Interview with Social Entrepreneur and Time Management Expert Robert Ashton
Robert Ashton authorThis morning, I'm joined by social entrepreneur, author, and time management expert Robert Ashton, who's here to talk about his latest book, "Time Management in a Week: How To Manage Your Time in Seven Simple Steps", as well as mastering time management and creating a more productive working environment.

Robert, also known as the Barefoot Entrepreneur, is a best-selling business author, passionate social entrepreneur, and campaigner. Intelligent, intuitive and influential, he helps audiences to see their opportunity within our fast changing enterprise world.

Driven by a strong sense of social justice, Robert works with charities, schools, housing associations and corporates. His project work takes from the sometimes sordid streets to often surreal meetings with Government Ministers. He makes it his business to understand and his mission to change the way we see the world.

Hi Robert, thank you so much for stopping by the Activia Training blog this morning. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I describe myself as a social entrepreneur and author. I work independently, challenging complacency and championing common sense. I find new ways to solve the deep rooted problems that often hold back progress. Injustice and inequality of opportunity angers me, and much of my work involves levelling playing fields so everyone can play. For example, I founded Swarm Apprenticeships, to create a new pathway for bright youngsters who choose not to go to university. I’m also on the Board of a coop Trust of complex needs schools, where I’m leading on employability.

Locally, I’m Patron of Relate and a Trustee of Healthwatch. I’m also a member of Mensa and Fellow of the RSA. For my 60th birthday, I bought a piano and started lessons. I like challenges!

Your latest book, Time Management in a Week: How To Manage Your Time in Seven Simple Steps is coming out on 5 May. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

We all find it hard to manage our time effectively. Although ‘yes’ is a longer word than ‘no’, it’s far easier to say, so we all end up with too much on our plates. This book is a very practical, step by step guide to taking control of your workload and therefore your life.

Time Management in a Week book coverTime Management in a Week is actually your 19th book, and you’ve previously covered several other topics, from sales to copywriting and starting your own business. Why did you feel that time management was a subject you needed to tackle?

I’m as guilty as the next person of letting my enthusiasm cram my desk and diary with things to do. I wrote the book because I needed to improve my own time management. Writing about something that challenges me personally gives me the opportunity to stand to one side and view my life and work with clarity and objectivity.

How did you want to make your book different from other time management books out there?

Well, I felt that to read a long, detailed book about time management would be something of a paradox. If people are busy and need help, a complicated, jargon-rich book will make things worse, not better.  I wrote the book to help myself, and reckon it will help you too.

Are you working on any new projects at the moment or what’s next for you?

Gosh, where do I start! Right now I’m being funded by the Cabinet Office to help a number of charities become more businesslike; I’m starting my 20th book, which explores how people working in a corporate environment can profit from their social impact, and organising a debate locally to bring fresh thinking to combatting the growing problem of poor mental health.

Which one do you think is more important when it comes to time management; having a good attitude, or knowing the right techniques?

Actually it’s neither of those. What you need above all else is a strong sense of purpose. Once you know where you’re trying to go, it becomes far easier to spend your time on what matters, rather than on ‘stuff’.

What would you say is the first step towards improving your time management?

Learn to be realistic and to manage the expectations of others. Often it’s deadlines, rather than workload that causes the stress.

You must be very busy yourself – what tool do you rely on the most to help you manage your time?

I always have a clear desk, apart from my keyboard, screens, some flowers and a notepad. I list the day’s tasks and cross them off as they are accomplished.

One of the things you cover in your book is how to organise your workspace. How exactly can organising your workspace make you more efficient?

Well, I believe it’s important to retain a connection with the wider world. As I said, I always have fresh flowers on my desk, which backs onto a window so when I glance up I see fields, trees, and the ever changing skyscape.

The Barefoot Entrepreneur
According to statistics, the average person gets 1 interruption every 8 minutes, or approximately 7 an hour – leading to roughly 3 hours of wasted time each day. How do you handle these interruptions in your own routine?

Email is the killer. If you read and reply straight away, you never get anything done. I keep Gmail open on one of my screens but only glance at it when I need a pause from the task in hand. I guess it’s self-discipline and a determination to do what I set out to do that morning.

What do you think is the hardest part of time management to master?

Without doubt saying no; I can justify to myself taking on any number of tasks because I want to be helpful and liked. Trouble is, we’ll never be remembered for being obliging, but always late delivering work.

After reading this interview, what would be the one tip our readers should definitely implement in their everyday life to improve their personal productivity?

The most important thing is to know what you really want to achieve. Once you have that objectivity, you will become more determined and, as a result, find it easier to say no!

Finally, is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?

I’ve built my reputation by seeing opportunities and grabbing them, often on behalf of others. I have few formal qualifications and hold no official role. I just get involved and do things - and often they work. So I’ll end by saying that we all feel we lack the right to act, but  leaving things to others rarely gets the job done. I’d encourage others to adopt my mantra; See, Think, Do!

Robert's book, Time Management in a Week: How To Manage Your Time in Seven Simple Steps is published today and is now available on Amazon, as well as other online booksellers. If you'd like to connect with Robert, make sure to say hello on Twitter at @RobertAshton1.