There are only so many rules or tips you can actively take into account to really master time management. For SMEs, the Eisenhower matrix might be one of the best: it helps you divide and conquer, and safeguard your time.
The Eisenhower matrix is a helpful, yet really simple productivity and decision-making tool to organise all your tasks and responsibilities. And yes, it was named after the famous Dwight Eisenhower, known to religiously manage his time and sustain his productivity.
The basics of time management boil down to understanding where your priorities lie and knowing which tasks deserve the most attention. After all, productivity isn’t about working harder but about working smarter.
Become a master of your time
For every task, ask yourself these 2 questions: is it urgent, and is it important? This will help you distinguish 4 different types of tasks and a clear, go-to framework to manage your day:
- Urgent and important: do them first
- Important but not so urgent: schedule
- Urgent but not so important: delegate them to others
- Not important and not urgent: just don’t do them at all
What’s the best way to actually put these core ideas into practice in your SME?
1. Tackle urgent & important tasks right away
Putting all your tasks on a list frees your mind. But always ask yourself what you should do first to find a way through your maze of responsibilities. Keep in mind: important tasks contribute to your long-term strategy so they will pay off in the end.
Decide on what to do first by simply asking yourself: what must I accomplish within the next 30 minutes, the next hour, before lunch? Estimate how much time each task is going to take and (obviously) try to stick to that timeframe. Remember: it’s about finishing tasks and maintaining an overview.
If important tasks are in this quadrant, it's for one of two reasons: unforeseen circumstances or a lack of proper planning. The first can never be truly eliminated; so try to spare some time in your everyday schedule for unavoidable crises. The second is in your hands: plan ahead and handle tasks proactively. Ideally, most important tasks end up where they belong: in quadrant two.
2. Schedule important but not so urgent for a later date
If a task isn’t that urgent but is important (such as prepping an important sales pitch meeting with a potential customer for next week), give yourself some time before you start, but set a date so you don’t forget.
In fact, this is the quadrant in which you should be spending most of your time. Why? All of these to-do’s contribute to your long-term strategy and serve a higher purpose that helps you grow your business. Plus, this quadrant is a big stress reducer, as it gives you time to work on important stuff.
Something key to bear in mind is that other people shouldn’t define your priorities for you. That just makes tackling these tasks unnecessarily hard. There are plenty of distractions: a chat message from a colleague, meetings to attend, ... But there’s also a common pitfall: don’t procrastinate too much by the desire to start over-managing your to-dos. One rule: just don’t overdo it on planning.
3. Delegate urgent but not so important tasks
In an SME, chances are high you prefer to do everything yourself. Host meetings, plan calls, drumming up reports, etc. After all, the job gets done much better if you take it on yourself, right? The answer is of course “no”. According to Stephen Covey, a highly acclaimed businessman, they can even become dangerous if you handle them yourself as they give you a false feeling of satisfaction when you finish them.
While you’re getting loads of things done, they’re not contributing to your long term goals. As other people think these to-do’s are important, you just do them anyway as they start feeling important to you as well. You need to get rid of this idea once and for all. Letting go of certain things keeps your eyes on your priorities while improving your work/life balance at the same time.
Good to know: delegating might not be your strongest skill at this point, but will definitely pay off in the long haul. There's good news: you don't have to delegate the workload to your co-workers, technology can help you to, for example, manage your customer base and develop relationships with your customers.
4. Get rid of tasks that are irrelevant & not urgent
Chores that are simply insignificant? Easy: just forget about them. Oftentimes, they’re actually really big time-killers too. So try to minimize mindlessly surfing the web or scrolling through your social channels. Imagine how many hours a day you’re actually working on autopilot, not realising how you’re wasting your time.
Powerful framework to manage your (and your colleagues’) time
For each quadrant, Make sure you limit the amount of tasks to around 8 for every type of task (depending on what you can handle) to make sure it’s still manageable and your head won’t explode with an overload of tasks.
Let’s be honest: it can be hard to eliminate time-wasting activities or delegate tasks. The Eisenhower method gives you a really strong framework to start with. Having troubles defining the level of urgency or importance of tasks? Just start the experiment and evaluate after a few weeks whether you’re putting it to good use.
There’s more to efficiently managing your time than the Eisenhower matrix. Learn more about the best practices of time management, and give your business a boost.
The right software can help you manage and save your time even better. Teamleader offers all-in-one CRM, project planning and invoicing. Visit our tour page to learn more.
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