving into another cycle and shift tasks accordingly. Most people find that their bodies are like clockwork, and they can make good schedules that need little variation. Still, don’t try to push it when the focus isn’t there.

One great way to increase our energy cycles is to work a little bit of moderate exercise into the schedule. Just a few minutes of daily exercise (I use my Nordic Track) can make a big difference in boosting energy cycles and shortening those low energy spells.

DanSig-02

Time Management – How to Create a Time Budget

Time Management ClockDo you find yourself wondering where the time went each day? Most of us wish we had more time but there are only 24 hours in a day. With good time management practices, most likely the time we need is there (along with leisure, sleep, and family time!) but we’re just not using it as productively as we should be.

Time, just like money, needs to be budgeted. When we budget our time well, we know exactly where it’s going and we can control it. Luckily, time budgeting is easier than planning finances. Here’s how…

Time Management – Budgeting the Day

Start by deciding how much time you need to spend on each task per day. Make a rough estimate of how long it will take… and always add a little extra. Things far too often take longer than we realize and that extra bit of time gives us a cushion. If we end up not needing the extra, it’s a bonus and we’ll feel like we’re getting things done more quickly.

Next, prioritize these tasks. Ask yourself, ‘If I only manage to accomplish 3 things today, what should they be?’ Of course, we’re hopefully going to get much more than that done, but prioritizing helps us to get the most important things done first.

Use a timer to time each task. When we use a timer, we don’t have to watch the clock. Just set the time and let it tell us when the time is up. The timer also helps us psychologically because while it’s running, we feel like we need to be on task. Time logging programs, either on your computer or online, can help you see how things are going.

Time Management – Budgeting Days and Weeks

We can apply the same method above to budget our weekly and monthly schedule as well. This is a little bit trickier and requires a bit more flexibility. The reason is that it’s harder to tell how long something is going to take when we’re dealing in days or weeks rather than hours.

One easy way is to start by establishing a deadline. When does the particular task need to be finished? Bump it forward one day to give yourself a little leeway for unforeseen situations. If something unexpected happens and we run a day late, we’re still OK.

Between today and the deadline, how many days do we have? Only include actual workdays. Divide the task into the number of days, then set small achievable goals for each day.

Time Management – Monitor the Budget and Stay Flexible

Our time budgeting will usually be fairly sloppy at first. But we can improve our accuracy by monitoring our progress with a time log where we record the time we actually spend on tasks. This seems like extra work we just don’t need when we’re trying to be more efficient. But this realistic picture of how we spend our time gives us a more realistic picture of our schedule that allows us to more accurately plan future projects. (A side benefit is, as your business grows and you can start outsourcing some of your tasks, you’ll know how long your hired helper should take, and you can properly evaluate how well they are doing.)

Remember: keep yourself flexible. Stay as close as you can to your budget but don’t hesitate to make adjustments where necessary. If you find that a certain task takes much longer than we realized, adjust the schedule and budget more time for it. And then, always be on the lookout for new ideas on how to make your time management more efficient as well.

DanSig-02

Succeeding Online – The Simple Truth

As you look toward the New Year, are you ready to make 2016 the year you slip into the driver’s seat of your business and truly take control of how you’re attracting more clients, selling more programs, and building true relationships, and succeeding online?

Succeeding Online GraphicThen you’ve got to check out Christina Hills’ free webinar, “The Simple Truth About Succeeding Online (And How to Set Yourself Up For Massive Success)”.

She’s going to show you exactly how to get money to flow from your clients and customer’s pockets into your bank account.

And she makes it so simple and easy to understand that you’ll be a pro in no time!

Free sign up: http://smallofficecommunicator.net/2016_Winter_WCW-B

Sign up for free and you’ll learn:

– How to build your Online Machine so customers can pay you instantly

– How you can use Email Marketing to build long-lasting and lucrative relationships

– How you can use Social Media to turn complete strangers into clients

– And much more.

Sign up here: http://smallofficecommunicator.net/2016_Winter_WCW-B

But hurry…this live training happens exclusively on January 6th!

See you there…

DanSig-02

Time Management – How to Estimate the Value of Your Time

Time_Management_RecordsGood time management practice says that whether you’re working for yourself, working in a small business for someone else, or freelancing, it’s hard to tell exactly how well you’re doing money-wise without taking a careful look at the money you’re earning vs. the number of hours you’re working. It’s particularly tough to determine how much to charge so that you get the hourly rate you want – or need. When you have a good idea of how much you’re actually getting paid per hour, you can then decide if it’s worth taking on a particular project or whether it’s something you may want to skip.

Log Your Hours

The first and best step is to actually log the hours you spend actually working on each project. You can use a simple word processing document table, a spreadsheet, or a more formal time logging program like. However you chose to log your time, Whenever you’re working on a specific job, use a timer and keep track of the number of hours and minutes you spend. This can also work in reverse if you budget your time to each project and only work the budgeted time.

Do the Math

When a job or project is finished and there’s nothing left to do, add up all of the time you worked. Divide the total money earned by the number of hours worked to find out how much you earned on that project.

By doing this type of calculation you’ll find out your real hourly wage on the project. For many, this can be a complete surprise. You may think you were making a great hourly rate only to discover that you could’ve taken cans to the recycling center for a better hourly wage!

Run the Numbers

When you calculate the value of your time, you give yourself hard data that you can use to estimate the value of future projects. You can then adjust your pricing more realistically. While it’s generally almost impossible to accurately predict how long a job is going to take, when you log your time and make these calculations, you’ll get better at estimating. You’ll then develop a sense of how much you can make on different types of projects.

Use this data to decide whether to pass on future projects that offer you too low an hourly rate, or to seek higher paying work with the same client. You can also use this information to streamline your work to make it more worthwhile.

Tips

When you’re calculating the time a project takes, you need to be honest and take everything into account. Don’t tally up the hours when you still have a few remaining small tasks to do. Wait until everything is completely finished.

You can also make your estimations more realistic by padding the hours a little. For example, round up your partial hours. This lowers your perceived hourly wage but guarantees that you’ll always make more than expected! It also allows for times when there’s a snag or roadblock in a project that eats up time.

When you choose the hourly rate to charge people, pick an absolute minimum and stick to it. Never go below it even by a little. You owe it to yourself to make what you’re worth. That being said, you may decide to lower it slightly when there are other benefits involved in the project, such as exposure or a good portfolio item.

Finally, once you arrive at a realistic estimate of the value of your time, keep monitoring as much as possible. Things will change and you need to keep your estimation up to date. Monitoring is the only way to know exactly how much you’re making per hour.

DanSig-02

Thank You Veterans

ThankVets

We at Small Office Communicator would like to express our thanks and to honor and recognize all of the brave Americans who have served or continue to serve. They volunteer to stand between we, the citizens of this great nation and those who would do us harm and for this we owe them our deepest gratitude and respect.

We salute all of our veterans and military men and women today and every day! Thank you for your dedication and heroism to protect our freedom.

Happy Veterans Day!

Time Management – Keys to Creating More Time in Each Day

As small office communicators, we all feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Truth is, we get the same 24 as everyone else, and that’s generally more than enough to do what needs to be done. The challenging part is time management… making the most of those hours and also ensuring we can enjoy more time with our families. Here are a few good ways to carve out more time from the same number of hours.

Streamline

Time Management ClockAre all the actions you take getting results? Take a good look and identify which are and which aren’t. The actions that aren’t making a difference to the results you want should either be cut out or streamlined so that they don’t take as much of your time. In particular, get rid of daily tasks that don’t offer long-term benefits. Good time management practice is to monitor how much time you spend on each task with a timer and see where you could be more efficient.

Automate

Computers and the online world today are great – so much of the work you need to do can be automated. There are software programs that do just about everything and many of them are free to use. Take a look at your tasks starting with the ones that are most mindless. Identify which ones could be run on autopilot and then look for a program to do them for you. And then follow this step with this next step…

Delegate

This was one of the greatest things I learned when I started my media production department at Minolta… DELEGATE! I found it was so much better to hire someone to do many of the things that I COULD do, but they could do BETTER! And not just better, they did it faster. And the most important advantage of bringing someone in to do some of the work, or sending work out, is that these people can spend their full day doing what you need done. I always found that I had to split my time on various different tasks, so NONE of them got the full attention they deserved. Hire people to do these kinds of tasks for you and watch how much more time you can spend with your family! You’ll probably find that you can actually take on more projects by delegating some of the work to better and more productive workers. So whether you’re an Internet marketer with access to a virtual assistant or a busy parent with kids who can help, all you need to do is ask. As you identify tasks that could be automated, also make a list of items which could be done by someone else. Determine the skills needed for each task and the type of person who has those skills. If you don’t already have access to the help, you can find service providers looking for work on freelance websites. Even better, ask for recommendations from people you know and trust.

Take Breaks

Wait a minute – you want to get things done faster and more efficiently. Why on earth would you want to take more breaks? Simple! When you work for too long at a stretch, you start to burn out and lose focus. You may not realize it, but your productivity lags and you don’t get things done as quickly or to the best of your ability. Take those quick breaks every hour where you simply get up and stretch – because you’ll stretch your mind too. Even five minutes will help. These will allow you to work for longer and keep your focus where it belongs.

Stop Interruptions

Good time management practices let you create more time in your day by cutting out activities that waste it. Cut out the distractions and be strict about the times when you’re working and not working. If you work at home, tell your family not to disturb you during working times. Stay on task and avoid checking email, looking at social sites (unless they are part of your marketing) or surfing the Web (unless you are doing competitive research. Just make sure all those potential distractors are actually contributing to the success of your business.

Vary Your Schedule

Most of us small office communicators have certain times of day when we’re more productive. For example, many people find the mornings good for content writing because that’s when their focus is at its sharpest (I happen to be one of those). Experiment with your schedule and find your own “sweet spot” for each type of activity.

Know Your Limits

These are all great time management practices to make more hours in the day, but we also need to take an honest look at ourselves and know our limits. Should you really be aiming for a 12-hour workday? Good time management will help us get more done each day, but the time we gain shouldn’t be used for more work… it should be used for more family and relaxation – and THAT will give you better focus to get more done when you are working.

DanSig-02


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