In this post I want to introduce two techniques I discovered recently, that added huge value to my planning of business relevant tasks.

If you are like me, and try to improve your planning whenever possible, then this stuff is for you. Even if you are an employee or have any other kind of business than freelancing, this techniques might help you to improve your career, income or whatever it is you want to be doing more efficiently.

The first technique is called activity log.
With this technique you will learn how to analyze in which ways you are spending your time in your day to day routine.  Often we perceive the way we spent our days very differently from how we are actually spending it. I know because I was guilty of this.
Besides getting a more realistic view on how you spend your time this will also help you to find the time where you are most productive and work the most efficient.  This can in turn be used to schedule your most daunting tasks of the day.

The second technique we are going to look at is a decision matrix.
This technique will help you with decision making (duh). As you may well know, you only have so much hours in a day to work effectively on progressing your business.
To use this as efficient as possible, you need to make decisions how you will spend your time.

If you have different tasks that you find urgent as well as important then this technique can help you find those items that will most definitely mark the tasks you need to tackle first.

Lets start with the activity log.

Activity Log

The activity log will be used, as the name implies already, to write down your daily activity. This has the goal to analyze your daily agenda for different aspects.

For the activity log there are different approaches that put their focus on different levels of detail. For me the one I will describe here works pretty well, but you can apply any level of detail you may be comfortable with.

No matter the detail you want to apply, the idea of the activity log is to write down all your daily activity from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed.
This should be done in a way that you not only track the time spent, but also the category of the activity and how you did feel during this period.
Continue to do this for each day of a week. You should apply this in a regular week of yours for most success.
If you feel like you do not have regular weeks, this technique is especially important for you.
One should have at least some routine in the day to day work. This is because the human mind works best in automated scenarios. And with this I mean habits and habitual behavior. In my opinion we are the product of our daily habits (how else could it be?).

For me I am not that detailed with the activity log. I use 30 min time slots for the activity tracking. This eases the evaluation later on and puts everything in some predictable slots.
Also for me it is only important to identify where I spent my time without realizing it. In the end it does not matter, as long as you can extract any meaningful information about your daily agenda from it.

An example for this kind of activity log for one day is the following:

Evaluation

With your activity log done and all, you can now add up the minutes spent on different activities for the week. This can also be done on a daily basis, but I tend to use aggregated values because for me personally they have more informational value. Some categories I use are the following:

  • Client work
  • Administration for the business
  • Entertainment
  • Household activity (groceries shopping, cleaning dishes etc.)
  • Coffee breaks (yeah there are so many they get their own category)
  • Food/lunch
  • Walking/training/sports
  • Blogging/ digital products/marketing

Upfront I expected most of my time going to client work, blogging/marketing and administration for the business. Yet when you look at my latest evaluation sheet , you can tell that client work is actually the most but on second and third place there is sports and entertainment (at least on the weekends).

manage your time with decision matrix

When I combine food and coffee breaks to a single category (breaks) the next business relevant task only appears at the fifth position. Which is not at all the way I perceived my daily schedule at all.
Recognize that I do not take days off, but work for 7 days straight, where on the weekends I obviously tend to be more occupied with entertainment and walking/training than I was expecting.
Also I am not nearly as inclined as I want to be with client hunting and networking, as this will increase my future ability to acquire projects I want to work with.

Also when we look at the column of how I felt during the day we can see, that my hours with the most focus are from 6 to around 11 in the morning.
So from now on I should do my most daunting tasks in this time slots.

With this evaluation I can now derive some steps to improve my daily agenda to be more productive in the future.
For me this was:

  1. Reduce coffee breaks from 90 minutes per day down to 75 minutes (better 60 mins in the future)
  2. Reduce entertainment by about 30 minutes per weekend
  3. Schedule tasks that require the most focus to 7-10 A.M.

The improvement of your daily agenda is so important because in the end your success is determined exactly by your daily agenda. This is because what you want to have tomorrow you ought to do today. Where else should it come from in the end.

Remember also not to change everything at once, but apply the principle of Kaizen. This means small improvements implemented constantly will get you to your goal much faster. This is because small changes do not need as much energy to be implemented.

Utilize this activity log technique ever so often, doing it this one time will not suffice in my opinion. You will need to reevaluate your days from time to time. I personally suggest a quarterly rhythm but that is up to you.

Now where we know how to improve our daily productivity we can look at how to identify the most important tasks with the second technique.

Decision matrix with pair wise comparison

Now where we have a better view on how we spent our time and where we could improve we should now ask how to spent this time, because driving as fast as you can in a direction you really did not want to be heading is kinda stupid.

So naturally you should first ask yourself what is the goal? What should you be optimizing for? (to find what your true goals are see my post here)
For me the optimization target is clearly a function of my future income. So all pair wise comparisons are done with the goal of optimizing the future revenue of the business.

This technique can be extremely helpful if you already utilize the urgent-important matrix, which you can learn about in my blog post about achieving your goals.

So let’s start with how to apply this technique.
First of all you need all the tasks to be done in the upcoming planning period. I personally do this on a weekly basis.
This should not be too hard because to optimize your effectiveness and efficiency you already ought to be writing down your goals for each and every week in advance.

With all the tasks at hand, now create a table that has as much columns and rows as there are tasks.
Write each task in the header of a column and the header of a row.
(See the picture below which depicts the list of tasks and the corresponding table for this constellation (with the already assigned values)

Next step is to cross out all the cells, which show redundant data (same comparison as another one or where a task would be compared to itself).

As a next step you do a comparison of each task with every other task. The result in each cell should identify the task that is more important to you with respect to the goal you defined.
You can also weigh the decision by applying a score of 0-5 to the decided task as I did in the example. 0 means in this context that they are very similar, 5 means it is extremely more relevant than the other task, again with respect to the goal you defined.

With this in place we can now proceed with the evaluation of our analysis.

Manage your time with an activity log

Evaluation

If you have done this for each possible pair, proceed to sum up the scores for each task. Then determine the percentages based on all of the points that were assigned. Order the resulting list in a descending fashion.
If there might be a draw, choose that task to have the higher priority that won the direct comparison of them both.
See the following list I compiled from my results above:

  • Overall points:  39
    • Client hunt with 20/39 = 51 %
    • Marketing 9/ 39 = 23 %
    • Udemy course 5 /39 = 13 %
    • New Technology 3 /39 = 8 %
    • Open Source 2 / 39 = 5 %

This prioritized list is now the effective list of tasks you should be doing in exactly this order.
Remember that this is only for this moment, if there will be some much more urgent and important tasks (with regards to your overall goal) in the meantime you obviously should rework this list.

So in general this list is not set in stone, but will give you a pretty good hint on what to do next to improve your business.

This can be done on a monthly, weekly or daily basis. I think daily might be a little much overhead for deciding what to do, where as monthly might be too broad of a scope. Yet in the end everyone needs to find its own rhythm with this kind of techniques.

Summary

In this post we looked at two techniques to improve our time management in terms of business decisions.

The first one is the activity log, which is used to analyze your daily activities and to find your time sinks. It also helps with finding the most productive time of your day.

The second technique can be used to prioritize your tasks for optimized business (goal achievement) progression. It is called a decision matrix by pair wise comparison of tasks and helps to break up the overall decision of what is most important right now into single decisions and leads to a more rational behavior in terms of decision making.

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