5 time management tips for entrepreneurs
A flexible schedule is a big perk of being your own boss -- but it can also be a big challenge. Here are 5 tips to master time management for entrepreneurs.
Autonomy to work where you want, when you want, is a double-edged sword.
Sometimes, five o'clock hits, and you're not sure what you got done that day. You seem to scramble to finish tasks before a deadline, even when that deadline is self-imposed.
But when you learn how to manage your time, you can turn that flexibility into a major benefit, boosting your productivity and helping you steer clear of burnout.
Today, we'll cover five time management tips for entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, and anyone else who sets their own hours.
Time is of the essence, so let's dive right in.
5 time management techniques to make the most of your flexible schedule
#1: Set and stick to a routine
Setting your own hours is one of the biggest benefits of becoming an entrepreneur, especially if you can work remotely.
40% of remote workers said the biggest perk of working remotely is having a flexible schedule:
With that in mind, setting and sticking to a routine might seem counterintuitive. After all, routine and flexibility aren't two things that typically go hand-in-hand.
But setting a routine for your workday can actually give you more flexibility to spend time with your family, take breaks throughout the day, and practice self-care.
“In order to have a hustle-free life, you've got to have a sort of a disciplined life. You need to know what you want to do with your time, and you have to be intentional about it.”
Plus, when you regularly do your work at the same time of day and in the same place, you're signaling to your body and mind that it's time to work.
Setting a routine and having a dedicated workspace makes you more productive during work hours. In his study of productivity for writers, Robert Boice, Ph.D. found that people who regularly schedule time to write are more productive.
If you work from home, find a way to differentiate your workspace from your living space.
Set up a dedicated workspace -- even if that means sticking a desk in the corner of your living room. That's my current setup:
Andrea Fomera, one of Podia’s developers, shared what works for her:
“Before I moved, I worked from my living room, and found it distracting to have my TV right there next to my space. When I moved, I landed a space with an office den I could use, and that lets me segment my work time from my personal time.”
No matter how you set up your workspace, keep it dedicated to work and try to avoid multitasking. That way, when you step away from your desk, your mind can step away from work, too.
And stepping away from your desk to take breaks is vital throughout the workday -- not just when 5 P.M. hits.
A review in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience by Simone Ritter, Ph.D., found that our brains keep working on a project while we’re taking a break from it. Another study showed that taking short breaks in the afternoon increases work engagement.
Here are some ideas for scheduling breaks into your daily routine:
- Make a cup of tea at the same time every morning.
- Cook something at lunchtime -- even if that means boiling water for cup-o-noodles.
- Walk your dog at the same time each afternoon. (Bonus: If your dog gets used to walks at a certain time, they'll remind you when it's time to take a walk break. Trust me.)
- Have dinner with your partner or kids.
- Play with your kids or pets for 20 minutes.
Beyond taking breaks, your workday needs to have a hard stop unless you're working on a major project with super-tight deadlines. Working more hours doesn't always mean work gets done.
Whether you stop work right at 5 or choose more of a night owl schedule, know that setting your own hours and sticking to a routine might be tricky at first -- and that's okay.
On average, it takes more than two months for a new behavior to become a habit. So be kind to yourself if you deviate from your routine. If, over time, your schedule isn't working for you, tweak it accordingly. It's a trial-and-error process of figuring out what works best for you.
Of course, maybe you've tried setting a routine and still find yourself procrastinating your work until the end of the day, week, or month.
Procrastination might seem like the enemy -- but it doesn't have to be. Read our next tip to learn what I mean.
#2: Work with your procrastination habits, not against them
If you've looked up time management techniques, chances are you've seen a ton of content promising to help you beat procrastination once and for all.
But what if procrastination isn't the final boss in the video game of productivity?
Let me explain.
Psychologists say that some of the most common causes of procrastination are:
- Not knowing what the task entails
- Uncertainty about the ability to perform the task (or dealing with imposter syndrome)
- Just not wanting to do the task
But if you're a lifelong procrastinator like me, we both know that these reasons don't paint a complete picture of procrastination.
You want to get the work done, and you know exactly what you need to do -- but it's hard to get yourself started.
And procrastination is a slippery slope: The more you procrastinate, the more anxious you feel.
But as soon as you begin, the hard work gets easier.
Productivity expert James Clear explains why by riffing on Newton’s Laws of Physics:
“Objects at rest tend to stay at rest. The good news? It works the other way too.
Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. When it comes to being productive, this means one thing: the most important thing is to find a way to get started. Once you get started, it is much easier to stay in motion.”
Ending a procrastination streak is easier said than done, though. How do you incentivize yourself to spend less time procrastinating and more time getting started?
One way is to leverage our love of instant gratification.
Studies have found that, when it comes to pursuing our goals, immediate enjoyment is far more important than the perceived importance of the goal.
In other words, people who set their sights on long-term goals were significantly less likely to persist than those who aimed for short-term, immediate gratification.
Our brains love rewards. When we do something enjoyable, our brains form reward pathways by giving us a little kick of dopamine to reinforce that behavior.
And when we get that reward, we commit the behavior to memory, making us more likely to choose that behavior in the future rather than less rewarding alternatives.
If you want to procrastinate less, make your to-do list more enjoyable by rewarding yourself when you complete a task. For example, let yourself have a delicious snack, drink your favorite type of tea, or listen to a new podcast episode once you finish a task.
In the short-term, instant rewards make getting work done more entertaining. In the long run, it’ll create a new habit, reinforcing behaviors that curtail your procrastination.
If you're still struggling to get started, try out the Pomodoro technique, adorably named after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer.
Here's how it works:
- Set a timer for 25 minutes.
- Work until the timer goes off.
- Take a five-minute break.
- Repeat four times.
- Take a longer break.
The Pomodoro technique helps you overcome procrastination by doing as much as you can in a short period of time. After all, it's hard to procrastinate when you only have 25 minutes to work.
And if you're the type of procrastinator who thrives under pressure, setting a limited amount of time to get things done can help you power through. Plus, you're still triggering that reward center in your brain by giving yourself breaks in exchange for getting things done.
All in all, if you know you're a procrastinator, you can work that into your time management and scheduling habits, and even train your brain to procrastinate less.
Though you can't be productive if you don't know what to work on first, which brings us to our next time management tip -- knowing which tasks to prioritize.
#3: Prioritize your tasks
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
Every day, you make a to-do list, and you do your best to get everything on it done. But at the end of the day, there's inevitably a task (or two, or three) that gets pushed to the next day . . . then the day after that . . . and so on, and so forth.
Here's why that happens: Not all tasks are created equal.
Putting together the content to create your new online course feels more valuable than, say, cleaning out your inbox. Or maybe you really love writing blog content but always put off crafting social media posts.
When you prioritize your tasks ahead of time, you can figure out which tasks are "low-growth". Low-growth tasks are things that take you a lot of time, you don't enjoy, and don't have a big impact on your growth.
The Eisenhower Matrix helps you break your tasks into four quadrants based on their level of importance and urgency. Then, based on which quadrant each task falls into, you'll do one of four things:
- Important and urgent: Do these tasks first.
- Important and not urgent: Plan on doing these tasks later, after you complete the tasks in the first quadrant.
- Not important and urgent: Delegate these tasks to a freelancer or virtual assistant, or automate them.
- Not important and not urgent: Take these time-wasters off your to-do list altogether.
That fourth quadrant is extra important. It's rare that someone absolutely adores every task on their to-do list. But if you really hate doing something, and it's not helping your business grow, don't do it -- even if it's something a ton of your peers are doing.
Take marketing strategist and solopreneur Gillian Perkins, for example. In a guest post for Moms Make Cents, Gillian explains that she stopped prioritizing social media as a branding tool because her heart “wasn’t in it".
“For a couple of years, I spent enormous amounts of time working to build up a presence on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
But honestly, I’m an introvert (an outgoing, fearless introvert, but still an introvert) and sharing regular ‘updates’ with the world is just not my jam. I found it draining, distracting, and not productive.”
Within six months after taking social media off of her plate, her business grew explosively.
Like Gillian, you need to prioritize the tasks that you excel at and that drive your business growth, so you can build your business in a sustainable, enjoyable way.
Another way to prioritize tasks on a day-to-day basis is the Ivy Lee method, created over 100 years ago by -- you guessed it -- consultant Ivy Lee.
Here's how the Ivy Lee method of prioritization works:
- At the end of each day, write down your six most important tasks for tomorrow.
- Order the tasks from most to least important.
- The next day, start with your most important task.
- Only work on one task at a time.
- If there are any tasks left unfinished at the end of the day, move them to your task list for the next day.
- Repeat this process every workday.
This technique helps you focus on your most important tasks while also keeping smaller tasks from falling through the cracks. Plus, there are few things more satisfying (to me, at least) than crossing an item off a physical to-do list.
(For more techniques like these, check out this article on how to prioritize tasks.)
Knowing your priorities can also help you figure out which tasks to outsource or automate -- and that's exactly what our next tip is about.
#4: Outsource and automate to take work off your plate
The average small business owner is responsible for 4.2 roles, but you're only one person. You can't do it all on your own.
And that's especially true when you consider this mind-boggling stat: Workers tend to spend 2.8 hours a day on productive tasks.
As a full-time business owner, that number is probably (definitely) higher for you.
But chances are, you're still working on some tasks that aren't the best use of your valuable time.
Consider outsourcing those low-growth, repetitive tasks to freelancers or a virtual assistant (VA). There are a variety of tasks you can outsource, from admin work and social media management to design work and content creation.
In fact, 70% of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have hired a freelancer, and 81% of those SMBs plan on working with one again.
- Bring in an expert to tackle the tasks you don't have time for (or really don't enjoy doing)
- Free up your time to focus on growing your business
- Save costs and time over hiring an official employee
In addition to delegating work to someone else, the right technology can help you get more done without adding tasks to your to-do list.
Take Zapier, for example. Zapier lets you connect apps you use everyday to automate workflows with "zaps". And with 2000+ apps in their App Directory, chances are you’ll be able to connect just about anything you use.
Let's say you sell digital downloads on your Podia site and want to automate some of your workflows. You can set up automations to . . .
- Get an SMS whenever you make a sale
- Store new signups in Trello, Airtable, or Google Sheets
- Tweet when a new customer signs up
- Record new Podia sales as paid invoices in FreshBooks
- Do a whole lot more
(Experience first-hand how Podia can help you save time and create a more productive online business. Sign up for a free 14-day trial.)
Project management tools are another great way to leverage technology in your quest for effective time management.
If you find yourself wondering where all of your time goes, you can also use RescueTime, which tracks how and where you spend time on your computer.
RescueTime gives you a daily productivity score so you can see how your current productivity stacks up against your historical performance -- a great way to measure the success of your new time management techniques.
For even more recommendations, check out our guide to the top productivity tools for working from home.
OK, with all of the technical bits out of the way, we can move on to our final tip (and my personal favorite) -- taking care of yourself.
#5: Take care of yourself
If you listen to any of the tips in this article, I hope it's this one. When you're kind to yourself, you're more likely to succeed.
The thing is, people who are self-employed report having less of a work-life balance than those who aren't.
We hear a lot about successful entrepreneurs who live by the "no days off" and "hustle harder" mentality. But that line of thinking can be bad for yourself and your business.
Hustle-free entrepreneur Minessa Konecky calls that mentality "business prisons":
“I started to explore this idea that we were actually building our own business prisons, where we basically set up a structure in our lives, where the only possible outcome was failure and exhaustion because we’re not taking care of ourselves."
The more you "hustle" -- and ignore your own needs -- the harder it becomes to avoid entrepreneurial burnout.
And when you feel burnt out, time management and productivity seem 100 times harder. 91% of professionals say that burnout impacts the quality of their work, while 83% of the same group say it hurts their personal relationships.
That's why self-care for entrepreneurs is so important.
In fact, self-care can make you more productive. Dr. Russell Thackeray, a licensed clinical psychologist, explains:
“People that look after themselves [and practice self-care] do have better cognitive ability. They do have better focus, and they do have better concentration . . .They tend to actually produce more.”
Plus, happiness makes you 12% more productive than your less happy peers.
There are a ton of different ways to practice self-care, and what works for one person might not work for another. For ideas, check out these self-care tips for remote workers.
It might take a few tries, but when you figure out how to take better care of yourself, increased productivity and better time management skills will follow.
Get more creator tips delivered right to your inbox
Join thousands of creators receiving our weekly articles about launching, growing, and thriving as a creative entrepreneur.
Time management tips for busy entrepreneurs
Being your own boss comes with a ton of freedom, which is one big reason so many people are drawn to entrepreneurship.
But whether you're a workaholic, a chronic procrastinator, or somewhere in between, the autonomy of setting your own hours can present its own set of challenges.
Here are our top five tips for more effective time management:
- Set a routine and stick to it. Make sure you have a dedicated workspace and take regular breaks to keep your mind and body happy.
- Make your procrastination work for you by choosing techniques that reward productivity, like the Pomodoro method.
- Prioritize your tasks based on how important and urgent they are. If there's a low-growth task that you hate doing, you don't have to do it -- even if everyone else is.
- Ask for help, whether it's human or tech. VAs, freelancers, automation, and productivity tools are all great resources for helping you manage your time.
- Take care of yourself -- whatever that means for you. You can't be productive if you're dealing with burnout, so make sure you give yourself the same TLC that you put into your business.
And remember, time management is like a muscle. You can't expect to bench press 100 pounds on your first day in the gym -- and you probably won't nail time management and scheduling perfectly on your first try, either.
But keep practicing, and you'll find that building time management skills gets easier over time. Your business and health will be better for it.