You’ll have realised by now, that when it comes to time management, the most efficient and productive you will ever be is right before a big deadline or a holiday.

I’ve heard some suggest that the key to improving your use of time is to somehow talk yourself into that frame of mind permanently and hey presto, you’ll access ‘productivity beast mode’ all the time.

Maybe some of you can do this but for the rest of us, these 5 time management tools will raise both your productivity and how much you enjoy your time running your business.

They are the only ones I’ve found that work ‘at the coal face’. And they don’t require you to be superhuman or wake up before you go to sleep.


Tool #1: Understanding Your Hourly Rate:

This simple calculation is at the core of any discussion about time management. It’s the thing that provides context – and therefore clarity.

‘Leverage’ is at the core of any successful business. The aim of getting other people to do things to a higher standard than you could manage – and with greater efficiency.

But what tasks should be delegating (or ditching) right now? This is the tool that helps you get the answer to that.

Want to try it for yourself?

Work out your total pay from the business over the past year including direct salary, dividends and retained profits.

Then divide this number by 1950 which is approximately the number of statutory working hours in a year. And that’s your hourly rate for running your business.

It’s a crude measure because you may well work more than 40 hours a week – and because it’s an average.

But think about what it means.

This equals your hourly rate for everything you do for the business. Depending on where you are with your business, that might include delivering for clients, networking, bookkeeping, recruitment, managing your team, developing your vision & culture – all the way down to filing.

If you want to increase it, do more of the high value tasks and less of the low value ones.

Action: Work out your own hourly rate. It will help you get militant about how and where you use your time which is a great first step to better time management.



Tool #2: Using a Time Log to bring visibility to your actions.

This always reminds me of one of my first clients. They had 9 staff and turnover of c£1m and had been standing still for some 5 years before we started working together.

Over the course of 12 months, we’d covered a lot of ground from organisational structure to KPIs to Vision / Mission / Values and then onto marketing, USPs and sales. Over this time the business had doubled.

In a sense it was close to a perfect coaching year.

I asked them at that point what was the most valuable thing we’d covered. The thing that unlocked the most performance.

Their answer was instantaneous: the time log.

Here’s how it goes.

You take a excel spreadsheet with the days of the week on the horizontal and time slots of 30 mins on the vertical.

For a period of 1 month, you fill out what (exactly) you’ve done in the time slots. You’ll need to be quite precise here. Putting ‘marketing’ for example is too broad. Make a note of whether that is copy-writing; networking, analysing SEO performance etc.

As always, you get out what you put in and the more accurate and consistent you are with this bit of the exercise, the clearer (and more valuable) the picture will be.

Then, sit down with 2 highlighter pens: 1 green and 1 orange.

Use the green to highlight the tasks that had the biggest positive impact on you and / or your business. The things that only you can do.

Then use the orange pen to highlight those tasks which you simply should not be doing. These will probably be both low value and (to you at least) very boring.

I’ll wager that only 10-20% of your Time Log is highlighted in green and the same percentage highlighted in orange. In other words, the majority of 60-80% of your time will be spent on things of debatable importance and fun.

This is entirely to be expected.

You’re not looking for revolution – saving vast chucks of time easily – it doesn’t work like that.

You’re looking to identify the ‘why the hell am I doing that’ tasks. The ones that don’t take up much time but happen a lot. Everyone has these. Keep ditching / delegating them and your productivity will increase.

It may seem futile to save just a bit of time here and there but think of it this way: how much time would you invest to save yourself 20 minutes a week?

Before you answer, bear in mind that adds up to more than 2 full working days a year.


Tool #3: Harness the Ivy Lee Method

A lot of people think humans are capable of multi-tasking, but scientifically this isn’t true.

What is true, is that the brain is an awesome bit of kit that is capable of switching between tasks at an amazing speed. And this creates the illusion of being able to multi-task.

Think of your brain like a PC, the more functions you ask it to perform the slower it will run.

(Gary Keller’s The One Thing is a great read on this subject).

If you throw one ball to someone, they’ll probably catch it. If you throw 5, they’ll catch none. Throw 20, it’s somewhere between cruel and funny.

Ivy Lee was reputedly hired as a business consultant by Charles Schwab of Bethlehem Steel in the 1920s to improve the productivity of his managers.

Lee recognised that the average person tries to do too many things at once (thereby reducing the quality of the solutions) and also tends towards prioritising fire-fighting over fire-prevention.

His solution was simple.

At the start of every day, each manager would list 6 actions they could take which would create the most value. And then get them done.

By keeping this list visible, these priorities stood less chance of getting submerged by day-to-day stuff.

And refreshing the list daily gave a small chunk of time to think strategically.

My only tweak to this, is to encourage clients to write their list at the end of the day before. It helps clear the head of work stuff which makes it easier to enjoy your evening. It also allows your subconscious brain to ‘work on’ the problem whilst you’re enjoying your evening / asleep.

If you do this, you’ll find that answers / solutions / ideas start popping into your head in the first hour or so of the day.

Action Point: try updating your ‘To Do’ last thing before you leave work. And break the list into the following sections: Admin, Marketing, Urgent (predominantly for client work) and your 3-6 Ivy Lee Tasks (whichever number suits you and where your business is right now).


Tool #4: Make a Default Diary work for you

If you were to take my advice about segmenting your ‘to do’ list according to the value of the task I wonder what you’d find if you then analysed how you’d got on?

Think of it this way. In broad terms there are 5 vital types of function within a business:

  1. Client work
  2. Leadership (incl Management & Strategy)
  3. Marketing & Sales
  4. Projects to improve an aspect of the business
  5. Admin & HR

They are all non-negotiable but if you absolutely had to list them in order of priority it would be as above. (Smaller businesses might argue that #s 2 & 3 should be reversed).

But – if you track what busy business owners actually do in practice, the order would be more like this:

  1. Client work
  2. Admin & HR
  3. Marketing & Sales
  4. Leadership (incl Management & Strategy)
  5. Projects to improve an aspect of the business

And no one ever finishes their ‘to do’ list.

So, the tasks that fill the new business pipeline or make the business run more smoothly are the runts of the litter when it comes to time.

The solution is to ring fence at least some quality time for the tasks that bear fruit in the future. So that when the future arrives, it’s more fruitful than today.

A Default Diary is a simple concept. You create ‘meetings’ in your diary when you will work on a high-value task – come what may.

Direct experience has taught me that people very often need a few different attempts at this to make it work, so here are some guidelines to help:

  • A small number of big time slots often works better than lots of little ones.
  • When being ‘realistic’ about what you can manage, err on the side of caution. (Human beings tend to be superior planners and inferior doers). Start with 1 hour minimum and certainly no more than 3-4 hrs.
  • Categorise using colour to grab your attention. So, you could use a different colour for client meetings, marketing and admin for example. This helps you analyse your time as you go along.
  • Treat it like a client meeting. If you’re going to stick to this, you will need to be rock-solid in your intentions.


Action: Start small. Think of one project you’ve been meaning to get round to for ages. Make a list of everything that needs considering / doing and allocate time slots to do that at the rate of, say, 2 hrs per week. Then stop and reflect on what went well; what didn’t and what could be changed next time.


Tool #5: Brian Tracy was right, Eat That Frog.

Ever had one of those days when you start work full of good intentions to do something high-value, then the PC crashes / the printer get jammed / someone cries off sick and your big client has a drama?

Your 2pm Default Diary slot to review your marketing content strategy has come and gone for another day / week / month.

It’s important to remember that this is just the result of your previous decisions and priorities.

Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog is still a classic and is way more than just the title. But the title is great for now.

The concept is to take that task you typically put off (for whatever reason) and do it first. When you have the most energy and the fewest distractions.

At face value this means you’ll have done your high value tasks and if that means you don’t get round to that admin task until the next day, so be it.

But there’s more to it than that.

You’ll soon start to get a sense of ‘making progress’. Of being someone who’s going places and getting things done.

At the core of personal integrity is ‘doing what you said you’d do’ – of doing what you know you should do.

That’s the real gift of this approach.

Action: Identify that thing you’ve been putting off. Clear the first hour of the day and before you check your emails / social media / bank balance – get it done.


A word to the wise:

As always, there are no silver bullets and none of these taken individually will revolutionise your results.

But, taken collectively as a discipline you personalise and embrace as a habit, your ability to complete on important tasks and ideas will improve dramatically.

And that will get you worthwhile results.


Want to talk about any of this?

I’d be delighted. Book yourself in for a zoom coffee.


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