Ask my wife if I should be giving time management tips, and she will probably laugh.
Here I am, a man who still types all his emails with just one finger. She jokes that I run my whole business with that finger – and she’s not wrong. But over the years I have learned some productivity tricks that help me be a much better businessman – even if I’ll always be slow at one or two things…
I get up at the crack of dawn each day. It means I’m up and productive at least two or three hours before most people. Don’t get straight on the laptop – take your time. I actually take at least an hour to get ready in the morning. This isn’t as terrible as it sounds; I do some of my best strategic thinking with a spoon of porridge in one hand and my phone in the other. This is one of the benefits of getting up really early – it’s quiet and calm and you can think in peace. I’m usually at the office with a clear inbox by 8.30am.
Cheat at emails
I’m dyslexic so writing emails can be a struggle. I can spend a long time using spell-check and a thesaurus to get messages just right – but automatic corrections can result in more errors than they solve. So these days I let Google do the heavy lifting. You can search for readymade messages online. I lift paragraphs and then just have to edit them slightly to make them work for you. It’s an amazing timesaver.
Be brutal with meetings
Every meeting must have an agenda, clearly stating what outcome we are trying to achieve, and listing the topics we need to cover. This helps keep everyone on track. I’m also getting better at knowing which meetings I actually need to attend – once you have your ego in check, you realise you don’t need to be present for everything. I find that whenever I’m called away for something urgent, and all my meetings have to be moved or cancelled, I know pretty quickly which ones need me and which ones I can remove from my schedule entirely. Sometimes I arrange meetings, turn up just to make sure everyone else is there, and then leave them to it. When you’re running a business, it’s important to be ruthless with your time when you can.
Hack your inbox
I use Outlook and have a system in place, which sorts my email into conversations. This means that my long list of unread messages is grouped by subject line. So even though I may have 200 new emails, they come up as just 15 conversations, which is much more manageable. Any email I need to keep an eye on is given a red flag, which means it’s easy to sort the urgent ones from the low-priority. Unlike many business owners who will limit the time they spend on email, I’m on it all the time. I have no attention span, so you’ll find me sneaking a look at my inbox during meetings or when I’m with my family. But that level of obsession has helped me grow my business – I know what’s going on with my business every moment of every day. I think you need that level of focus to be successful when your company is young and growing fast.
Find thinking time every day
I don’t drive and I travel two or three days a week, so I get a lot of thinking time on train journeys. I absolutely love it. I’m dreading the arrival of HS2, which could slash my thinking time by half. Growing a business is like climbing a flight of stairs. Each year, you ascend another step. Gradually, you get higher and higher, which means you can look back, and see where you’ve come from more clearly. This is when you really need your thinking time, to assess what you’ve done well – and badly – and plan for the next step.
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful. I certainly have… Writing this post has made me realise I need to take a typing course. It’s never too late to start using all 10 fingers! I’d also love to hear your time management tips, so please leave a comment below and help me to keep on learning.
All the best
Founder & CEO