Why learning mattersOctober 24, 2021
The value of your timeJanuary 31, 2022
I hope your new year is off to a busy start, or better yet, to just the right amount of work – enough to earn money, but not so much that you feel completely overwhelmed.
Are there any major business milestones you want to reach by the end of 2022? Even if you don’t make “new year, new you” resolutions, it’s a good idea to put a few important goals in writing: It’s a proven fact that you are more likely to follow through on objectives that you have detailed in writing.
Here are six practices that can help you save time (and stress) in the year to come:
- Don’t let the day start you
As humans, we have a built-in clock that is guided by daylight and certain chemicals released in the body. With individual variations, these factors make the morning hours our most focused and creative time.
Few people have the luxury of starting their morning by meditating on a beach, but there are many other steps to control how your day starts. Depending on your circumstances, mornings can involve family obligations, pet care and the inevitable catching up on work messages. If you receive work projects from other countries, you probably wake up to urgent messages from clients in different time zones. While it may be tempting to send replies while sipping your first cup of coffee, taking just a little time for yourself sets a different tone for the entire day.
At a minimum, spend a few minutes to think about the day ahead. Such a review can include deadlines and project obligations, but also commitments to family and friends or planning for breaks and exercise. Visualizing the entire day helps reduce stress and improves work quality.
Postponing your interaction with messages and devices also gives you a sense of control. Set firm boundaries so your clients know when to expect a response from you and don’t allow client communication to disrupt other morning activities in your home.
- Stop thinking of productivity as a “one size fits all” solution
Everyone’s productivity patterns are different. Instead of holding yourself to an ideal level of productivity (hint: it doesn’t exist), make it a point to understand your own work preferences. For example, how long can you focus on a given task before you need a break, and how accurate are your time predictions? How reliable are your time estimates for work projects, and what tends to throw them off? If you struggle with a brain-based condition such as anxiety or ADHD, it may also be helpful to know what distracts you and how you can prevent sensory overload. Since motivation is important for completing tasks on time, you can also play around to learn which incentives work best for you.
Once you’ve identified your most productive time windows of the day, protect them carefully against external intrusions (family phone calls etc.). You can always complete tasks that don’t require full concentration in your less productive hours.
- Set a daily work routine
Routines are activity sequences that reduce stress because they don’t require much attention. A good example would be the difference between a commuter route you drive every day and trying to reach an unknown destination in heavy traffic – knowing and anticipating certain events can have a calming effect. It may not always be easy, but strive to make your business working hours as predictable as possible. Set a start and end time of your business day and close office doors or shut down computers after a certain hour to avoid turning yourself into a non-stop working machine. To help offset your computer time, your daily routine should include regular breaks and outdoor time as well.
- Establish a value unit for your time
I have talked about the economic value of your time in this column before. Because you run a business, your time is literally worth money. For example, if you can earn amount x in one hour of translation/interpreting, it makes little sense for you to spend two or three hours creating social media content or laboring over your tax return. It may be in your best interest to generate income in those hours and to outsource other tasks.
Establishing an approximate monetary value of your time will also make it easier to reject unprofitable work offers or evaluate volunteer activities that are not a good fit for your work activities (volunteering in the morning, see above).
- Be honest with yourself
Looking at bottom lines and asking hard questions can be scary, I get it. At the same time, it makes sense to explore the profitability of your business, especially if you offer a range of different services. If you consider your time an investment (which it certainly is), it makes sense to analyze your return on investment.
Here are some questions you can ask to identify optimum time use:
- Which of my business activities are the best use of my time?
- How can I concentrate on my most profitable activities?
- Is my time doing (…) well spent?
It goes without saying that money is only one of many possible ROIs for your time. Of course, work satisfaction, living your values and actively contributing to your community are equally important.
- Spot time wasters a mile away
There are many time wasters in our lives, some avoidable, and others less so. Here are three big items you can control.
- Social media: Most Americans spend an average of 2-3 hours a day in social media platforms. Maintaining a presence in select platforms to promote your business doesn’t have to come with hours of scrolling. Set clear boundaries for social media use to avoid wasting precious time. That includes disabling notifications and closing browser tabs while you work.
- Distractions: It takes our brain up to 20 minutes to refocus after every distraction. You can’t avoid all distractions, but you can learn about your own sensitivities and take preventive steps to help you concentrate. You can also set distraction rules in your own household to gain more high-quality working time.
- Clutter: Not being able to find things and/or data is annoying and wastes enormous amounts of time. Designated spaces/directories/file names can save you hours of frustration.
I realize none of these suggestions can be implemented on the spot, so pick and choose whatever makes sense and get in touch if you want to learn more!
(An earlier version of this post was published in Tool Box Journal, Issue 22-1-333)