So you work for yourself…that means you’ve got a lot of free time, right?

You’re home…so you’re not doing anything, right? Let me tell you about the Cubs game last night!

Hey, Honey, would you pick up the kids from school since you’re home?  I’m getting my hair cut, and it’ll only take you 20 minutes…

Hi, Neighbor!  Since you’re home all day, could you stop by, and let my dog out a couple of times tomorrow?  I’m not going to be able to do it because I have to travel for work.

If you’re an entrepreneur working from home, these requests for your time and attention probably sound familiar.  It’s tough enough to manage your own urges to go to the mailbox, throw in a load of laundry, forage in the refrigerator for a mid-afternoon snack and surf the internet.  When your neighbor or spouse makes an urgent request of you for assistance, you want to give it.  You take a quick mental inventory of your afternoon but realize there’s nothing scheduled there, even though you know that there’s so much you have to do.  How do you maintain your boundaries without burning bridges – and guarantee that your time is spent doing exactly what needs to happen for your business to succeed?

Try these three steps to help preserve the sanctity of your time – and the success of your business:

1.       Fix it in space and time. That means putting everything on your calendar as an appointment.  No doubt you put your appointments with others on your calendar, but it’s a lot less likely you put the “soft” tasks there as well.  It’s crucial to put these amorphous but essential tasks on your calendar as appointments with yourself.  This discipline gives you an at-a-glance perspective of what’s really happening in your day. Marketing, sales calls, product creation, administration, brainstorming, networking – if it needs to happen for your business to succeed, then it needs to happen on your calendar.

2.       Take a breath before you say “Yes.” If you have a hard time saying, “No,” then buy yourself a moment before you have to make a decision by saying something like this:  “Wow, I really want to do X, so let me check my appointments for this afternoon and get right back to you.”  Then go ponder your calendar that is chock-full of appointments (see step #1), and make your decision based on that, rather than the urgency of the other person’s request.

3.       Suggest an alternate time you could help this person.  Let’s face it, our spouses, neighbors and friends are often critical supports in our lives and businesses, and we don’t want to always say no to their requests.  So when you look at your calendar, find an after-hours time when giving them your time and attention works for you.  If they desperately need your help during work hours, you also have the option of moving work tasks to the evening or weekend.  But make sure you move that task on your calendar, too. This ensures you count the cost before bumping work tasks into your personal time.

There are two things to remember about time – It’s your most valuable resource and your time bandwidth is finite – It does not expand based on need.

If you prefer a visual approach to understanding the complexities of time management, click here.

Sound familiar?

Michael Shapiro – Dynamic Management Solutions, Inc.

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