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Time on Your Side: 9 Ways to Take Control of the Clock
(Continued from 1)

Set aside blocks of time for e-mail and phone transactions. Telephone calls and e-mail messages can actually eat away your prime business time if you allow them to repeatedly interrupt your work. "Set aside one or two times a day to answer and return phone calls. You have greater success in reaching people right before lunch and at the end of the day," explains Karen L. Snyder, owner of The Project Pleasers, a home based marketing and public relations consultancy in Pipersville, Pennsylvania. Snyder also recommends setting one time daily---or every other day--to monitor e-mail. "Keeping up with e-mail can drive you crazy. Schedule a set time of day to check it," she advises. "Otherwise, you waste time signing on and off your computer during peak work hours--hours you could dedicate to getting your 'real' work done." She checks her e-mail every other evening, after her children are in bed.

Outsource to make time for your most important tasks. "Entrepreneurs often want to complete all the tasks themselves and wear all the hats. Remember: You can't do everything, and not every task requires your particular talents," says Janet Zaretsky, owner of JRAM Consulting, a home-based business coaching firm in Austin, Texas. To make the best of outsourcing, Zaretsky advises entrepreneurs to take a notebook along with them for a week. "Any time you find yourself doing something that someone else could do, jot it down," she says. "At the end of the week, review the tasks that you list repeatedly and consider them for possible outsourcing. If you can, cut one or more tasks out of your schedule by assigning them to someone else. You'll find that the tasks you're letting go of are those you merely tolerate. They don't have to be completed by you." Zaretsky hired a CPA to do her accounting and uses broadcast e-mail rather than bulk mail. "I knew I couldn't out source my actual coaching calls, but I found other tasks I could assign to someone else," she says. "If you can cut a task out, do it."

Use time-saving equipment. "If you're starting a business, plan to purchase equipment that will save you time, reduce telephone tag and allow you to multitask," says Randy Spotswood, owner of Stage Four Productions, a Web- site design company in Columbia, Missouri. "Mandatory equipment for a start- up office includes an answering machine, a cellular phone, a fax machine and a computer with Internet capabilities. All these items allow you to either make contacts and transactions faster or to continue to receive customer calls and contacts when you're away from the office."

Hold office hours sacred. Spotswood says the greatest temptation of owning a business is allowing yourself to be distracted by non-business tasks. "Don't let your boundaries blur so that work time is invaded by household responsibilities," he says. "Before I consider any kind of appointment not related to work, I try to schedule it for evenings."

Budget time for breaks. "Taking a regular break relieves you of the monotony of sitting at a computer for several hours," Spotswood says. "Resist the temptation to work constantly, and remember that your rest is important, too. Taking a break lets you see your work with fresh eyes and helps you recharge your mental batteries so you are once again up to the task ahead."

Work Smarter to Make the Most of Your Time

Lesley Spencer, founder and director of Home-Based Working Moms, a women's networking association in Austin, Texas, and Marnie Pehrson, author of Keeping Your Sanity In A Home Business, offer the following tips to help you make the most of your working day:
  • Pool projects. Schedule meetings and errands for a certain day of the week to reduce the time you're out of the office.
  • Make the most of "down time"--the time you spend on hold over the phone, in line at the bank or waiting in the doctor's office. Spencer uses this time to catch up on her mail and skim monthly publications. Pehrson makes lists of tasks to complete in five, 10 or 30 minutes to consult when she has a few minutes of down time.
  • Don't hide behind busy work. Write a mission statement and, when you start a task, ask yourself if it's moving your business toward your goals.
  • Use your computer to save time. Use mail-merge lists, macros and templates. Consider ways to incorporate data from your database into form letters to avoid retyping and recomposing letters.
  • Consider running two computers at once. "I use a chair with wheels and have disks copying on one computer while I check e-mail on the other," Pehrson says.
  • Learn to delegate and ask for help when necessary. "Whether it's asking your spouse to clean the kitchen or hiring a student to stuff envelopes, remember that you can only do so much," Spencer says.

  • Carolyn Campbell is the author of the book, Together Again: True Stories of Birth Parents and Adopted Children Reunited, and has published more than 300 magazine articles in publications such as "Ladies Home Journal," "Family Circle," "Guideposts" and "Writer's Digest."

    See also Win the War Against Procrastination.

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