One simple secret for improving time management

I don’t use a budget for my personal finances. It takes up too much of my time.

I use Mint.com to review all the expenses that posted across various bank statements and credit cards once per week. It takes about 10 minutes unless I spot a charge that doesn’t look right.

Things are different when it comes to budgeting my time. I spend 10 minutes per day reviewing my plans, energy level, mental attitude, stress, and accomplishments.

Then I spend 30 minutes per week budgeting my time for the coming seven days. Once per quarter I reserve an entire day to plan the next quarter and make firm commitments for specific outcomes.

Why the difference? It comes down to the size of the impact on my goals.

Magnitude of Effect

If my wife and I get into a bad habit of spending too much money on frivolous expenses, it might set us back a few hundred dollars for a couple of months before I notice the trend and we self-correct. The most I have to lose is a few hundred bucks.

When it comes to my time, the magnitude of effect is HUGE. As an entrepreneur, how I spend my time will impact my finances more than any other factor.

And it’s much harder to keep my time from slipping through the cracks than it is to keep my money from being squandered or misappropriated. Have you noticed this? Time has a way of slipping through your fingers when you’re not paying attention.

That’s why I encourage you to pay attention. Get feedback about where your time is going. The more feedback the better.

This is the Pareto Principle applied to productivity. Put just a little bit of energy into getting feedback about where your time went and how well you did, and you’ll experience a tenfold return on investment when it comes to the outcomes you care about.

How to Get Feedback

When I’m not being highly productive, you can sometimes find me goofing around with my kids. The other day, I was finally winning a race in Mario Kart against my 12-year-old son. I could hardly believe how much I had improved in such a short time, until I realized I was looking at the wrong side of the screen.

I was losing badly, ramming my cart into the side of the raceway as my son sped toward victory in the vehicle I previously thought was mine. This lack of proper feedback on my performance reminded me of some entrepreneurs I’ve seen spinning their wheels without gaining any traction. Very often, all it takes is a bit of feedback on where their time is going, and suddenly their productivity improves.

Why does feedback on time-use help so much with productivity? Because when you pause to reflect, you enrich your mental map of reality. And that allows you to predict what tomorrow will look like if you don’t make a change.

Why the Eisenhower Matrix Fails Entrepreneurs

Most entrepreneurs are familiar with the Eisenhower Matrix. It’s a tool for deciding what should get your limited attention. It’s supposed to steer you away from doing urgent but unimportant tasks so you can focus on your long-term objectives. But as a productivity coach for entrepreneurs, I’ve noticed one glaring problem.

The Eisenhower Matrix: Do, Schedule, Delegate, Delete
The Eisenhower Matrix: Do, Schedule, Delegate, Delete

Entrepreneurs are terrible at knowing what is actually urgent. Caught up in the stress of the day, administrative minutia takes over your brain. As a result, you work on all the wrong things.

The solution? Use the Impact Matrix instead. This is a tool designed by my friend and fellow entrepreneur, David Ruel. It helps you think about the total impact of things you are spending time on.

The Impact Matrix, times of low impact/high impact combined with low effort/high effort
The Impact Matrix, times of low impact/high impact combined with low effort/high effort

Entrepreneurs do better with this because it’s more aligned with how they already think. The goal is to start your day with time carved out (in advance and with notifications turned off) for high impact tasks from the upper right-hand quadrant.

Use a planning tool like this at the start of each day as you compile a list of tasks you’d like to get done. Then create focus blocks for the high-effort, high impact tasks. Then, at the end of the day, reflect on how well you did.

You should reflect on your productivity daily and weekly. How did you do? What traps did you fall into? What distractions kept you from your most important work? When did you accidentally sabotage your own energy or focus?

Reflect on these things to enrich your mental map of the future. This process teaches you about yourself and the things that block your productivity. With consistent feedback and practice at applying the insights you gain from that feedback; you will become a more productive person over time.

How to Make it Happen in Real Life

Okay, we all know lofty ideals make good blog articles but provide little help in real life unless you have a concrete plan. Here’s your concrete plan. It has two parts:

1. Plan your day before you begin.

2. Use a physical daily planner that prompts you to reflect on your time-use at the right daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly intervals.

As an entrepreneur, it’s difficult to see into the distant future. Sometimes, the best you can do is plan today. And that’s okay as a starting point, because planning your day and then reviewing how it actually went may be the most powerful form of feedback on time management you’ll ever find.

At the start of each workday, before you do anything else, sit down and sketch out a rough plan for how you will spend your time that day. A physical planner works best for this because you’re less likely to get distracted by open tabs on your computer showing unread emails and other distractions.

Glancing at the physical planner sitting open on your desk shows you how much time you have left in the day and what you planned to get done. It’s a powerful form of feedback.

It’s even better if your planner has built-in prompts for reflection at the right intervals. To help with that, I recommend any of these excellent planners.

1. Effic Planner

2. 12 Week Year Planner

3. Full Focus Planner

The first one is my favorite (and not just because it’s an affiliate link). It has the advantage of helping you break down big goals into less overwhelming chunks. These chunks then make their way onto your daily agenda. It’s designed to keep you focused without getting overwhelmed. Perfect for entrepreneurs.

It’s hard to build new habits, but starting with a small step like this is often the key. You need some sort of prompt to remind you of your new habit until it becomes automatic. Fortunately, a physical planner comes with the built-in benefit of serving as a prompt. It’s a reminder to plan your time, and to reflect on your time-use throughout the day.

Use your time wisely in pursuit of the goals that matter to you most. Don’t let the months and years slip by without accomplishing something meaningful.

Resolve to get feedback, starting with these simple steps:

1. Plan your day before you begin

2. Pause on a regular basis to reflect

This will initiate a cycle of feedback to make you a master of time management in no time at all.

Dr. Snyder is a Psychologist and Productivity Coach working with entrepreneurs to accelerate results that matter. Learn more at ToddSnyderCoaching.com

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