Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Time to Reclaim Time (and the Confidence of Your Clients and Customers)

Flying by the seat of your pants is no way to run a business. Playing fast and loose robs you of flexibility. It creates havoc, and instills disorganization and unprofitability in your business. You might kid yourself into thinking your lack of structure is not evident from the outside, but I guarantee you, clients, colleagues and others you work with recognize it loud and clear via untimely follow-up, missed deadlines and poor communication.

The more intentioned and methodic you are with your processes, the more freedom, flexibility and organization you give yourself and your business. One of the very best ways to reclaim ownership of your time also uses one of the simplest tools available--your calendar! Following the steps below will help put you on the path to gaining control over your time and workload, and maintaining the confidence of those who choose to work with you.

1. Holidays, Vacations and Other Days Off. First, enter all holidays, known vacations and any other days you intend to be closed. If you take two or more days off for certain major holidays, be sure and mark those "closed" on your calendar as well. At the beginning of each month, schedule a reminder to give clients and others a courtesy notice of your planned days of unavailability.

2. Dedicated Days. Do you have a dedicated day of the week for something in particular? For example, Mondays are my administration days. I don't conduct any client business and am "closed" to them on that day each week. Some people like to take Fridays off in their business to attend networking or training functions or just have a plain old "mental space" day to keep their creative juices flowing. Whatever the case, be sure and enter those dedicated days on your calendar.

3. Regular Meetings & Tasks. Do you have regularly scheduled meetings or tasks you perform each week or month? Get those on the calendar. (TIP: Uninterrupted work time is necessary for critical thought and concentration; avoid taking calls or scheduling meetings during your main project schedule. You might consider devoting one day of the week or only certain hours of the day for meetings and phone calls).

4. Routines. What are your routines? Do you tend to use the first part of the morning for getting in gear, taking care of loose ends and checking emails? Then schedule it! For example, I block out every morning until 11am for just such purposes and never schedule meetings before then.

5. To Dos and Deadlines. Setting aside time on your calendar for errands and other to-dos will help get them accomplished. Likewise, if you have important deadlines you mustn't forget, enter those dates as notes. (TIP: Add the actual deadline date on your calendar, and set the auto-reminder to alert you several days or a week in advance to give yourself plenty of breathing room.)

6. Break and Lunches. Taking breaks and lunches is good for you and your business (no one is served by you being tired, hungry or stressed out). If you're one of those folks who has to be reminded to tear yourself away from your work to take care of yourself, add these to your calendar as well.

The time you are left with is your available project/work schedule. You can be as meticulous or free-flowing with this time as best fits your work style. If you have a mix of clients and odds and ends work of varying degrees of complexity, you might not feel the need to schedule every little thing, and instead prefer to just get things done one after the other during those open blocks of work time.

If you have a few larger projects that require a bit more planning and coordination, you might see fit to schedule dedicated hours for each project to better manage them. Either way, the system above will give you the structure and foundation in order to better manage your business and workload. You'll get more done, be more organized, and those who work with you will recognize (and appreciate) the huge difference it makes.

Author: Danielle Keister is a business advisor and innovator in the Virtual Assistance profession.