Effective Time Management: Set Realistic Expectations

When I first started working as a virtual assistant and had just the one client, time management wasn't much of an issue. When the client clled or emailed requesting a task to be done, I could immediately jump right on it and within minutes or an hour, depending on the task, I could let the client know the task was complete.

As my client base grew to two, three and more, it was still fairly easy to immediately handle an incoming task. Not only were clients impressed by the quick turn around time, they now had the expectation that anytime they called or emailed, their task would get done - immediately.

Now, I do want each of my clients to feel special and important. They need to know that when they send me a task it will get done in a timely manner. But is it realistic that each task will always be done immediately? Of course not! The expectations I set at the beginning of my business were not realistic and did not allow for the growth to 20 plus clients. Time management now became an issue. Imagine if even six clients called or emailed within a fifteen-minute period and requested a task and they each needed it within the hour! What if I was already in the middle of handling an urgent task needed within the hour? It just is not feasible to think that each client could get their task handled immediately.

As my business has grown, I've adjusted my work flow procedures and my client's expectations. They still expect a timely response and quick turn around. It's just a more realistic expectation. Instead of having to learn this the hard way for yourselves, here are suggestions, based on my experience, for effective time management and setting realistic expectations.

1. Decide early on what your working hours will be and include the information in your contract. Recently my clients were informed that my working hours are 10-12 am and 1-4 pm (PST) Monday through Thursday and that Fridays are for administrative tasks. This allows me one day to handling billing and bookkeeping and prepare the plan for the following week. This helps me be more productive.

2. Create an email policy and inform your clients. I just instituted a new email policy as follows: Another step in effectively managing my time is to respond to emails at 10 am, 1 pm and 3:30 pm. Should your matter require more immediate attention, please call my cell (XXX) xxx-xxxx. Thank you for your understanding.

3. Make sure you clearly inform your clients of your turn around time. My clients know I will respond within 24 hours to their request, excluding weekends. My response will indicate when I expect their project or task to be completed. If for any reason it becomes necessary to extend the timeframe, let the client know as soon as possible.

I recently informed my clients of my new work flow procedures and timely responses to emails and other requests. Each has responded in a positive manner, understanding the need for managing time effectively and still promptly handling their projects.  Some of their responses are:  "Love the new schedule!  Thanks for letting me know." "I certainly will honor your new schedule and hours."

What have you done to manage your time effectively and how do you set realistic expectations?

What do you think?