Don't wait for January 1 to roll around before you try to get your organizational habits in gear. Start now with these tips.
"The only thing you can never get more of as an entrepreneur is time."
That's what a mentor told me back when I was launching my start-up, and he was right.
As a wife, daughter, friend, and the founder and CEO of LearnVest, my schedule is anything but simple. But I learned early on how meticulously manage my time.
When I was younger, I used to play mind games in which I'd try to finish tasks in minutes. My favorite was when I would shower, lay out my school clothes, then devour my dinner--in 15 minutes flat.
Now of course, you don't have to play similar games--or scarf down your meals--to get a grip on your schedule. But you can adopt some of the habits I've learned in order to free up more time. Remember, as an entrepreneur time is the only asset you cannot get more of, so use it wisely--and keep some perspective.
Schedule meetings in 15-minute blocks.
Sound crazy? Try it--it works. I think of all my time as exisiting in 15-minute blocks. Most people think in terms of 30-minute chunks, but I've found that when I free up more time, I waste it. Of course, some tasks do require more time, so if a meeting needs to take 30 minutes, it will take 30 minutes. But otherwise, I try not to schedule meetings to last that long.
Upgrade your to-do list.
It's so easy to fall in the rut of letting your calendar or workweek dictate your priorities. So on Sunday evenings and Monday mornings, I ask myself, What's the most efficient thing I can do with my time? Most people lump everything into one schedule or list, but I take it one step further and clump my tasks into groups of three. For example, I'll list out the three most important things I need to accomplish at work, at home, and so on. From there, I can filter by impact so the critical things get done first.
Never meet on a Monday.
From 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Mondays, I don't have a single meeting scheduled. I just don't. When it's the start of the week, I'm clear-headed and ready to focus, so it's time to work. When it comes to productivity, people tend to focus on the low-hanging fruit, not the things that are highest priority. But that isn't a good use of your time. The task that takes seven hours might be brutal, but it might also be the most important to my company and the best use of my time. That's why I try to get these things done earlier in the week, say on a Monday or Wednesday. If something important comes up, I'll just move it to the beginning of the list and rejigger priorities.
Don't worship your calendar.
It's easy to say, "I've scheduled something, so I might as follow through with it," but it is OK to move things around when something important comes up. You have to defend your time. Sometimes that means outsourcing--I have my ace junior strategy associate do research or I enlist a TaskRabbit for weekend chores. And if there's something that needs to get done on the weekend but it isn't a great use of my time, I'll outsource that as well. On the flip side, I keep seven (yes, seven!) separate calendars to track all my schedules. There's an Alexa calendar, a LearnVest calendar, a PR calendar, and more. Each is color-coded, as I'm visually oriented, and every entry lists details that help me prepare for the meeting, from the location to the client to what time zone they're in.
When you're at work, it's about being present and getting as much done as humanly possible. When I'm LearnVest HQ, I'm not sending emails to friends, chatting, or checking Instagram. The Internet is designed to distract you, and the best way to avoid being distracted is by abstaining. I don’t shop online, and I don't get personal newsletters during the day. I consume my favorite media when I'm at home, or on Saturday. That's not to say I don't get inspiration from those things, but inspiration shouldn't happen mid-afternoon when I'm trying to execute on something for my company.
Do you have any time management tips you'd like to share? Let me know in the comments.
ALEXA VON TOBEL is the founder and CEO of LearnVest.com, the financial-management and lifestyle website. She was recently selected as one of Fortune's Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs and highlighted in Inc.’s 30 Under 30 list of cool young entrepreneurs.