Work-life harmony: Time management matters
Recently, I was asked to speak on a live webinar panel about time management. The host attended one of my workshops several years ago on the topic, and the lessons she learned really stuck with her—so much so that she began teaching others!
For a business coach and keynote speaker who centers her life around a mission to help others grow, that was a full-circle moment of fulfillment. I was humbled to have made such an impression in her life and improved her time management skills as an entrepreneur.
In my profession, you always hear people speak about the work-life balance that business owners and serial entrepreneurs are missing in their lives. While yes, it is true that the entrepreneurial spirit is always thinking, ever-evolving, constantly learning and looking for the latest and greatest, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we cannot “turn it off” or pause for family, friends, and fun.
Just as difficult as it may be to find a four-leaf clover in your front yard, it seems almost as mythical to literally envision a scale with a 50/50 weighted balance on both ends. Spending half your week on work and half on “life” is not realistic at all.
I prefer the phrase “work-life harmony” rather than “work-life balance.” As a coach, it’s important to me that my clients define what harmony could look like for them.
Entrepreneurship is sometimes pursued by its flexibility, where no one defines your schedule but you because you’re the boss, after all! Owners begin their companies dreaming of more time spent with their family or vacationing across the world anytime they want. Sounds great in theory, yet in the beginning, all self-made bosses start off wearing all the hats (owner, CEO, accountant, HR, client relations, sales rep, etc). It usually takes time to develop a great team of A players and outsourced vendors before you get to ski the slopes two weeks at a time.
If you’re wearing multiple hats right now, I’ve got your back. Here are some of my Q&A Panel responses on time management. My hope is that just one of these nuggets will help you find your work-life harmony, delegate more tasks, or explore a better rhythm that best suits where you’re at in your entrepreneurial journey.
Q: Why do you think it is important to manage your time well?
A: I think it’s innate to me if I’m being honest—like a part of my DNA is hard-wired to be extremely, overly organized. Asking why time management is important was simply never even a question in my career.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: The night before:
- I check my calendar.
- I set my morning alarms for what time to wake up.
- I set an iPhone alarm for each meeting I’m expecting the next day. (Example: 10:55am alarm for an 11:00am meeting.) The alarm is louder than an Outlook calendar ding, and I’m assured to hear it – no matter where I’m at in the house, at a coffee shop, driving, or with a client. I’m sure many of you have your phone glued to your hip 24/7, whereas your laptop is powered off at times.
- I set these iPhone alarms for my entire day the night before so that I can relax my brain for sleep. If there’s an alarm for each meeting, there’s zero ability for me to get busy, forget, or be late.
- Then, I can truly relax because great time management always starts with preparation the day before. Sleep simply comes easier when you have peace of mind.
The day of:
- Next to my laptop, I have a running to-do list for followup and next steps (You know, the things that pop into your head, and you hope you don’t forget).
- Any downtime I have each day, in between meetings, I won’t have to guess what needs to be done next. The list is my guide. My brain power can be on empty after a tiring Zoom marathon, and it’s okay because the answers are all laid out before me.
- I prefer my to-do list hand-written because it sits right in front of my face, glaring at me until completed. Like many of you, I feel good when I mark it off the list; that pen to paper satisfaction just can’t be duplicated.
NOTE: I specifically avoid digital task lists on the laptop or mobile phone because every time I would open it to see what’s next, I would inadvertently go down a rabbit hole—opening emails, replying to clients, etc. Reacting to others for an entire 8-hour day isn’t a way to be intentionally productive. Proactively working on your list at set times will help you reach your goals faster.
Q: Do you use time blocking?
A: Yes, my personal and professional life is 100% time blocked. I live and breathe by my Outlook calendar.
The best coaching tip I can give is to build in space between meetings. Pre-COVID, when 100% of all our meetings were in person, I would build in 1.5 hours in between meetings. This usually meant I could easily handle three 1-hour meetings a day with 1.5 hours of space built in between.
Here’s an example of how it worked:
Let’s say you’re meeting a prospect at a coffee shop. Buffer into your calendar an extra hour and a half after that meeting ends and before your next begins. You can easily fit in three full, in-person meetings a day with this scheduling technique.
- During the first 30 minutes, spend your time wrapping up anything you just promised that person—an email, a follow up, or booking an event in Outlook. I even carried small thank you cards with stamps in my work backpack to address after a meeting. Voila! It’s all 100% done without ever making it to a reminder to-do list at all.
- The second 30 minutes is for drive time. In Oklahoma, you can pretty much get anywhere you need to go from Edmond to Norman or Midwest City to Yukon within 30 minutes or less.
- The final 30 minutes is left to park, set up at the next meeting location, re-read your notes, get prepared for the topic at hand, and double check their LinkedIn profile to remember who you’re looking for when they walk through that door. Don’t laugh, we’ve all done it!
Oprah once said, “I believe luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you hadn’t been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn’t have been ‘lucky.” So, let’s give ourselves time to get prepared and give our best to the next meeting.
Open space can invite opportunities. I once was hired for a $60,000 project simply because I overheard the right conversation at a Starbucks in The Village between meetings during my 30-minutes of blank space.
Q: Digital or paper calendar?
A: Digital all the way! Here are the advantages from my perspective:
- Software such as Calendly can be automatically linked for setting appointments. Your prospects can see your availability and book time with you well before the dreaded email conversation of what date, time, and place slows their interest.
- Digital is both desktop and mobile-friendly, so it’s “on the go” with you.
- I never started with a paper calendar, so this one’s a no-brainer for me. However, I do see a lot of solopreneurs who enjoy specific paper journals that guide them through thoughtful gratitude day to day (that’s different than an active calendar of events).
Q: How do you feel about tracking time?
A: Typically, if I recommend a senior manager in a small business track their time, I ask them to track it for just one week or one month. Then, I’ll coach them toward using the Eisenhower Matrix or Skill/Joy Matrix to identify what to delegate.
Q: How do you identify tasks that are wasting your precious time?
A: The Eisenhower Matrix can be written onto a cocktail napkin. Draw a large plus sign to divide your napkin into four squares.
In the upper left, write the tasks you feel are both important and urgent. These are pressing tasks you think you’re best at that need to be done in a timely manner because it’s important to the company that you follow through.
- Do these tasks!
In the lower left, write the tasks you do that are not important, but are urgent. These might be the reactive things that bling and ding at you, an annoying red light on your Slack channel or a pop up from Skype, the phone that won’t stop ringing, or your preview pane of your email inbox alerting you every time someone wants your attention. They feel urgent because they are flashing in your face or ringing in your ear, but they are not as important as your big goal that day.
- Delegate these tasks! Let someone else answer the phone. Train someone else to help escalate issues and problems before they come to you as a last resort. Refer to my 8 Rules of Effectively Delegating to learn a smooth handoff system and how to properly communicate to your team.
In the upper right, write tasks deemed important, yet not urgent. These tend to be long-term goals, strategic vision next steps, and important things that you put off another day because there’s not a specific deadline pressing you to complete it by next week.
- Plan these tasks. Time block when you will work on it and set milestone goals on your calendar to ensure you “eat that elephant, one bite at a time.” After all, you’ll never write that book if you don’t set aside time to start writing chapter 1.
In the lower right, write tasks deemed neither important nor urgent. If you write all the things you do for a week, you may realize there are a few meetings you don’t need to be in and a few reports that you’ve historically calculated yet no longer need. What is wasting your precious time?
- Eliminate these tasks. Not urgent, not important. Enough said.
Q: What resource or tool has personally helped you the most?
A: As the CEO of a local tech company for a decade, I not only utilized the Eisenhower Matrix to ensure I was working on the right things, delegating the right things, and eliminating dead weight from my day, but I also found that the Joy/Skill Matrix helped me plan my next hires.
It’s simple. That task list you wrote out all week with everything you spent time on, plot it based on skill and joy!
Did it require high skill? Then you were probably the only one who knew how to do it, right?
If it’s a task that does not require high skill, then you most likely feel confident to hire a contractor, delegate to an employee, or outsource the task. You can still train, coach, and delegate the high-skill tasks, too; however, it may take more time to find the right person, train them with patience, and help them slowly get to your efficiency level.
Did it produce high joy? Then you enjoyed getting it done. Yippee!
If it’s a task that does not bring you joy, then you certainly want to plan a way to offload it from your plate. Someone else who enjoys the task will do it better, quicker, and faster.
Q: Is there a book you recommend on time management?
A: Yes, author Laura Vanderkam’s book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think is a game-changer for your mentality on work-life harmony.
Q: Why is it called 168 hours?
A: We all start with 168 hours per week, minus 40 hours per week of work time and 8 hours of recommended sleep per night x 7 days (56 hours total in sleep, per week) leaves 72 hours of “other” time left over.
That’s right. You do have 72 hours of life to live each week, outside of sleep and work!
Once you see the weekly math, my favorite part of the book was then learning how to “terminate your 24-hour trap.” In the U.S., we live life believing the word “routine” is wedded to the phrase, “daily routine.” It is not.
- I adopted a 168-view of life.
- I planned one week at a time (until I became a coach and now plan 90-days in advance for each quarter).
- I taught myself to think in terms of 168 hours a week rather than beating myself up as a perfectionist that I don’t wake up daily at 5:00 a.m. for a jog like the management books tell you to do. Instead, if I work out three days a week, I’ve hit my goals, but left flexibility for which days I felt like achieving it.
- When I did this, the ticking 24-hour clock was no longer in control; I was in control week by week.
You, too, can give yourself back the power of time. We all know you can’t make more of it, but you can make the most of it.
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About Stacy Eads
Edmond native & UCO Alumna, Stacy Eads, is an award-winning “Most Admired CEO” who scaled her company as a Woman in Tech before becoming an International Scaling Up Business Coach. She now empowers other CEOs from $2M to $200M to embrace their leadership potential through quarterly strategic planning. Her talent is in high demand to CEO Coach, Train Teams, and Speak at Events in both the U.S.A. and Canada.
Stacy Eads’ career affiliations include 50 Women Making a Difference award, Circle of Excellence award, Torch Ethics award, Most Admired CEO award, Edmond Chamber & UCO Mentor, Better Business Bureau of Central Oklahoma Board of Directors, TEDx OKC Speaker Coach, and Ambassador Chairwoman for the Greater OKC Chamber of Commerce.