By John Matthews, founder of Gray Cat Enterprises.
“……And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun…..” — Gilmour, Mason, Waters, Wright
What is the quickest way to reduce stress and achieve greater balance in your life? Develop better time management skills. I know, I know, it sounds “riveting” but it is truly the quickest path to a productive lifestyle that enables balance to creep into your life. Managing the many tasks that one has to tackle through the day or week is an art, but when it is executed properly, the productivity of your life enables you to smell the flowers along the way.
Improving your time management skills allows for spending more time with your kids, pursuing hobbies of interest and what the heck, be more productive for the people that employ your services. Tackling tasks in a systematic way will allow freedom (in time) to expand your horizons. Here are some of the best practices that I have employed over the years that enable me to create an optimal balance in my life:
Know Your Strengths/Weaknesses: I am a morning person, so I am up and at it early in the AM and tackle the highest priority items then. My brain is fresh, and my energy is high, so I am at my peak performance to be the most efficient I can be. Knowing where your strength and weakness is critical to staying on task. If you are a morning person, do not waste your time attempting to accomplish a critical task in the late afternoon. Besides, that’s when you should be on the golf course! (Did I mention balance?)
Have A Plan Before A Plan Is Needed: In today’s business world, sorting through emails aimlessly is perhaps the biggest time-waster. I am always amazed when someone tells me “I have 4,000 emails in my inbox!” Come up with a plan that enables a smarter approach to processing emails. Create folders and action steps to responding or storing emails (see block & tackle section below). When I was in the corporate world receiving 125 emails a day, I had less than 10 emails in my inbox. Today, I probably write close to 1,000 emails a month and as of this morning have less than 10 emails in my inbox, so it is possible to manage large volumes of email if you have a preset response plan.
Prioritize: Either based on a key hard deadline or the financial impact of the task, set priorities in place and list them against a time line. On the highest priority items, ensure a working environment that is focused and clear of distractions. Set interim goals that cumulatively lead to the end game. Decide in advance, what the interim goal is at hand and map the steps required to achieving that milepost. With larger tasks, carving each task into parts of a project enable you to “move the project down the river” and relish in the accomplishments du jour.
Block & Tackle: Compartmentalize the workload. After you have established your priorities based on deadlines and impact, bunch like items together to create a more efficient workflow. Open and sort all your mail at once. Manage email in allocated blocks of time. Get all the administrative stuff out of the way in one full swoop. Creating blocks of tasks will minimize areas of your business from being neglected and then piling up. Simple, routine tasks then become a burden simply due to the volume of work.
The Magic Of Time Shifting: Everyone has to live by both real and artificial deadlines. Tackling items today for future implementation enables you to “time shift” your work in a stress-free environment. Remember when you were in college and finals were approaching and then stayed up all night to cram for the test? The question is why? Did the professor notify you of the exam the day before? Hardly – you knew about the exam the entire term and rather than study throughout the term, you waited to the last minute to cram. You missed the opportunity to “time shift” your work load. In the end, additional stress was applied as well as not leaving any room for error (i.e., in the event that you had the flu that week). Master time shifting and your productivity will improve exponentially.
Make It Routine: Practice makes perfect and where it is not perfect, discipline will trump. My modus operandi with tackling tasks is to place them all in a routine. In my personal life, I have made it a practice to stay in shape so each and every day, I walk 2-3 miles as one part of that regiment. It has and will always be, my routine. In fact, it has been my routine for so long that missing a day of walking feels out of sorts for me. Creating routines allows to systematically stay on task and deviating from that is actually more disruption to balance. Tackle business tasks in the exact same way and your routines will lead to greater productivity.
Life Is Short: Life is clearly not a dress rehearsal and if you are waiting for someone to tell you to take control and find your balance, “you missed the starting gun.” Manage your time, find your balance and realize the many additional opportunities that make their way into your life. Yes, it is possible to have it all, but without a plan-of-attack, time will pass you by.
John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 20 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.