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WHY ENTREPRENEURS NEED TO INVENT THEIR OWN TIME MANAGEMENT SYSTEM

 

By Francis Wade

 

Friday, December 5, 2008.

 

This simple equation has driven entrepreneurs from one time management class to another in search of tips that will transform them into ultra-productive professionals.

 

Most courses on time management run for two days, where you learn a new system of habits developed by someone who has invented a way to be more productive. The new system works so well for the inventor that he/she decides to package the approach into a detailed prescription to be followed by everyone.

 

The problem is, why should a time management system that works for the “expert” in their New York corporate world work for your internet business run out of your bedroom in Hawaii? You live a different life, with a need for flexible hours (i.e. midnight shifts included), and you don’t have the luxury of a secretary, IT support and real vacations away from email.

 

Plus there’s that habit that you have of taking a mid-afternoon nap… which you are sure helps you…to say nothing of the difference between the culture of Honolulu and Wall Street!

 

Instead of telling you to “follow me,” why can’t they tell you how to do something similar to what they did, so that you can also invent a time management system of your own? Did they follow some kind of method that you could use, and is there a process to follow, or were they just very smart or extremely lucky? You are a different animal, and you know that your habits are different from theirs, so why should you be expected to be successful following their system?

 

The fact is that most people who take time management courses have a hard time implementing a whole bunch of new, foreign habits all at once. Habits are hard to break, and the 101 new habits and 66 new tips in the new system they are learning are just impossible to learn overnight.

 

But, you give it a good try and it works - for a while - until the first crisis hits and you do what we all do — go back to what’s familiar. We feel bad, and we wonder how something that seemed so easy in class could be so hard to do in reality.

 

But in the back of our minds, we still want to be more productive and need to find a way to harness the insights that exist in all the programs out there… but who has time to attend them all?

 

The Solution

 

The solution is not to give up, but instead lies in taking charge of the problem. This we can do by owning up to the fact that our needs as entrepreneurs in our particular niche, in our geography, within our industry, are unique. Even our competitors can’t copy us because we are special in wanting to create a new business in the specific way that WE want to do it.

 

We need a time management system that is customized for us - not only for the next few months, but for years to come - ideally something that can grow and help us change our habits as our business expands. I know this well, as I am also an entrepreneur.

 

After 12 years in business in the U.S., I moved to live in Kingston and had to re-build my time management system for this brand new environment. I felt frustrated to see that no-one was offering this kind of help - all they had were canned systems that weren’t built with Jamaica in mind.

 

I had to take this journey myself, and in the process created a way for anyone to invent a time management system for themselves, with a little help. The best analogy I could think of was to consider my role as a (very) amateur cook.

 

When I come up with my own recipes (rarely!) I have to follow certain rules like “not mixing up the salt and sugar.”  I don’t want or need to hear that I must follow someone else’s recipe, like a slave, but I do know that I need to follow the fundamental design rules of cooking in order to make the dish turn out right.

 

A custom time management system is the same way. It doesn’t come from a catalogue, and it can’t be copied from any other person. But there are certain design rules that need to be followed.

 

How Top Entrepreneurs Design Time Management Systems

Three things are needed for a great design: A knowledge of some definitions, an understanding of the fundamentals, and the willingness to test and re-test until something clicks.

 

Some Definitions

 

Time demands - stuff we have to do. They all start with internal decisions in which we choose to act in a way that consumes time.

 

Fundamentals - all expertise starts with the practice and mastery of some key fundamentals and this is easy to see in the sporting world. Imagine trying to be a top golfer or basketball player without a commitment to practice the fundamentals to perfection. “Cool tips” are MUCH less important than fundamentals!

 

Peace of Mind - all time management systems are designed to produce this goal, otherwise they are simply useless.

 

The Fundamentals of Time Management

There are 11 fundamentals to be found in all complete time management systems. When any of them is missing, it’s likely that a time management system will simply fall apart, destroying our peace of mind.

 

(Note that each of these are practices to be perfected by doing them over and over again, looking for small improvements. Imagine Michael Jordan sinking hundreds of free-throws, by himself, on a court - looking for small improvements.)

 

1. Capturing: placing time demands in reliable places for temporary storage, using as few places as possible, and never using one’s memory! These “reliable places” are called capture points.

 

2. Emptying: moving time demands from capture points into other parts of the system frequently.

 

3. Tossing: deciding not to do certain items that don’t make sense, after further consideration.

 

4. Acting Now: immediately executing time demands that can be completed within 5 minutes.

 

5. Storing: placing information that needs to be used later in a safe place (such as a filing cabinet or Outlook folder).

 

6. Scheduling: deploying time demands into a calendar as a set of appointments.

 

7. Listing: sorting numerous time demands into lists that are too detailed to be scheduled in a calendar (e.g. a grocery list).

 

8. Interrupting: using physical or audible reminders to stop working on a task.

 

9. Switching: deciding which task to do next.

 

10. Warning: sending a signal when the time management system is about to break for some reason.

 

11. Reviewing: checking over the time management system to figure out how to effect continuous improvement.

Each of these fundamentals can be broken up into levels of expertise. I use a martial arts belt system to show how the Capturing that a White belt does is very different from that of a Green belt, for example.

 

Each entrepreneur must decide for themselves how they should implement each fundamental, based on their current habits, the demands of their company, the plans they have for their business, etc.

 

With a baseline of today’s time management system is established, it’s easy to set up an improvement program that is made up of the progress that one wants to make in each fundamental.

 

Top coaches do this in sports all the time. Usain Bolt, who just broke three world records in the Olympics, had the same potential he has now when he was 16. When I saw him then here in Jamaica, his start was slow, his head would lean back and his feet were never straight. His coach developed a plan for all the fundamentals, and it took six years to correct them. Hard work on his habits produced the results we saw in Beijing - and no, it wasn’t the shoes!

 

Testing and Re-Testing

 

Unfortunately, not every improvement you try will actually work, and it’s crazy to try to change too many habits all at once.

 

Instead, it’s a better idea to focus on 2-3 new habits across all the fundamentals, and to schedule a date (e.g. in 30 days time) by when the habit should be ingrained. Then the entrepreneur can work on the next habit, and the next, and with a good enough plan they can continue to improve their time management system for as long as they want, and stop only when they are satisfied that it is working for them, for that moment.

 

Caveat: whenever there is a big life-change, such as the purchase of a new company or the arrival of a new baby, a time management system is likely to require an upgrade. At this point the entrepreneur goes back to the fundamentals, the same way Tiger Woods does from time to time, in order to craft a new system that fits the new reality.

 

This is how top entrepreneurs use their time management systems as a tool to assist them in their success. They can be flexible and focused, regardless of their life circumstances, and ensure that their time management and business results are giving them the peace of mind they want.

 

Entrepreneurs with mastery over their time management systems have found the keys to their success.

 

Francis Wade is a management consultant based in Kingston, Jamaica. He blogs at The 2Time Management System

 

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