Time management

Nine low-tech ways to manage your time more wisely

Special to The Globe and Mail

Businessman looking and pointing finger at empty notepad. (Otmar Winterleitner/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

As entrepreneurs, we’re always busy. But where does it end? When you get more successful, do you think your schedule will magically get less busy and fill up with fewer obligations?

Think again. Instead, you’ll have to get more done in less time. And unless you have a system, it may prove difficult.

Now, there are tons of apps, online tools and time management methods out there, but it wasn’t until I began experimenting with more nontraditional, seemingly archaic means of managing my time that I truly began to harness the full power of time management.

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Everyone is different, and not all of the strategies that work for me work for everyone else. But here are 9 unconventional tips that have helped me manage my time far more effectively:

Ditch the smartphone and use a paper and pen. Just because a method is more technologically advanced does not necessarily make it more effective. In my opinion, nothing beats a good old-fashioned notebook and pen – it’s clunky, annoying, inconvenient and therefore difficult to ignore. I could always place my smartphone in my pocket, and I often do. Unless I’m wearing some sort of MC Hammer-style parachute pants, I can’t put my to-do list notebook in my pocket – nor should I. The annoyance factor is what makes it so powerful.

Use a to-do list template. Since your end goal is to manage your time more effectively, it would be ridiculous to spend a ton of time writing out your most common to-do list items each day. I created my own to-do list template which includes all of my daily tasks. This ensures I don’t spend time writing them down, and I can schedule them in with my more unique tasks that I only have to perform today.

Include even the most menial tasks. On your list, you should include every single solitary thing you do during the day that takes up time. Seriously. I’m talking meals, working out, taking a shower and calling your mother. This is not a business task management list, this is a time management list. If you spend time on things you think you’ll remember on your own, include it.

Prioritize your list items. The order in which you perform necessary tasks is where the magic happens. Think about the most optimal order in which you can accomplish your tasks – you can often squeeze three or four things into the same amount of time that it would otherwise take you to accomplish just one.

Start your list with 5 small, easy tasks. The Brian Tracy acolytes are going to hate on me for this one. I’ve never been a big fan of completing your largest task first. Or second. Or even third. Say I’ve got a long list of 35 items I need to perform on a given day (which is common). Then, let’s assume my three largest list items take an hour each (which, again, is common.) That means three hours into my day, I look down at my list and I still have 32 list items that have yet to be completed. This becomes very intimidating and, in my experience, makes it far less likely that I’ll complete everything on the list that day. However, if I decide to start my day with five quick, simple tasks before tackling my first large list item, I look down at my list about an hour later and I’ve already made a dent. I feel like I’m on a roll, and I’m more likely to ramp up my productivity for the day.

For every big list item, perform 3-4 small list items. As an extension of the previous tip, I advocate performing at least three or four simpler list items for every long, arduous one. This not only continues to release endorphins at a more rapid rate – which happens every time I check something off a list and boosts my mood – but it also makes it seem like I’m burning through a larger percentage of my list more rapidly.

Include a project management grid. Your to-do list not only serves as a way to manage your time during a specific day, but it also keeps you organized and productive across all your projects. If you’re an entrepreneur, juggling multiple projects is often a challenge, and that’s why most people assume it’s more productive to focus on only one project at a time. I disagree with this assumption. I think that you can truly be more productive by juggling multiple projects – if you manage them all effectively. Include a grid on the back of your to-do list devoted to project management, displaying every project in terms of phases of development (i.e. brainstorming, outlining, development, testing, etc.). I prefer one with a similar structure and rules to what Eric Ries recommends in The Lean Startup, but feel free to experiment.

Use shorthand. I use my own form of shorthand to populate my to-do list. To a third party, nothing would make sense. But you’re the only one who uses your list, so use whatever form of shorthand you like. It’s quicker than writing everything out in full, and every second counts.

Make tomorrow’s list before today ends. Before I sleep each night, I take a few minutes to make tomorrow’s list. I’ll take anything I didn’t accomplish today and push it to tomorrow, and add new list items in where necessary, based on what tasks I need to perform next. I’ll also then number my first dozen items so I have some direction on what to dive into first.

Travis Steffen is the founder of WorkoutBOX, ActionJunkie Labs, and a ton of other online startups. Mr. Steffen is also the author of The Art Of The Hustler , and star of the upcoming reality show, Pushing The Limit. Find him on twitter – @TravisSteffen.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab , a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and e-mail lessons.

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