5 Secrets to Reclaiming Your Time

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5 Secrets to Reclaiming Your Time

I know why you’re self-employed. Or at least I have a pretty good idea, having been self-employed since I was 10. You are self-employed because you want to dispose of your time as you wish. You want to be in charge of how you spend the precious hours allotted to you on this planet.

If you’re like most self-employed people (including me in a former edition), you are at the beck and call of every customer, manager, subordinate, employee, vendor, or inspector who shows up to interrupt your perfectly planned day.

I can safely state this rule about most self-employed people: You live and work in an Interruption Culture, and it, not you, controls your time.

And its corollary? If you don’t control your time, you don’t control your life.That’s right; your reward for taking all the risks that go with being an entrepreneur is to give up control of your life. If you’re courageous, smart, and resourceful enough to own your own business, surely you deserve to own your own time!

Fortunately, you can regain control of your life. And that’s a good thing, because our economy depends on your learning how to work more productively and happily. According to New Geography, “99 percent of the total increase in employment from 2000 to 2011 was in the self-employed.” The ranks of the self-employed continued to grow in the Great Recession, and still continued during the “great malaise” that followed it. The report continues: “The continuing growth in proprietors starkly contrasts with the loss of 5.9 million in private sector jobs.”

So what are the keys for the self-employed to reclaim lost time?

1. “Woulda, coulda, shoulda.” Consider the time that gets stolen from you by your “Time Bandits” – those people whom you value but who keep interrupting you – and ask how you might better have used it. If an interruption from a needy subordinate took the time you would have used to touch base with two anxious customers, what’s that worth to you? Or maybe it kept you from leaving in time to catch your child’s soccer game or spouse’s cocktail party. Or it distracted you from completing the report and now you’ve lost your inspiration and momentum. The point is to seriously consider how interruptions took time away from something else you might have accomplished. Otherwise, you’re going to have a hard time kicking your addiction to them.

2. “The downward spiral of the interrupted.” Recognize that an interruption doesn’t just take time because of the interruption. That interruption has more than likely broken your momentum, which could otherwise have maximized the value of your time and diminished if not eliminated errors. So that means restart, do-over, frustration, fatigue, as well as loss of self-confidence, self-esteem, and job satisfaction – and whatever else it is that you like about being self-employed. Down the drain, all because you didn’t deter interruptions – because you treated them like they are entitled to your time whenever they happen to show up!

3. Put a ring on it.” Put a value on the time that your Time Bandits stole. Calculate the average hours a day that get frittered away by interruptions and their trail of lost productivity, and multiply it by your value – your billing rate or whatever rate seems right to you. You’re not looking for precision, just order of magnitude. (Warning: if you haven’t calculated this cost before, you will be aghast.) Once you see the dollar magnitude, you will be motivated to change!

4. Don’t surrender; negotiate.” Since you can’t just say no to your Time Bandits (they are, after all, the most important people in your life), you need to learn how to finesse negotiations with them and create what is called a Mutual Time Lock Agreement. You promise your Time Bandit the benefits from an uninterrupted Time Lock, make it clear how your Time Lock will be of benefit to the Time Bandit, and promise to return the favor.

5. “Use it well.” Once you recover all or most of the time you currently lose to interruptions, it will feel like “surplus” time. But don’t squander it. Instead, make a plan for how you will accomplish what I call your “Critical Few” tasks versus your “Minor Many.” Indulge in a time-managed, step-by-step implementation action plan, not only to keep your promise to the Time Bandits, but to enjoy a fuller and happier life.


Edward G. Brown is the author of The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had and co-founder of the #1 firm in culture change management consulting and training for the financial services industry, Cohen Brown Management Group. For more information, please visit, www.timebanditsolution.com and connect with Mr. Brown on Twitter, @EdwardGBrown.