I am that person. The person who has been brought up nicely and finds it very difficult to say no. Instead, I often find my to-do list has grown with my never-ending need to make people happy, not let anyone down and saying yes – too much and too often.
I like saying yes and I like doing everything, but as my husband and parents point out pretty much every time they see me, there is a finite amount of time. As a business owner in charge of a service offering content, marketing, PR and events, the ‘saying yes’ tendency is a great one. So, I have had to learn some skills to manage my time more effectively.
Here are my top three tips for staying in control of your time:
Block out time in your calendar
An empty calendar is a fake calendar. Think about your working week. Even if you are purely working on your own business, time will already have been set aside mentally for the jobs you need to do. But how many of these jobs make it to your calendar? I can pretty much guarantee not many of them.
What this means is that when someone asks you for something and you check your diary, you have a false idea of how much time you have available. Saying yes at this point feels like you are being honest, as it looks as though you have loads of time available. But you are wrong. Take some time and block out chunks in your calendar for the jobs you need to do. I colour code mine depending on the client so I can be sure they all receive good service through the week.
I also add in time for writing, financial planning, strategic thinking and business development. You may have more you want to add in and they could be personal – childcare, exercise, your daily walk. Plot them so you can see visually how much time you have available. Now when someone asks you for time, you can hand on heart say your week is stacked.
If someone asks you for something, ask them to send an email and you will come back to them
Buy yourself some time before committing. Even when you get married, you get engaged! All too often, it is easy to say ‘yes’ or ‘no problem’ because you are a nice person and you want to be helpful. Asking for some time to think about it makes you no less of a person, but it does give you some breathing space to check your schedule to see if you have time for it and think about the best way to take it on.
My easy way to manage this is to ask someone to email you an outline of what they want, even if you have spoken about it. Say you need to check your schedule – you are being honest and planning your time effectively, which is a positive. I learnt this lesson from a colleague who pointed out that just before I went on holiday, I did this automatically.
A quick word of caution, if you do say yes, and you decide against it afterwards, ensure you tell the person in good time and even better, recommend a colleague who you think would be brilliant at it.
Ask questions – in particular when is the deadline?
Another great way to buy some time before saying yes is to ask some questions, especially this question: ‘when does this need to be done by?’
I have often busted a gut to get something completed because I’ve been working to a deadline in my head rather than when something is actually needed because I didn’t clarify. If it’s easier, say to the person who has asked that you need to check something and that you will send some questions to find out more about the project. This may seem like extra work, but I have a list that I now use over and over.
It includes questions such as: ‘Who else needs to be involved? Is there a presentation involved? What is the budget?’ By emailing these questions before committing, you are getting the whole picture rather than agreeing to something that sounded easy, but afterwards you realise is a lot more involved.
It takes time to break bad habits, but as we navigate our new business environment, everything is up for change, including forming some good habits. As a failsafe – until you are a naysaying pro, stick a note on your computer that says, ‘I can’t do that now.’
It is a good visual reminder that you are in control of your time. Don’t slip into old habits – it’s time for new beginnings.