Time Management System Options
Systems are one of your main assets – and a time management system is truly one of the biggest assets you have. An organized system keeps you efficient and on top of everything.
Almost any system will work for you, but you must value your time enough to utilize the system. All of your time is important – important enough to warrant organization. Many moms, especially work-at-home-moms, are plagued by the stereotype that you really “don't do anything all day.”
You know this is completely false – but sometimes it's easy to get discouraged and feel like it's true. It's not. Your time is just as valuable as a corporate executive's, and you deserve a solid system.
Time management systems are a lot like a new toy – they're fun to play with, and you can actually end up wasting a lot of time with them. It does initially take time to set up your system. But once you have it set, use it quickly so that you can get to the tasks within the system – don't spin your wheels organizing everything over and over.
You Need to Address the Urgent
A work-at-home-mom needs a system to combine her household responsibilities and her business responsibilities. There's a good chance that many of the tasks you do each day are urgent yet routine. For instance, you must cook the meals. You can't just skip feeding your family while you work on a project all day! That's life as a mom.
You need a system that lets you take care of the urgent things while still leaving time for the things you want to do to achieve business success.
The first key is to get the urgent under control. I've gone through several time management systems and nobody explains this as well as Michael Linenberger in his Master Your Workday Now! system. You need to get those urgent things – like making meals, cleaning the bathroom sink, and doing the laundry – done. I recommend you develop a schedule to include those things as part of your routine, but you can also include them in your time management planning.
Shift your mindset as well. It's easy for an entrepreneur to see her time with her children and family as an obligation that “gets in the way” of her work. Don't look at it like this. Even busy corporate executives have appointments with others that they need to attend to. Every hour of their day is not free.
Consider your time with your children an appointment on your calendar – an appointment to build up the biggest investment of your life.
A Very Basic System
The most important part of any system is that you actually do things. You can use an extremely basic system to achieve that. Keep a list of things you need to do (I recommend both personal and business on the list so things don't become unbalanced).
Look over this list and pick the top five things that you need to get done. Put those five things on a fresh sheet of paper (or open a fresh document in your word processor).
Now pick one of those things and work on it until it's finished. Move on to the next thing. When you've done all five, go pick another five things.
This system is extremely easy to implement and it's actually pretty effective. Write everything down on your master list (this gets it out of your head). Then transfer what you need/want to get done to the fresh sheet. A fresh sheet helps things stay uncluttered and in focus.
This time management system will break down once it gets a lot of information on it, and time/date sensitive tasks may get lost – but it's a great basic system that can make a dramatic difference in your productivity, especially if you have no system in place right now.
Master Your Workday Now!
There are a few monumental systems out there and Michael Linenberger's is one of them. His system is really very practical and easy to put in place – and it's especially effective for moms.
Every task you need to do goes on a list. If you need to do a task today (in other words, you would stay up late to get it done) it goes into your “Critical Now.” Other tasks you'd like to get done in the next several days go into your “Opportunity Now.” Tasks you'd like to eventually get done, and need to review periodically, go into “Over-the-Horizon.”
Linenberger's time management system does go into more detail, and includes templates to get you started. He also details how to tame the email monster (and his techniques are effective – my inbox is finally under control.) He moves on to goals and beliefs. But the core of his system is elegant in its simplicity, and it's extremely powerful.
He also offers information on how to integrate his system into Microsoft Outlook. I was surprised at how effective this is – it really works and it makes Outlook a powerful productivity tool.
Getting Things Done
David Allen's system is another monumental system. It also uses lists – you write down everything and you review your lists frequently. I've found that Linenberger's list method is more effective than Allen's, especially for a busy mom and entrepreneur. But Allen brings a lot of value in his system as well.
The system discusses “collecting inputs” – this is what you have coming in. It can be everything from a magazine, to an important email, to that shirt that you've been meaning to sew a button back on for weeks. Allen details how to take all of these things and process them. His information on processing is very helpful. If you have a hard time making decisions efficiently his techniques may help you.
One of the major strengths of Allen's time management system is the initial set-up period. Allen walks you, step-by-step, through getting organized. This incredibly thorough process will leave you empowered and ready to tackle your days with your system. He also gives great ideas for a filing system. I haven't tried his method yet, but it seems very intuitive.
Steven Covey / Franklin Planner
I use a Franklin Planner myself, so I think they're a good thing. But I prefer the methods listed above to Steven Covey's systems of time management. I think you'll get a lot out of Covey's book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
Covey explains tasks and obligations using a quadrant method. It makes a lot of sense in theory, but I found it hard to use in practice.
He also recommend a method of prioritizing tasks using an “A,B,C” system where you assign each task a letter to prioritize it. This system can work very well, and is useful if you're writing tasks down on your calendar or in your planner every day. I find that a task-list based system works a little better. I use my planner to write down appointments and I also record tasks that must be done that day.
The Pomodoro Technique
This nifty little technique is very good if you have problems with multi-tasking and distraction. You know you have a problem with multi-tasking if you try to do it. It's not a good thing! If you sit down to work on your business and find yourself distracted by email, Facebook, or other interruptions this is a good technique for you.
It's simple and uses lists and a kitchen timer – it can be integrated into your other systems. The kitchen timer is set at 25 minute intervals. You stay focused on the task at hand (selected before you start the timer) for that entire 25 minutes, then take a break. You move back to the task after that (setting the timer again), if needed.
The complete time management system details how to deal with interruptions and goes into more depth in Fancesco Cirillo's book The Pomodoro Technique
It helps you discover how to stay focused and how to estimate how much time tasks will take. Many moms find that distraction is a big problem and this system lets you remove distractions. The timer is also a highly visible method for letting your children know “when Mommy is working” – and that they need to play on their own until the timer rings.
Pick a System, Any System
So many toys… so little time… which system should you choose? If you want to do a little exploring, you can read the core books for each system (each one has a book or two to explain it). Then work out what you find easiest to use.
But if you just want one that works, get Michael Linenberger's Master Your Workday Now! time management system. You can implement it immediately and it works very well for the entrepreneur mom.
If you have a hard time being tempted by multi-tasking and get distracted easily, use the Pomodoro timer techniques to keep you focused. Remember that the timer can also be a highly visual (and audible) cue that even your toddlers can understand. This is helpful in keeping you on task and helping them understand clearly when “Mommy is working” – and understanding that soon you'll be back to them.
Remember that the most important aspect of any time management system is that you actually use it. So pick a system and really dig in and use it. You'll find that it's most effective if you set up and then get down to working your tasks 🙂