When things are hectic, most small business owners wish they could find a way to get more than 24 hours into a day.
Often, your ‘to-do’ list can get so long that you feel you never get to put as much attention into every task as you would like. It can also mean more time in the office or dealing with work issues after-hours – cutting into your free time and affecting your work-life balance.
Applying these simple time management tips and tools will help you get the most out of your work time and get more of the important stuff done.
Remember that tried and tested business adage: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”? Well, it applies to time management too. Without tracking your time, any attempt at improving time management will be a hit and miss affair. If you don’t track where and how you spend your time, you’ve got no way to measure your current time management, or means to identify time wasters or tasks you could delegate.
Start by recording what you do each day and how long it takes you. This can be as simple or tech-savvy as you like – ranging from rough notes scribbled on a weekly timesheet, to an Excel spread sheet that will add up the minutes and hours for you. Alternatively, you can harness technology to do this for you.
Before you write off this idea, deciding that the amount of additional time you’ll waste tracking your time is not worth the effort, at least try out one of a range of paid-for and free time management tools that can help to make this task simpler. Some options include Harvest or Toggl and most come with features that can be rolled out for overall staff time management and integrated into your billing.
Although there are benefits to continuing to monitor and track how you use your time, you don’t have to. After a few weeks, you’ll have a good indication of what you spend most of your days, weeks and months doing. You might be surprised at the amount of time that is lost in meetings, doing things you could delegate, or on things you do out of habit rather than need.
Armed with information about how you spend your time, you’ll be better able to eliminate unnecessary time wasters. Some common time wasters are:
Jumping between tasks and reading and answering emails as they come in during the day can reduce your productivity. Set aside time to check and answer emails rather than letting them distract you from the task at hand.
Ask your staff to field telephone calls or take a message if you need uninterrupted time to focus on a task. Train staff not to allow sales people in to see you without an appointment to avoid wasting your time listening to a sales pitch for office flowers or equipment you’re not thinking of buying.
There are a number of other ways to eliminate, or manage, time wasters at work. Don’t have pop-up messages from social media accounts running while you’re trying to get work done. Appoint a staff member to monitor certain business functions with daily or weekly reports, rather than spending hours a week doing this task yourself.
Run meetings to a tight timetable. Draw up an agenda and allow only a couple of minutes (yes, literally a minute or two) for each item on the agenda to avoid meetings becoming a social gathering and wasting the productive time of all those present.
Have a close look at your current workload and see if there are suitable tasks you could delegate to others. Can you delegate some simple accounting functions such as managing petty cash and reconciliations? What about general correspondence, sales and marketing tasks, product development, quality control, and more? Small businesses owners are generally notorious for their reluctance to delegate in the belief that they do the job better. However, delegation can free up your valuable time, allowing you to focus on growing your business rather than spending all your time focusing on the day-to-day running of your business.
Draw up a list of tasks you could delegate and responsible staff who could take them over. Most employees want to develop in their jobs and would value the opportunity for added responsibility or the chance to learn new skills. Try not to fall into the trap of only delegating the jobs you don’t really like doing – you want to free up as much time as possible to allow you to work more strategically and effectively and have time for that work–life balance.
A little bit of time invested now in developing efficient systems for your business will save you a lot of time in the long run. Whether it’s time spent setting up a computerised accounting system, or implementing a physical or virtual filing system so that you don’t waste time looking for paperwork or documents, setting up systems and getting organised can save you a lot of money.
If your time tracking indicates you spend a lot of time answering basic sales questions, you could, for example, save time by writing up some template responses that you (or an employee) could personalize in response to queries. Similarly, adding an FAQ page to your website could help to free up more of your time. Customer relationship management software can also save a lot of time and effort.
If you’re no longer so busy running from one problem to the next in your business, you’ll probably be able to identify a number of ways you can work smarter, rather than harder – and find ways to increase staff productivity too.
It’s easy to get sucked into the problem of the day – or the problem of the hour, in some businesses. This is where that ‘to do’ list can help. A simple list of the tasks you need or hope to accomplish, together with a deadline, will help to keep you focused.
Ranking them in order of priority will help to ensure the most important tasks get done by deadline and that jobs don’t fall off your radar and get forgotten. Ticking items off your to-do list can be surprisingly motivating, too.
It makes sense to work when you work best. We all have different cycles and preferences. If you’re a morning person and full of oomph and drive at the crack of dawn, put this time aside to tackle those big projects. Schedule more routine things or less creative tasks for the afternoon when you’re in your less-productive cycle. Avoid routine production planning meetings during your most productive times.
If you’re not a morning person, and don’t really reach your form until after your second cup of coffee, get those routine tasks out of the way first thing in the morning, and then tackle the big projects, or schedule important meetings for when you’ll be able to give it your very best.
If you expect your staff to work effectively and efficiently, you’ll need to provide them with the right tools to do the job. The same applies to you as the business owner. You can’t work efficiently if you don’t have the tools or skills (whether training or personnel) to do the job.
This does not give you justification to dash out to buy an iPad2 if you don’t really need it. However, it does mean you shouldn’t limp along wasting hours to do a job, when an investment in technology would mean you’d be able to be far more productive.
It’s usually false economy trying to make do with outdated technology. If you’re not sure about whether to invest in tools, software, training or staff, do a quick calculation of how much time it will save you, and then compare this with how much it will cost. Assuming your cash flow can accommodate the purchase, this cost-benefit analysis will quickly tell you whether investing in the tools or help you need is a financially sound decision for your business.