Time is an invaluable commodity. Flowing through our hands like water, once gone, never to return. Working a full-time job, taking care of family, community obligations, hobbies – so many things consume our waking hours, especially if others depends on us.
Trying to grow a business in your spare time, while remaining sane is a daunting task. The thought of putting our free time towards a project which may never provide us any income is a scary proposition. Without some risk however, the chances of reward decreases dramatically.
Regardless of your life situation, finding an extra hour or two during the day to work towards your goal is possible, through discipline and efficient time planning. While taking care of your family should always be first priority, there is a high probability when you really look at your daily habits, several of them don’t contribute to your end goal.
As humans, rarely do we question why we are doing something, as routine becomes habit.
Becoming conscious of how your time is being spent, is crucial for identifying where you can free up time. You might be surprised to learn exactly how much time you are wasting on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Before we get into the tools and techniques, ask yourself the following question throughout the day, as many times as possible.
“Is what I’m doing right now, bringing me closer to my goal?”
Once you get in the habit of doing this, all of the wasted opportunities and distractions start to come into focus.
Before you even start planning out tasks for your project, I’d recommend you track all of your free time for at least one week. We are going to break this down into three easy steps.
Step 1: Tracking daily habits.
Get yourself a little pocket sized notepad, to keep on you at all times for this weekly experiment. During your non-work hours, write down what you are doing in blocks of time.
6:00am: Woke up
6:30am: Made breakfast
7:00am: Dressed for work
7:30am: Facebook/email replies
You get the idea. Don’t lay any judgement on your actions at this point, just get into the habit of becoming aware of your actions. If at all possible, do this during your work hours anytime you find yourself doing activities other than work.
Step 2: Tracking your online activities.
We’ve all been there……
“I just want to check my email for a second.”
Next thing you know, you’re watching funny pet videos on YouTube and wondering where the last hour went.
This is where a free program program called RescueTime comes in really handy. RescueTime monitors how much time you spend on an application or website. You can see reporting about your activities and re-categorize activities in a meaningful way for you. An advanced feature (with the paid version) you can implement is choosing to “Focus”, by blocking access to your most distracting websites for a period of time you specify daily. Another option is the free Firefox add-on called Leechblock.
Between reviewing your daily habits list and RescueTime reporting, a clear picture will begin to emerge about your amount of wasted time daily, along with opportunities to get stuff done.
While this is a good eye-opening exercise for a week or two, focusing on actual productivity is more more important. I’ve found it’s eventually more important to focus on what you did, rather than all the things you didn’t do. Checking reports of all of your non-productive time, can become a dead end if done for too long, not to mention demotivating.
Step 3: Determining how much your time is worth.
I sadly recall when starting my online business bragging about how I “do everything myself”. I didn’t know any better and took a smug pleasure in hoarding all tasks for myself. It’s important to know how to do all of the tasks in your business, but not for the reason you may think.
Only by knowing how to do something yourself, can you explain it to someone else. Once you can explain it, you can create a video demonstration or written document and free yourself from this task. The idea is to spend your time on the highest value activities and ones you enjoy. Create systems to remove yourself from the equation and from low value tasks where possible.
For example, here are some of the lower level activities I recall doing in the beginning of my online ventures:
- Hand coloring images in Photoshop the really hard way, to change a background color.
- Creating an intricate excel spreadsheet for eCommerce product data, before I knew about standardized csv file formats and proper image storage.
- Writing all of my own product descriptions (note, I do rather enjoy this sometimes).
- Spending too much time on unimportant stuff, instead of marketing.
and the mistakes go on and on…….
I first realized there was a problem with my approach when I read a report called the Internet Business Manifesto by Rich Scheffren. There was a game changing diagram which showed how impossible my trying to do everything myself was. Luckily I read this in the same year my original eCommerce shop launched, not years after. I highly recommend reading that free report, as it explains several concepts far better than I can.
A very important takeaway is determining how much time you put into your business, and how much you pay yourself. Outsource lower level tasks which are below your hourly rate, and continue to scale things up.
An invaluable tool I use daily to help me get stuff done is called Toggl. For a mere $5/mo, I get fantastic insight on what I really do with my online business time.
Let me show you an example of how I use it.
I create categories for a particular business and associated task category.
Ex. Business A
- Administrative Tasks
- Productive Time (creating systems)
- Content Creation
When it’s work time, I manually start the timer for a particular task. You can choose to mark the task time as “billable” if it’s paid client work, and even integrate with an online invoicing system perfect for freelancers called Freshbooks.
Another awesome feature is the ability to sync with your calendar system. Personally I use Google calendar. I created a special color coded calendar to pull in my documented task time entries from Toggl. This gives me an eye opening, visual way to quickly skim the week and see how much work I really got done vs. half browsing the web/half working.
If I’m idle for 10 minutes (or whatever time you set), I get asked if I want to keep or discard that time. This is time to really focus when the meter is running, so if you find yourself wanting to click away from your work….immediately stop the timer.
Sometimes, you may find out of an hour, you only got 20 minutes of work done, not the ideal scenario. I find working for a set time of intense focus, then taking a 10 minute break away from the computer really helps.
At the end of the week or month, you can pull reports in Toggl and see exactly how much time was spent on particular tasks. Often the reality of what you think you did, and actually got done, are two different things. Sometimes, even though our business is always in the forefront of our minds, the actual quantifiable progress we are making is hard to discern. If you consider tracking your progress like this – that gray area will be a thing of the past.
Look at the tasks you enjoy and don’t enjoy. If you can outsource the tasks you don’t like, or are worth less than your hourly rate do it! This is how you begin to scale operations and give yourself the gift on working on tasks which really inspire and motivate you. Do what you are good at, and outsource the tasks you dislike to people who can do it cheaper, potentially better, and in less time. You now begin to learn how long tasks take to accomplish, their value and how you can fit them into your day, in place of time wasting habits you’ve become accustomed to. If you see, for example 10 hours of Administrative Tasks, but only 2 hours of Content Creation, you know it’s worth both upping your game and systemizing some lower level administrative tasks to free up time.
Another idea is to manually write the top two tasks on a piece of paper you have to get done today. Just two. Set a simple countdown timer for say 3 hours with E.gg Timer , (I first heard about this in the 4 hour work week book.)
Work on nothing else for these three hours. Knock it out. If you start your day this way, you’ll feel accomplished and actually get the most important things done, with no distractions.
Next week, we will look at the fourth obstacle blocking your business success, Money.
What time savings tips or tricks have worked well for you?