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Managing Your Schedule

Despite all of mankind’s advancements we’ve still not found a way to add hours to the day, be two places at once, or stop time to get a few more things done. Most small business owners long for these breakthroughs. But as they don’t appear imminent, here are some non-science fiction approaches to lengthen your day. The trick is to work smarter, not harder.

Schedule it
A master schedule breaks each week into blocks of time dedicated to certain tasks—dog walks, returning emails and phone calls, marketing, etc. And also non-work blocks—time for family and friends, exercise, hobbies, errands and house cleaning, and so on. In short, each thing that needs room in your schedule is assigned a specific spot or spots.

The master schedule ensures pre-planned room for everything you need to get done or want to do. It takes the guesswork out of trying to juggle all the balls you’ve got in the air. Instead, you can concentrate on the one your schedule says to, setting the others down without worry. And for those of us with the procrastination gene, it means a structure for productivity.

Use do dates
Without a master schedule so many great ideas—such as marketing projects like a newsletter or handout on How To Choose Your Dog Walker, or continuing professional education via books, DVDs, web seminars, or the Dog Walking Academy—are wistfully pushed off to “someday, when I get a chance…” With a master schedule, you simply assign your great ideas to the next open marketing time slots in your calendar. These are do dates. So much more effective than traditional due dates, which cause stress as they approach and guilt as they pass, do dates allow you to get things done in the specific blocks of time assigned for them.

For example, we produce six editions of Two Feet Forward each year. If you were to look at my calendar you’d see the due dates for articles like this one written in very small letters—almost not noticeable. But look a month ahead of each of those and you’ll find the do dates for each TFF article written in large type. Thursday mornings are writing time in my master schedule, so at the beginning of each year I block six Thursday mornings for TFF articles. I never have to worry about when I’m going to get them done, or suddenly realize we’re in danger of missing a publication deadline.

Take time off
Seriously. Do it. You have to. We’re not made to run 24/7. There’s no such thing as a perpetual motion machine. I often ask, when I’m teaching the Dog Walking Academy, for a show of hands from students—how many of you have had a vacation in the last year? It’s not uncommon to see no hands up. That’s not tenable, not sustainable, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Part of using a master schedule is building in the downtime. The only way to get days off is to take them. Cross them out in your calendar and then don’t schedule over them. It’s easy to fill our lives to the point of overflowing. The only way to stop it is to call time-out. The earth will continue turning, I promise—and your clients and their dogs will be waiting for you when you get back.

Creating a master schedule may force you to confront what you’ve long suspected—that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week to do everything you have on your plate. It’s time to make some choices. And they get made whether you make them deliberately or not. In our business coaching work at dogtec, we’ve heard many dog walkers lament the lack of time for their own dogs, or for their family—or just time to do nothing at all.

It’s often the most precious things that get cut when we try to stuff more into our lives than can actually fit. Taking a hard look at everything you do allows you to make conscious choices about what to set aside. There may not be anything you’re happy about letting go, but putting off the decision doesn’t mean it doesn’t get made. It means that more important things fall by the wayside. It means a lack of balance between work and home (some of us lean toward working too much, some of us toward not enough) and a path toward eventual burnout.

Also practice saying “no.” Go back to the step where you set your priorities and check any new requests or opportunities against them. It’s hard sometimes. We think we should do things just because we could, because we’ve been asked. But is there truly room? Does it serve your central goals? Is it worth neglecting something else? If the answers are no, take a pass.

Schedule your clients
Don’t hand clients the keys to your business by asking questions like “When would you like Fido walked?” Unless you have a cloning or time machine you can’t walk all your clients’ dogs at noon, which is the time most clients will request. Explain to clients that you choose each dog’s walking time according to factors like geographic location and, if you walk groups, group compatibility for maximum safety and fun. Explain that what’s most important is that their dog get some good exercise and companionship, regardless of the time of day.

Get off the hamster wheel
Your first step is to carve out some quiet time to assess all that’s on your plate and build your master schedule, making choices if necessary about what to prioritize and what to let go. Then enjoy your new-found calm—the calm that comes with knowing you’re in control, that everything that needs handling has it’s space in your schedule to be handled.