There's no doubt running your own business is hard work. Often it feels like there are just not enough hours in the day to get things done: pitching for work, doing the work, paying the bills, catching up on paperwork and somehow picking up dinner on the way home.
To try and fix the problem, you've been to time management courses and read all the productivity books in the world. Yet still, nothing seems to work. The volume of your work is ever increasing. The demands are more intense.
The real issue is that traditional time management theories haven't kept pace with small business demands. They focus too much on the what of our work. They require us to list all the tasks we need to do, then prioritise them according to what is most urgent and important - but what if all of your work is urgent and important?
That's why we need to focus less on what we do, and more on when we do it.
Reassess your morning ritual
In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that there are things that we can do upon waking that have a positive impact on our mental and physical wellbeing throughout the day. The same can be said for the habits we have in the first two hours of our working day.
There are things we are currently doing first thing that drag us and our productivity down for the entire day: checking our inbox, tidying our desk, responding to 'urgent' queries, discussing the football scores from the weekend or the latest exit from our favourite reality show.
Sure, these things still hold a place in the day, but is first thing the best time to do them?
For the majority of us, our peak alertness is actually at 10am and our best coordination is at around 2.30pm. This is best explained by the work of Michael Smolensky and Lynne Lambert, published in their book The Body Clock Guide to Better Health, which describes a person's typical circadian rhythm.
Hence, tasks that require attention and focus are best done in the morning, and repetitive tasks are best done in the afternoon when your body is naturally looking for a rest while it digests your lunch.
Money in versus money out
So the morning is a good time to have a meeting where critical decision making or problem solving is required, where you do valuable client work you can bill for (money in), and the afternoon is a good time to do things like pay the bills (money out) and respond to email - yes, seriously.
According to an article by DMR, a company that looks at social media statistics and trends, only about 10 percent of your email requires a considered response, and given that 80 percent of your emails are probably a waste of your time anyway, there's not much at stake here.
The first two hours is when we have the greatest levels of alertness and mental capacity, so we need to make the most of it on the most difficult jobs or the things that require great attention. Don't squander it on email!
Another way to look at it is to assess the amount of your brainpower a task will require. Does it need deep thinking, concentration and focus (high intensity), which is best done in the morning? Or can you do it with a blindfold on and one hand behind your back (low intensity), so leave it for the afternoon?
Understanding that our mind and body have innate cycles that can help or hinder our productivity at certain times of the day is the first and most important step to maximising our work time.
This is how you take yourself off autopilot and take back control of every hour of your day, doing the right work at the right time.