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Maximize Your Time . . . Minimize Your Stress

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Harsh Agarwal
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We are all guilty of it. We all work at the speed of light in an effort to pack as much into our day as we can possibly manage. We get to the end of the day and wonder what we actually accomplished. Let's face it -- even the most organized among us is going to experience days when the walls seem to be closing in. As successful entrepreneurs, we are faced with the challenge of how we can effectively manage each and every minute of our time.


A one-person operation bears the responsibility of doing it all. From administration tasks and marketing to meet with clients and actual project completion, we often find ourselves caught up in a whirlwind of madness that could quickly blow out of control.


Periods of chaos are imminent for any successful business, but there are ways to maximize our time, thus minimizing stress levels so that we can create a happy balance we can live with.


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1. STOP PROCRASTINATING


Do you tend to put off doing everything until the last possible minute? Is your client on the way in the door when you are putting the finishing touches on his project? Do you complete preparations for meetings just in the nick of time? If so, you have fallen into the trap of procrastination.


Certainly, there are times when our schedules only permit us to do things at the last minute. However, if this is a part of your daily routine, then you are a true procrastinator. Individuals procrastinate for various reasons. Many find procrastination exciting. They enjoy the rush that is generated by scrambling to beat the clock. They get a high when they meet those last-minute deadlines in the race to finish the project.


To overcome procrastination, we must focus on the short-term goals of each project and set goals for project completion, one phase at a time. It is important to find small ways to reward yourself for getting projects completed on time, as you wean yourself from the habit of procrastinating.


2. LEARN TO MANAGE YOUR PAPERWORK


Keeping track of every piece of paper that comes into the office is a monumental task. By developing a well-organized filing and paper management system, putting your hands on the things you need will help you save a great deal of time. Many entrepreneurs vow that they can put their hands on anything they are looking for. This may be true, but how much time do we waste digging through mounds of papers on our desks in the search. Sure, we may have a general idea of where something is located, but we are still wasting precious time when we have to dig through stacks to find what we need.


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Create a filing system that will work for you. As you retain a new client, immediately create a file in which you can place the paperwork in for that client. If the client is a repeat client, you may want to create a new file for each project for easy access. Keep files for current projects stored at your fingertips. When a project is complete, move that particular file to the drawer that contains your closed files.


Purchase a set of stacking trays to organize your incoming and outgoing documents. The incoming basket should be comprised of documents you need to respond to in some way or pending projects. The outgoing basket should contain completed projects and tasks that are awaiting delivery or distribution. Any paperwork relating to a particular project should immediately be placed in the file you created for that specific project.


You will want to create a separate tray for periodicals, newspapers, and any documents that will require more of your attention to read. You could also designate one tray for outstanding invoices and another for paid invoices. In order to keep yourself free from clutter and stacks, every piece of paper that comes into your office should be assigned a designated place. Invest about 30-45 minutes each week into reviewing each tray. Decide on the future of each document. If it is something you want to keep for future use, create a file and put it away. If it is "trash worthy," toss it out.


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Develop and implement a "to-do" list. Purchase a notebook wherein you can jot down a list of things you need to accomplish for each given day. As you complete each task, cross it out. By writing down tasks, you are less likely to forget something, and more apt to accomplish much more work in an organized manner, thus maximizing time.


4. ESTABLISH PRIORITIES


While everything we do in our business is important, there are some tasks that are more urgent than others. Tasks that require meeting specific deadlines, of course, merit priority over those that we may be able to save until a later time. We tend to lack in the area of establishing priorities because it is the little things that seem to surmount and divert our attention to other areas. By writing down each task we need to accomplish, we can better determine which ones we need to tackle immediately and which ones can wait. Establish timelines for project completion. Include urgent and important tasks, as well as things that are not so important but are required to be done. Mark off a specific time on your calendar for each task. Establishing priorities and scheduling time for as many tasks as possible allows us to be more efficient in managing our time.


5. LEARN TO SAY "NO" AND "I HAVE TO GO"


One of the most difficult words entrepreneurs will ever learn to say is "No." There does come a time when you will have to know when to turn down work. We cannot do it all. Keep in mind that "No" does not mean "Never." If you are swamped with work, pushing deadlines, and feel overwhelmed each and every time the telephone rings, then you may be in a position where you must say "No." Before you tell an existing or potential client "No," evaluate the project.


Ask yourself the following questions: What does the client need? How long will it take me to complete the assignment? How much work do I already have lined up? Can I effectively meet the project deadline? Will I be able to do my best work on this project if I am rushed? It is more important to let the client down gently with an encouraging word to call you in the future than it would be to do a lousy job on a project you do not have adequate time to complete.



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Also, learn when to say "I have to go." Do not let a client detain you with endless telephone conversations and long, drawn-out meetings. While it is nice to spend time talking with your clients, remember, you have work to do. Idle telephone conversations and meetings take a toll on time management. Strive to keep your conversation geared toward business and focused on the matter at hand. If the client begins to wander off into other areas of conversation or dwells on the subject too long, tactfully let the client know you must get back to work. Chances are, your client should get back to work, as well.


SUMMARY


Set aside sometime in the near future to put these solutions into place and work at effectively maintaining them. Be sure to incorporate some time into your schedule for yourself. Take short breaks throughout the day to regain your composure and concentration. Reward yourself with time off between time-consuming projects. By implementing these effective time management solutions, you should be well on your way to maximizing your time and minimizing your stress. Over a period of time, you will discover a happier and healthier you!


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