Setting your priorities and sticking to them is a great step towards reducing your stress, but it won't help much if you don't have time to finish all the other menial tasks that are involved in running an at-home business. Items like billing, filing, ordering ink for your printer, and a million other little things that pile up over time still need to be done.
Let's look at five methods to help you keep better track of where your time goes, and keep on top of your schedule.
1. Write everything down.
Famous productivity expert David Allen, author of Get It Done, recommend getting your to-dos out of your brain and onto paper. I can attest that this method works! When I'm feeling overwhelmed, I have found one of the greatest ways to de-stress is to sit down and write out everything I have to do that's got my head spinning. Whether those are big projects, little five-minute tasks, or anything, it all goes down on paper as my brain is churning out the words. When I can actually see my thoughts on paper, I can start sorting and prioritizing.
2. Keep track of how long a task takes you.
It's a common psychological trick we play on ourselves -- we overestimate how long it takes to complete unpleasant tasks, and we underestimate how long we spend on pleasant items. Get real by writing down the actual time it takes you to do things like file papers, log receipts, and any other tedious task. Then you have a concrete estimate the next time you think, "Oh, that's going to take all day!"
3. Minimize interruptions.
Turn off your email alert noise, put your phone ringer on mute, and clear your desktop before you jump into a task that requires concentration. Fewer interruptions and distractions allow you to get in that concentrating "sweet spot" where you're humming along and working at a pleasant clip. That means you'll get your work done faster and be less stressed. Constant interruptions ultimately result in needing to re-prioritize your day, over and over and over again. You can see how the stress you feel just keeps escalating without minimizing the interruptions each day.
4. Break down large projects.
Big projects -- website overhauls, writing reports, planning marketing campaigns, creating a newsletter -- can be overwhelming. When faced with a large project, break it up into tasks you can complete in one sitting, preferably in under 20 minutes. That way, instead of looking for a free afternoon to tackle the project all at once (which you'll never get!), you just need to squeeze in 20 minutes here and there until the project is completed. I don't know anyone who can't find 20 minutes, but ask an entrepreneur to block out 8 hours for a project, and you'll receive in turn a stunned glare.
5. Take advantage of "lost" time.
Our days are full of five minute breaks between activities. We call these "dead" time. You may be sitting in car-line at your child's school, or in line at the pharmacy, or even waiting for a pot of water to boil. There you are, simply waiting for something to happen. Keep a notebook with a running list of tasks that can be completed in 5 minutes or less. Schedule an appointment, call a friend to set up a lunch date, clean out your voice mail, file your nails -- anything that you know you need to do but don't get around to doing.
Now when you have "dead" time, glance down at your notebook with the list of 5 minute tasks and start at the top. Work your way down the list every time you find yourself with a few free minutes. You'll be amazed at how much you accomplish when you're ready to go!
The power of time management can have you thinking you can do it all now! You are Superwoman! You are Supermom! But, before you go leaping those tall buildings, stop and take a deep breath. There are still things beyond our control. Yes, we can do a lot, but we can't do it all. Life sometimes gets in the way, even of the most on-task entrepreneur.