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Effective Time Management Strategies in 4 Simple Steps

Get the top 4 most effective time management strategies you can start today to help you and your team stay focused on the big picture.

This episode is great for personal productivity, within your small business, or even for teams looking to boost their focus. 

Effective Time Management Strategies with Jen McFarland, Subscribe to our YouTube channel for all new videos.
  • Learn why busy is not the same as productive
  • Why conducting a time audit is critical
  • Tools you can use to conduct a time audit
  • How (and why!) minimizing multi-tasking is a MUST
  • Why taking breaks can improve your time management
  • When to plan your week so you can say “no” when you have to

Time management strategies we mention

How to Stop Confusing Busy with Productive (includes information about our brains and multitasking)

Time management apps: Todoist and Toggl (both apps have free versions you can use for a simple time audit)

Mike Tyson’s face tattoo

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Show Notes: Effective Time Management Strategies in 4 Simple Steps

[1:19] – Steps to Manage your time better 

[2:21] – Step 1 – Time Audit 

[3:16] – What a Time Audit really does. 

[3:39] – Track time using Spreadsheet or Paper or ToDoist or Toggl 

[4:41] – Mike Tyson’s Tattoo and Anderson Coopers Boyfriend 

[5:40] – Step 2 – Minimize multitasking to become more productive 

[6:23] – Only 2.5% of people can multitask – Link

[6:32] – Stanford researchers say that multitasking, overtaxes our brain and prevents us from concentrating – Link 

[8:41] – Step 3 – Taking breaks and Pomodoro Technique 

[10:26] – Brain can maintain concentration for 90 minutes 

[11:06] – Step 4 – Plan your work week in advance 

[12:06] – Knock out the most important during your most productive time (mornings for most) 

[13:27] – Saying “No” based on the week’s workload mapped out completely 

About Host Jen McFarland

Jen McFarland, MPA, has over 25 years of training, teaching, and executive experience in leadership, strategic project management, and digital marketing. She led large-scale public sector projects affecting over 50,000 businesses, handling millions of dollars.

Today, she is the founder of Women Conquer Business, a boutique consulting firm dedicated to helping people build sustainable businesses. She’s a frequent guest speaker and trainer. You can find her online by listening to her weekly entrepreneur podcast, Women Conquer Business, or at womenconquerbiz.com.

If growing your business feels like rocket science, let’s fix that with these free business resources.

4 simple steps to improve your time management women conquer business podcast

Transcript: Effective Time Management Strategies in 4 Simple Steps

This week’s show is really about giving you a few simple steps that will help you manage your time.

I know it’s so hard, right? There are so many different things that are going on, it’s hard to manage your time. It’s easy to be distracted and it’s easy to get caught up in the latest apps or if you’re like me, think that you can do all of the things all of the time at the same time.

So we’re going to talk about a few strategies so you can manage your time a little bit more effectively.

Top Time Management Strategy: Stop Overscheduling

So first of all, of course, busy is not the same as productive and yet so many times we spend a lot of time working on things that make us feel like we’re getting a lot done.

We work on tasks that keep us in the busyness and not engaged with our largest biggest goals. So one of the first steps that you can take to avoid the pitfalls of staying busy without being productive is to do what’s called a time audit.

So what is a time audit? It’s about tracking everything that you’re doing right now.

So as you’re sitting at your desk on Monday morning or whatever day this is, track what you’ve been up to. So I think of this as kind of like food tracking, right?

So if you’ve ever done food tracking like you’re working with a trainer or you’re on a diet plan or something like that, you’re writing down the food all day and sometimes you’re like, “I really would like some cake. I have to write this down so that somebody else can see it. Maybe I won’t have cake.”

Time Audits: A Critical Time Management Skill

 And I think it’s the same thing. I think the same thing is true when we talk about recording our time. And I think that if we have to write down, “I spent four hours on social media.”

Maybe we won’t spend as much time on that. So what a time audit really does is it keeps track of what you’ve been doing in the moment and how much time you’ve been spending on each piece.

Now, there are a few different ways that you could do that. Certainly, you could set up a spreadsheet or track it all down on a piece of paper. Whatever’s easiest for you. There are also all kinds of apps available that can help you with that.

There’s Todoist, Toggl and a whole host of other apps that will help you keep track of what you’re doing now, and maybe help you avoid some of the pitfalls and some of the places that you maybe go in the corners of your mind.

Staying Focused Means Avoiding Rabbit Holes

For example, I was watching YouTube videos over the weekend. I saw a video of Mike Tyson and I was like, “Did he have the tattoo removed from his face? I don’t know.”

So then all of a sudden I’m in this rabbit hole of tattoo removal. I was watching a documentary about prison tattoos and then how important it is to have prison tattoos removed if you were in a gang in prison and three hours later, I was like, “Wait, how did I get here? Oh yeah, Mike Tyson’s face tattoo.”

Which by the way, he has not had removed for those of you who were concerned.

Now it’s one thing if you want to spend three hours on just some sort of crazy task, rabbit hole, as I like to call it, where you just sink down into a hole of discovery and then you come out and you’re like, “Oh, wait, how did I get here?”

Understand the Importance (or Unimportance) of a Task

Another time I remember I was searching on the web and suddenly I was like, “Anderson Cooper’s boyfriend does what for a living and how did I get here?”

So I think this happens to more than just me or if not, you’ve gotten a good chuckle. The point is that if you’re working, we want to avoid these types of rabbit holes as much as possible, because these are just things that are keeping us busy.

We feel like our mind is active. We feel like we are reading or researching something when really we’re just keeping ourselves occupied so that we’re not so bored.

And I know that for those of you who are listening during COVID-19 times, there’s a lot of boredom going on right now. Hence, me caring about whether or not Mike Tyson’s face tattoo was removed, because honestly that has no bearing on my life or my life goals or my business or my business goals.

Time Audits Help You Focus on Important tasks

So one of the first things that you would like to do is take a time audit because that will help you stay on task and I think writing everything down will also be a reality check if you do go down some rabbit holes and pitfalls throughout your week.

The second one is not going to be very popular, at least it’s not very popular with me and my little group of friends and that is minimize multitasking.

Good Time Management Means Avoiding Multitasking

Everybody thinks that they can do so many things all at the same time.

We can have a conversation and be on our cellphones. We can be on our cellphones surfing the web and replying to our friends on social media while maintaining a conversation with a spouse. If we really sit back and think about it, we’re not really doing anything well when we do that.

We’re not really focusing our full attention on anything and you might find that you’re missing things.

This is not uncommon because scientific research shows that only 2.5% of people can actually multitask.

In fact, Stanford researchers say that multitasking overtaxes our brain and completely prevents us from concentrating at all. So most of our time spent working is really in tasks that are important and need our full attention.

If you want to think about how your brain works for a minute, they’ve found that the reason we are unable to multitask is that it’s like turning a light switch off and on every time we go to another task.

Multitasking Disrupts Productive Time

So what happens is I open Facebook, my brain says, “Okay, we’re doing Facebook now … I’m going to turn that off … I’m going to turn this on and I’m going to do the Facebook now.”

Probably before your brain has completely switched over into Facebook, you go, “No, I think I’m going to read the news now …” The light switch goes off of Facebook … it goes back on to whatever news outlet it is that you’re reading, not really the most efficient thing to do with our brains. Not really the most efficient way to use our time.

Because every time we turn the light switch off and on to go onto the new thing, it takes literally milliseconds.

But honestly it can take our brains minutes to adjust to all of this time switching that we’re doing between on and off and what am I focusing on?

And so if it feels like you’re inundated sometimes or you feel overwhelmed is because literally that’s what you’ve done to your brain by switching between tasks or having 35 tabs open in your browser. We’re trying to manage multiple things going on all at the same time.

It’s Unlikely Your In the 2.5%

Your mom was right.

Do things one thing at a time. Gosh, it’s hard when mom is right, isn’t it?

So do things one thing at a time. Remember not all of us are in the 2.5% of people who can multitask, sorry.

Most of us are in the 97.5% of people who absolutely cannot multitask, give it a shot, try not to multitask.

So one of the ways that you can do that, that I’ve talked about on previous episodes is embrace something like the Pomodoro Technique, where you’re working for 20 minutes on taking a five-minute break and then working for another 20 minutes.

You are putting yourself in a space where you don’t have to potentially be interrupted a lot.

Now, I understand that do get interrupted. So multitasking, I’m going to put into a different bucket than being interrupted. What it does to our brains is the same, though. It’s very much that on/off switch of taking us other places.

Right now with so many people working from home, we may not actually have the luxury of avoiding interruptions.

But what we may be able to do is minimize how taxing our day is on our brains, by not engaging in multitasking and also being interrupted all of the time if that makes sense.

Time Management Tip: Take Breaks

So these are things that can really help you.

So you’re going to write everything down, find out where you’re spending your time. You’re going to minimize multitasking, and you’re going to take some breaks.

You’re going to take some breaks. Because taking breaks will help you remain focused and engaged.

And then you can look at things like social media, other things as being a reward, instead of “Man, I’ve been working for so long, I’m just going to take a minute here on YouTube.” Right?

So what we really want you to do is avoid all of the things that are interrupting you and actually prolonging your day, minimize those things, and then take breaks throughout the day.

I mean, we had recess in school for a reason and it was because our brains can only maintain attention and concentration they think for about 90 minutes at a time at max, and then we need to move on to something else.

So it’s really important for us to do everything that we can to continue to give ourselves breaks, take a walk, go around, talk to somebody else, do something different.

These are all amazing ways that you can take a break and recharge mentally and get back in the game.

In fact, if you have the time to sit down and do some meditation or something like that, then you can also reset your mindset and do kind of two things at the same time, take a mental break, hit the reset button on your mindset so that you’re well back in the game.

Weekly Time Management Activity: Plan Your Week on Sunday

And one of the best things is actually something that I do is I just love doing it so much is plan your week out on Sunday.

Assuming your work week starts on Monday, plan your work week out on Sunday. It means sitting down with a calendar. I actually have like a piece of paper and I write down all of my meetings, all of the things that I have to do in that week and honestly in that day so that I know what tasks actually need to be accomplished.

And then I’ve started adding another column that’s like the time block.

So what I’m really starting to do is schedule meetings in the morning and leave time in the afternoon for me to get things done. I’m one of the rare people who gets a lot more done in the afternoon.

Most people get way more done in the morning. And in fact, the overall recommendation for is that you knock out the most important things in your day first thing in the morning.

So if that’s you and your jam is like getting up early and getting tasks done, make sure that you set aside that block of time. Effective time management isn’t one size fits all. These are personal decisions.

The Importance of Time Management: Focusing on the Big Picture

For me, I really hit my stride in the late afternoon when everybody else is asleep or half-asleep at their desk. So whatever that time is that really you feel like you’re getting the most out of it, block out that time and avoid interruptions during that time.

But one of the best ways you can do that is to map out your week and then block out your time as much as you can, assuming that you have control over your calendar and what times people are meeting with you.

So by planning out your week, by looking at what your week ahead is looking like, then hopefully you can navigate some of the issues that you’ve had in the past because you’re looking forward, you’re looking ahead at everything you need to do.

You’re mapping out all of the tasks that you know about that you have to do. Because let’s face it, as much as we like to plan the week ahead, we don’t always know what is just around the corner that is going to upset the applecart so to speak.

A list of brand new tasks that we’re going to have to do that may blow a lot of our planning out of the water.

Planning Your Week Helps You Complete Tasks, Focus on Project Management & Establish Work-Life Balance

But it won’t blow it out of the water as much if you’ve taken the time to map out what your week is going to look like so that you can anticipate if things are coming up, when you can say hard no, “I’m not going to be able to meet that deadline that you’re giving me today because I have other things on my plate.”

See, because it’s really hard to say no if you don’t know what’s coming up in your week.

So one of the reasons that you plan ahead so that you’re able to say, “I can’t take on any more this week. I would really love to help you.

Can we move it back another week?” And a lot of people really have fear around telling people no. And yes, there’s an art to it, finding out who you can say no to and who you can’t.

But at the same time, if you haven’t even mapped out your schedule for the week, it’s really hard to know what you can move around, what you can say yes to and in fact what it is that you need to say no to.

So plan out your week, make sure that you take breaks throughout the week. You might even need to schedule those breaks in if you have a hard time or you struggle with taking breaks.

Minimize multitasking and again, the key to this whole thing is taking that time audit, taking the time to find out where you’re at today, because you may actually be getting a lot more done than you know.

You may not actually be as distracted as you think, you just might be under or overestimating how much is really reasonable for you to get done.

So don’t be discouraged.

Keep your eyes on the prize.

Stay focused on what’s urgent and important in your small business. I believe in you.

I know that you’re getting a lot done.

I hope these strategies help you manage your time and manage your day a little bit better.

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