From smart calendar apps to some obvious (but often overlooked) scheduling hacks, you can bend your daily calendar to your will -- and still leave time for play and family. But it does require that you focus, commit to a process and set aside real time for yourself. We asked 14 founders from Young Entrepreneur Council to share their best tips for getting a handle on that never-ending to-do list.
1. Section Off Your Day and Week
Find ways to actually divide your day and week into zones. For example, you may only do phone calls and email prior to lunch and in-person meetings after lunch. Another approach on a weekly basis would be to only take external meetings on one or two days of the week and leave one day completely meeting-free. Creating a rhythm here is the most important thing.
2. Use EasilyDo
The app EasilyDo is like a personal assistant. It connects to your calendar, email, and social accounts to help you keep track of things that are important, like travel and meetings. You can also set it to remind you of important dates (like birthdays and anniversaries) and aggregate the most relevant posts from your social networks. It's a great time-saver, and it's free!
3. Block Out Personal Time
I've found that if I don't block out time for personal things like working out, eating clean food, etc., my days gets filled up with other "last minute" things. If you block out time on your calendar for lifestyle activities that are important to you, you'll be more likely to stick with good habits.
4. Close Out Tasks
Even if a task doesn't have a deadline (but you need to get it done), tackle it in one to two sessions rather than returning repeatedly. Jumping tasks and returning to something multiple times requires repeated mental ramp.
5. Look at Your Calendar Daily
Use your calendar daily. It’s unbelievable how few entrepreneurs actually use a calendar to stay organized. A calendar is a great tool for managing a busy schedule, but only if you use it consistently.
6. Color-Code Your Calendar
Each one of my daily tasks is color-coded so I know quickly what type of task it is and how critical it is to complete that day. This allows me to instantly scan through a long list and determine which tasks to tackle first and so on. It also helps me to lump similar tasks together to stay focused and save time.
7. Use 90-Minute Blocks
I block out my day into at least three 90-minute periods. During that time I don't have any distractions open and I have clear goals to accomplish. If I can't get something done in those three blocks, I wait and finish it the next day. When you're having a tough time getting all your work done, it's a sign you need to rethink your approach. It's a great discipline to have.
8. Keep Your To-Do List Short
I use a Post-it note to write down the three most important tasks I need to complete every day to ensure that I get at least those things done. Running a startup can feel daunting, especially when the list of things to do keeps getting longer and longer. By limiting yourself to three important tasks each day, you can avoid the feeling of being overwhelmed while still making progress daily.
9. Stack Meetings Back-to-Back in One Place
As the director of our accelerator, I spend a lot of my time in meetings understanding the problems our portfolio companies face. One thing I do to maximize my time is to hold all of my meetings at our Think Big facility. By stacking meetings back-to-back in one place, I'm able to save time on transit.
10. Buy a Day Planner
I started using an old-school day planner again because I found that always being on my mobile device or Google Calendar was distracting. I would start responding to pings and emails as they were coming in. Now those blocks of time are offline.
11. Send Yourself Reminders With Followup.cc
I don't just use Followup.cc to follow up with contacts via email. I also use it to send myself task reminders. I've actually adopted Followup.cc as a replacement for my entire to-do list recently. Since you always have your phone with you, it's easy to send yourself a reminder to do something at a specific time using a Followup.cc time-stamped email.
12. Use DropTask
I love using DropTask for to-do items that don't necessarily fit neatly into my current schedule. It helps me ensure that these items don't fall off my radar, but in a way that allows me to get to those tasks when I have time. It's a fantastic visual tool that is easy to follow. It's team-integrated so I can see what others are working on in relation to my own schedule, too.
13. Set Weekly Meetings
Setting weekly conference calls, team meetings or client meetings on calendar and repeating them weekly or biweekly helps you organize your calendar and stay on top of everything. It allows you to know that you will have a block of time most weeks dedicated to a certain task, person or group. This will allow you to be more effective and efficient.
14. Schedule Emails Strategically
Scheduling emails to be delivered at a high response times (mid-to-late morning) keeps them from being lost in the shuffle and allows people to answer fully. You'll get less, "let me check on that" or "I'll let you know tomorrow" types of responses.