Okay, I'll be honest. One of the reasons why being an entrepreneur was so attractive to me was because I loved the idea of my time being – well – my time. I still do. While I'm not climbing the corporate ladder per se, the entrepreneur ladder is a beast of its own. Growing from freelancer to solopreneur to small business has taught me that this whole concept of my time is earned, even if you don't have to answer to "the man."
At its core, what I and other business owners like me are really seeking is freedom. And it's out there, oh you can best believe it's ours for the taking! But true freedom – the freedom we're seeking – lives within the boundaries.
Think about it. Financial freedom isn't found without sticking to a budget. The freedom that comes with being healthy and fit involves self-control and self-discipline. I can't think of a single sport that doesn't have to be played within the boundaries in order for the game to keep going. Likewise, the freedom that we want with our time doesn't exist without effective time management skills.
I've come to find that there are three areas we need to focus on in order to level up our time management skills and enjoy true freedom. These productivity hacks have helped me get on the right path in each area and I'm certain you'll find them beneficial, too.
The Eisenhower Matrix
Time management is great, but only if you're prioritizing projects in a manner that makes sense. This hack comes from our 34th president, Dwight Eisenhower, and was used during World War II. Start by prioritizing your tasks in following order:
1. Urgent and important
These are the tasks that can't wait and need to be done asap.
2. Important, but not urgent
These are the tasks that have a major impact on your goals without the fire-in-the-hole feeling attached to them. Because they don't feel like emergencies, they often get overlooked, forgotten, or pushed aside. Make these next.
3. Urgent, but not important
These are the tasks that are usually placed at the top of the to-do list. When tasks are urgent, they naturally feel important. However, not everything that feels like it needs to be handled right now is truly an emergency. Things like replying to a loaded inbox of emails and getting through tons of notifications can wait.
4. No important, not urgent
These are the tasks that really aren't tasks at all. They're things you can enjoy when you're taking a quick break or have leisurely time. Sure, social media engagement and watching Netflix could technically be considered Research and Development but if it's not important and it's not urgent, it should be the last thing on your list.
The Pomodoro Technique
Focus: Time Management
Multi-tasking used to be considered a major skillset, especially for millennials, and I suppose it still is to a certain extent. However, attempting to focus on a bunch of things at once can often lead to starting a lot of projects and not finishing any of them in a timely fashion.
The Pomodoro Technique calls you to work on one project for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. Repeat this eight times for a total of four hours of work. At that point, take a longer break – 30 minutes to an hour – then go through the cycle again.
The Kanban Method
Kanban is basically a visual representation of Eisenhower and Pomodoro combined. Using sticky notes, a pish-pun or dry erase board, or Trello (my favorite), create three columns: To-Do, Doing, and Done. You can play with the wording, too. Inbox, In Progress, and Completed are other options.
Everything that needs to get done should be in this column.
Based on The Eisenhower Matrix, place your top three tasks in the Doing column. No more than three tasks should be in this column at a time.
Once you've completed a task, move it to this column. Decide how long you want to keep tasks there before you trash or archive them.
There are two other columns that I have on my Kanban board: Blocker and High Priority. These columns are placed in this order between Doing and Done.
Tasks in this column refer to projects that I'm working on but have been stalled for reasons outside of my control.
Tasks are very rarely in this column as this column refers to major emergencies due to errors, announcements, etc. If a task is in this column, everything else is on hold until it's completed.
I recommend Trello because it's digital, it has team capabilities, and you can add helpful notes to tasks like labels and due dates.