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The world of entrepreneurship is more fast-paced than ever. In my case, I spearhead my own PR agency, run a household of five kids and serve on several boards in addition to some volunteer and pro bono work. Between the narrow and infrequent slits in my schedule, I try to squeeze in time for my own interests and hobbies just to keep myself sane.
As much as I relish being a girl boss, it’s a constant juggling act of managing multiple responsibilities — overseeing operations, nurturing client relationships and staying ahead of industry trends — and the workload can quickly become beyond daunting. As a result, work-life balance becomes a distant dream, and burnout looms large on the horizon.
A few months ago, I collapsed on the couch at 11 p.m. and told my husband, “I can’t handle the load right now.” So we talked about what I could do — change or reframe — to make the unmanageable manageable.
Here are six tactics to control time and work demands that are spinning out of control.
Related: 5 Signs That You’re Overworking Your Employees
1. Know your clock
It would be great if we were all programmed to rise at dawn, peacefully meditate for 15 minutes, work straight through at an incredible pace for five hours until lunch and then return to the desk after a 30-minute break for another amazingly productive run until five o’clock sharp. Is that what your day looks like? I didn’t think so.
Over the years, I couldn’t help but learn my own “work efficiency clock” — the hours I’m most tuned in and prone to productivity (not to mention relatively free of household duties). For me, these spans are 8 to 11:30 a.m., 1 to 4 p.m., then 7 to 10 p.m. What are your “kickass hours” when you feel ready to conquer the world (or at least your inbox)? When you structure your tasks around your own biological rhythm and daily routine instead of the other way around, your natural energy level will better fuel you and your mental acuity will better drive you.
2. Set an intention for the day
I know, I know, you have a dozen or more goals each day. I do too. But I discovered that if I notate in my planner the one thing that must get done the following day, the one task that will free my mind and my desk the most, the rest of my day feels remarkably fulfilling, and I lay my head on the pillow that night with a sigh of contentment.
Examples to get you thinking: One day, I pledged to make at least three outreach calls on leads I got for new clients. I hit my mark by 11 a.m. and almost danced to the kitchen to make a salad. Another day, I promised myself I’d finally clean out and reorganize the files in Google Drive. Needless to say, when I accomplished this in one day, I felt driven!
I implore you to try this. It’s unbelievably liberating to know you met your intention for your workday — everything after that is just gravy!
3. Follow the two-minute rule
David Allen’s proposal in his book Getting Things Done has become a universally adopted tactic because it works. And my guess is it works because it’s simple. All you have to do is knock out any two-minute-or-under task right when you’re thinking about it, which eradicates procrastination and elevates productivity. Send the Zoom invite, sign and return the contract and make the appointment with your tax accountant. Done, done, done.
Yes, there are various interpretations of how to apply this rule, but the bottom line is really all that matters. If you can check something off your to-do list in two minutes flat, crank out a few items 1, 2, 3 … and then see how quickly and happily you move on to the more time-consuming 4, 5 and 6.
Related: 8 Ways Successful People Beat Procrastination
4. Cluster tasks
In the field of education, “clustering” entails grouping specific and similar topics and skills into time-based units to enhance learning acquisition and absorption. Here, I’m applying the term to tackling like activities together, which carries such advantages as using the same tools/apps for a series of related tasks, having the minimum number of windows open on your screen at the same time and staying in the same cognitive lane for a stretch, which improves focus.
For example, instead of dedicating time to one client at a time, I’ve transitioned to dedicating a chunk of time to one job function for all my clients at a time. The quarterly Statements of Work I prepare — they’re now all done in one fell swoop while the template is open on my desktop. Employee reviews — I do three or four in one sitting while my mind is in “staff mode” to keep my thoughts aligned and set in one pattern.
5. Never go to bed antsy
No, that’s not a typo for “angry.” Instead of your parents’ advice for a good marriage, this is my advice to have a good day. To implement this advice, let’s return to your to-do list. At some point in the day (or, for a lot of us, at night), you simply have to let the day be done. You have to accept that you accomplished all you could, that you’re not a superhero who’s able to check off every single item, every single day.
Put the desktop to sleep, turn out the office light, close the laptop and silence the phone. You don’t have to “let it go”; you just have to “let it be.” Except in the case of a real emergency, there’s hardly anything that can’t wait until tomorrow. Tucking the kids into bed is more important than pumping out one more email.
Related: 7 Productivity Hacks for 2024
6. Experiment with time blocking and time boxing
Similar though different, these two time management techniques are all the rage — probably to stanch the flow of people raging about how little time they have! In any case, the basic concept is to organize your schedule around which tasks to complete in a block and exactly how long to spend on that block.
At my firm, this not only means assigning content creation for Client A, Client B and Client C for 1.5 hours each in consecutive order, but it also means breaking my week into designated days for different teams. I’ve recently decided to devote Monday and Friday to my staff duties and Tuesday through Thursday exclusively to my clients. Not only that, but I’m now scheduling weekly 10-minute one-on-one sessions with each team member on those “bookend” days, always at the same with each employee, for maximum consistency and reliable structuring.
In a sense, all the strategies above are about allocating your time and energy into chunks in ways that will work best for your particular workflow, obligations and lifestyle. So experiment with different configurations by setting a timer to see how long certain tasks normatively take to establish a launching-off point and consider allocating particular tasks to particular days of the week. It’s working for me — I hope it’ll work for you too!