This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com
Entrepreneurs are blessed with a boundless creative force. Inspiration and ingenuity are always in abundance. However, business owners tend to struggle with time management. If this sounds like you, help has arrived.
While innate creative talent cannot be taught, time management can. With a bit of organization and mindfulness, entrepreneurs can maintain a healthy business and lifestyle.
Time buckets are the particular timeframes that you spend doing your everyday tasks: meetings, exercise, family time, etc. These may vary slightly depending on your business and the events currently unfolding in your life. Organizing your activities around time buckets can ensure you’re allocating enough time to all your responsibilities.
Here’s a list of the time buckets I use with my clients, in priority order:
1. Sleep and recuperation time
The mother of all time buckets, sleep and recuperation are required to be healthy, alert and functional in all the other aspects of life. This bucket is of the highest priority because without meeting its needs, effective productivity in all other areas is not possible.
Scientists recommend seven to eight hours of sleep each night for a healthy lifestyle. And let’s not forget about naps. Studies show that naps reduce fatigue and increase alertness, so if you can swing it, include them in this time bucket.
It’s easy to notice how wrecked our kids are when they don’t sleep enough, right? Well, what about you? Are you allocating enough hours per day or week to sleep and recuperation?
2. Self-care and regeneration time
This one tends to be the loneliest of all the time buckets. Whether this time is used to meditate, sit in a hot tub, swim, go for a hike, listen to music or just “be,” this bucket is sadly overlooked often. These activities are necessary for maintaining a feeling of well-being, motivation, focus and inner-peace.
How much time do you typically spend on self-care and regeneration each week?
3. Vacation time
It may seem counter-intuitive, but after sleep and self-care, vacation is the next most important time bucket for a business owner. Vacation is a wonderful agent of organization. When you block out time for vacation, it becomes necessary for you to structure your business more efficiently, so it can run well when you aren’t there.
There’s more. There’s no better way to get away from your business than to actually get away from your business. The distance provides a shift in perspective that often generates breakthrough business ideas and strategic insights that we can’t see when we’re slogging through day-to-day operations.
I recommend four to six weeks of vacation per year for any business owner. I take eight weeks of vacation every year. How much vacation time do you take? If your answer is none or very little, then get your calendar out right now and schedule at least one week away from the office. Make sure it happens within the next three months and make sure you honor your commitment to your own well-being.
The top three priorities are centered around you. You should be your number-one priority, because you’re not nearly as valuable to your team or your family if you’re feeling stressed, worried or exhausted.
4. Family, friends and social time
Here’s another time bucket that often gets short shrift. If you’re like most of my clients, you’re probably surprised that I’d suggest prioritizing family, friends and social time over work. The truth is, most business owners struggle to fit this time bucket in whenever there happens to be an opening. This is a big problem that plagues many of us.
Often, I’ll get hired to help a client who’s so out of balance that his partner, friends and kids are complaining because they’re feeling neglected. It’s important to check in with yourself about your goals and remind yourself why it is you’re working so hard to begin with.
Hopefully, it’s because you want to enjoy a gratifying life that includes spending time with the people you love. If not, then I would coach you to reassess your priorities. We are nothing without the people we love. How much time do you regularly set aside for your family, friends and social life?
5. Strategy time
Strategy time is essential for any business that will eventually grow and adapt to changing market conditions. Working from a sound strategy is paramount, but believe it or not, this time bucket is often overlooked by business owners. Most business owners get so entrenched in the day-to-day work, they forget to pull back and glean the wisdom of a broader perspective.
Assessing your business comprehensively and regularly is the best way to make sure you’re not wasting time or money, inadvertently drifting off target. Most people don’t realize that once you’re in the habit of strategizing, it doesn’t take all that much time.
I recommend setting up a structure for strategizing and then dedicating one to two hours per week (many of my clients use our weekly one-hour coaching session as their strategy time) for using this time effectively. A simple strategy would be to consider what’s working, what’s not working, what you need to do about it and what the business really needs.
If you allocate just a bit of time for strategizing each week, your business will enjoy years of healthy, managed growth. How much time do you set aside for strategizing?
6. Business development time
Do you remember the old farmer with the leaky roof? When asked why he doesn’t fix it, he’d say “When it’s raining I can’t, and when it’s not, the roof don’t leak.”
This is the cycle that many business owners get into when it comes to landing new business. Instead of making time for steady business development, we turn our attention to new business potential only after our current client slate dries up. This results in gaps in cash flow and a feeling of scarcity that can significantly increase our stress levels.
It’s important to schedule time each day or week to contact potential clients and develop marketing strategies that will bring you new business. This time bucket is a bigger priority than your actual client work, because it’s what keeps the engine greased and humming. Business development focuses on the future health and longevity of your business.
For most business owners, I recommend two to five hours per week on this time bucket. How much time do you spend on business development?
7. Business administration time
Boring details — that’s how entrepreneurs tend to think of this time bucket. We’re big picture people, with little time or patience for the nuts and bolts of business administration. Most often, we only take notice when something goes wrong: maybe billing is behind or there’s a crisis in human resources.
When you give this time bucket its due, you’re buying peace of mind. Avoiding business admin responsibilities will almost always result in a crisis that will take up a ton of your time, and no one wants that. Avoid messy situations by allocating enough time each week to administer your business properly.
Most solopreneurs need one to two hours per week to keep the ship aright. For small businesses of two to 10 people, three to six hours should do the trick. How much time do you schedule each week to focus on business administration?
8. Client service time
This time bucket will consume the lion’s share of your time. It’s the meat of your business, but it’s important to not let it overshadow the rest of your time buckets. Most often, we allot too much time to client service time, which can throw our business strategy out of whack.
For example, it you’re spending too much time serving clients, you lack time for business development, which means you either need to bring those two time buckets into better balance or perhaps increase your fees to ensure the sustainability of your business. However, it’s important to allocate enough time to keep your clients happy, because without them your business will fail.
Be sure to give this time bucket adequate focus to honor all of your commitments to clients. For most entrepreneurs, this bucket will take up 25 to 35 hours per week. If you spend closer to 50 to 60 hours per week on this bucket, that is unsustainable for the longer term, and while it may be helping you get a lot done right now, it’s actually a threat to personal health and business survival. How much time do you spend on client service?
Organizing your time is empowering and illuminating. Allocating and honoring time buckets ensures that your approach to work and life is balanced and mindful. Taking care of yourself is an essential aspect of being an adult, if happiness and success are your goals.
Neglecting certain time buckets most often results in dysfunction and stress that could potentially threaten your business. Take the time to organize your time buckets carefully, and try to honor each of them. If you fail, that’s OK. Reassess your time buckets to make sure they’re set up properly, and recommit yourself to them and to leading a happy and full life.