Welcome to my latest Expert Briefs where I contact successful online marketers, and ask them to share brief answers to your burning questions.
The question I asked our experts today is:
“With so many people vying for your attention and so much on your plate,
how do you protect your time?”
And here are our expert replies on the subject….
The Awesome Shannon Cherry, of The Power Publicist says:
“Time, time, time, see what's become of me
While I looked around
For my possibilities
I was so hard to please.”
– Simon & Garfunkel
It's our most important asset in business and the one we abuse the most… TIME.
With twin daughters in preschool, a husband, volunteer opportunities, and a growing business, everyone – and everything – seems to want my time.
To keep things in harmony – and to keep my sanity – here's what I've done:
1) Understand my peak working hours.
I'm a morning person… always have been. By 2 PM I'm in a slump and by 9 PM, it's hard for me to do anything remotely thoughtful. So, I schedule my working hours to coincide with the best times that I do more and make less mistakes.
2) Tame the email and phone demons.
All my email (thanks to a tip from Nicole) now goes to a help desk where someone else either deals with it or forwards it along to me. In addition, I also have autoresponders in place that tell people when to expect a reply to the email (within 24 business hours.) I do not pick up my phone unless there is a schedule appointment. Everything goes to voicemail, which I check twice a day.
3) Get it on the calendar.
I've scheduled basic tasks on my calendar and stick with it. Monday is writing day (blog posts, emails, sales pages, press releases). Tuesday & Wednesday are phone call days and client follow-up. Thursdays are planning and writing days. Fridays are my free day. Most of the time, I take it off, but if I am feeling creative or need to wrap something up, I may use it for some work.
Even though I touched on this in the last expert brief, once you outsource, you free up time to do other tasks.
For everything we do in my business, we create systems (mostly checklists) of how it's needs to be done. That way, fewer time-consuming mistakes are made AND I can outsource it to someone else to do it the way I want.
It's key for any business owner to learn these simple, yet effective, ways to make more time, out of less. Try one of these tips; I promise you, you'll see you have more time on your hands!
The Amazing Lynn Terry of Clicknewz! says:
What a great question! If you're not careful your business will run you, instead of you running it.
When you start a business, or even a project, it starts out FUN. You come up with the idea, you map out the strategy, you have the vision. You OWN it. But somewhere along the way the tasks become overwhelming, maybe even demanding, or at the very least… no longer fun. And all of a sudden IT owns YOU.
I've been through this myself and there are three things I've learned the hard way:
1. Be Prepared
You start a business expecting it to grow and be successful. Right? Ironically, very few people structure their business for that growth. Growing pains can be incredibly stressful, and even fatal (for your business).
The key is scalability. If you have to break your business structure in order for it to grow, every time it grows, its ultimately going to break you.
Consider every task as one you may eventually outsource. Create it to be easily outsourced. DO NOT be the only person that can perform each of the tasks it takes for your business to run smoothly. Even if you run a solo-operation and don't feel like you'll be hiring or outsourcing anytime soon.
Being set up for business growth from the start will protect your time and sanity as your business evolves.
2. Use Stock Answers
As you answer emails and phone calls, you'll notice recurring questions or topics. Take note of these. Use common questions to revise your marketing message and/or your business model if necessary. Also document common questions and use those to create an FAQ page for your website. For every person that takes the time to ask, there are many more that don't bother – and just leave.
Your swipe file and FAQ will make outsourcing communications much easier in the future. It will serve as training material for new hires, and also take less of your time to copy & paste than to personally reply.
AND it will make saying “no” a lot less personal. The options and opportunities can get overwhelming as your business grows. Saying “yes” to anything and everything is a surefire way to lose sight of your goal, and lose control of your business – and your time. Have a swipe file of stock answers. Then it's not personal. It's policy.
3. Go Mobile
There is a right way and a wrong way to “go mobile”. Done wrong, your business will consume you 24 hours a day. Burn a hole in your pocket so to speak. Done right, going mobile will give you greater freedom and flexibility.
If you structured your business to be scalable (#1) and created swipe files (#2) you can easily manage your business on the go. Gmail and Google Calendar allow you to stay organized and in touch – and seamlessly synced across every device, or even team member. You can use Evernote to store your swipe files, and easily access them from anywhere.
I work across Mac and PC, from mobile device to master workstation. Nothing is proprietary and anything can be outsourced.
That doesn't mean you should work everywhere, or all the time. It means you spend less time trying to locate or transfer files & programs. Less time typing the same responses over and over. Less time stuck inside in your office. And you become more productive by getting things done even when you can't be in your office. Not during family time, but in otherwise wasted time.
Example: I wrote these tips from my Android phone while waiting for a doctor appointment. That means I have less to do when I DO get to my desk, and don't have to call the morning a loss. But last night when I was out for dinner & a movie with my handsome fellow?? My ringer (and all biz notifications) was put into silent mode… 😉
I hope this helps you avoid the chaos and frustration so many people experience with their business.
Remember: it's your business, and your time. You either have control of it, or it controls you.
The Marvelous Melissa Ingold of Internet Marketing Sweetie says:
Outsourcing and planning. As your business grows, you get more customers, more subscribers, more attention, etc. So it makes sense that more and more people are clamoring for your attention.
Now you can either do it all yourself and crash and burn in the process, or you can outsource and plan.
Through the use of a ticket desk, my assistant handles all customer service, and there's a lot. She spends at least 12 to 15 hours per month doing nothing except helping my customers. I also turned over all work-related email accounts to her too, so that my time isn't sucked up answering questions.
It's not that I don't want to help my customers, I do, but I only have 24 hours in a day. I started my business because I wanted the freedom to be with my kids and come and go as I please, while still supporting my family financially. So outsourcing has become essential to protecting my time.
And when I talk about planning as a way to protect my time, I mean that I know exactly what has to be done during my work time on any given day. I plan promotions, projects, emails, etc., so I'm not wasting time.
As to how planning relates to people vying for my attention, I'm very picky about what I choose to do. That includes JV's, interviews, promos, and so on. If I were to do everything that came along, my business would be a mess, simply because it doesn't all fit. I have a plan for everything.
If someone requests an interview, I want to make sure that it's going to benefit them and my business. Will it fit into a product, can I create a new product around it, is the interview relevant to share with my readers or will they get nothing out of it, does that promo fit with what I have going on…You see?
So I have to plan in order to protect my time from being wasted. My time is valuable because it belongs to my family first. If I squander that time, I can never get it back.
On a final note, there will be people who'll complain that they can't deal with you directly, and that's okay. You have to remember that's it's YOUR business and you can run it however you want. If they don't like that, well, then that's their loss.
And, here's my 2 cents. I wrote this before reading the others just to make sure I wouldn't let their ideas sway mine.
Nicole Dean of .. here! .. says:
I'm having issues with my kids this summer. It seems that I'm only able to work in short spurts before sibling rivalry rears its ugly head and one of them ends up crying in my office. ((sigh))
Yes, I've got all kinds of processes in place to help summer go smoothly (which I can write about another day) – but I'm limited in how much I'm able to work right now.
So, when I DO get on the computer – I obviously can't have 5000 emails and 800 voicemails waiting for me, or I'd curl up and cry.
I simply have to protect my time. I've referred to myself as a “time snob” on a number of occasions. I view time as my most precious resource, so I obviously can't waste it or even give it freely without consideration. Any time I give unnecessarily is time away from my husband and my kids. It's time that I can't spend with my mom or my friends. It's time taken away from taking care of my SELF (you know, little things like hygiene and exercise). It's time taken away from my life.
I'll share some of my biggest tips for protecting my time right now. I know they may sound extreme, but you'll, hopefully, also see how I get so much done in my business.
1. Stop Trying to Make Everyone Happy.
First of all, as terrible as this sounds, I had to stop caring so much. A year or two ago, I would feel obligated to respond to every email, no matter who sent it or what was asked. As much as I would love to be able to still do that – it's just not possible.
So, if you send me a question (that isn't customer related) or a JV request and it involves more than 5 seconds of effort on my part – unless I know you personally, it's probably going to be sent to archives. Of course this doesn't apply to customers. Those emails are efficiently handled by my support team.
2. Block Unknown Calls.
The phone service that we use for our main line at home (and is SUPER CHEAP) has a cool feature. It blocks all “Unknown” or “1-800” calls if you so choose. Well, we choose. So, now I don't have to worry about a telemarketer stealing time from me while I'm trying to work.
3. Prepare Emails in Advance.
I get a lot of the same questions into my help desk.
Rather than having my help desk gals write a new response each and every time (or ask me to), we've got prewritten answers that are ready to send. It makes their lives easier – and mine, too.
4. Say “No” to Social Media.
While Social Media is GREAT, it's unfortunately another way for people to bypass your help desk and get directly to you. Plus, it just compounds your email issues and makes life crazier.
Focus your social media on the few sites that give you the most benefits, and let the rest drop.
For me, that's:
- Twitter.com – Nicole Dean on Twitter
- Facebook.com – Nicole Dean on Facebook
- YouTube.com – Nicole Dean on YouTube
I ignore everything else on the social media front at this point. And, even with those three sites, I have most email notifications turned off. So, when someone sends me a message on any of those sites, I don't get an email that throws me into “workus interruptus”. Instead, once a week or so I log in and check my DMs in Twitter and Facebook on MY time – usually with a beer in the evenings. 😉
5. Know Where the Money Is.
It's hard to prioritize what is worth your time unless you know where your money is coming from. That's where having good tracking and knowing your numbers is key.
Otherwise, how do you decide which JV requests to respond to, which interviews to accept, which projects to outsource? You can't. So, keep tabs on your business profits so you can make those decisions wisely.
6. Be VERY Aware of Interruption-Based Activities.
I know I've mentioned this already, but it's so important that it needs it's own section.
Anything that interrupts your work time, immediately becomes more important than whatever it is that you're working on.
For instance –
If you have a screen pop up when you get a new email, then whoever sent that email just took top priority in your mind – and threw off your train of thought.
When you get a phone call, that person suddenly trumped whatever it was that you were working on (whether the call was important or not) – and, again, threw off your train of thought.
Because of this, I turned off Gchat (which is Google Chat) several months ago, simply because anyone who's ever emailed me at any point that I've had my Gmail account was given the power (by Google) to GChat with me, therefore interrupting my work, whenever they felt like it. Now that's not to say that many of those interruptions weren't beneficial (or helpful) to my business or fun, BUT I wasn't in control of how my day went anymore. I wasn't in control of what was most important in my business at that time. Yes, I can choose to ignore interruptions, but studies have shown that any interruption throws of your productivity because it takes time to get your brain back to where it was before the interruption – and by that time, there may be another interruption – restarting the process. It's a wonder we get anything done!
- So, Skype is normally turned off.
- GChat went bye-bye.
- My phones go unanswered.
- And I have my Yahoo Instant Messenger set to “offline” pretty much all the time.
I do this business because it's fun, but more importantly, it feeds my family and is our only source of income. So, I can't let others dictate how my time will be spent – especially on the days where I only want to work for an hour or two – which is most days during the summer.
I hope I don't sound too harsh in this post. I just know that many of my coaching clients allow the interruption-based mentality to totally sidetrack their progress.
How Can You Learn More about Time Management?
I could go on all day on this topic. In fact, I've been considering putting together some training on the topic.
Let me know if you're interested. If so, I may be able to talk some of the smart marketers on this page into spilling more of their tips, too.
PS. Please post your best tips for protecting your time below. Thank you!