7 indispensable time management tips for small business owners

Time management for small businessWhy does it always feel that there are never quite enough hours in the day? Lack of time is a challenge most small online business owners face daily. The very nature of a small business or start-up means constantly juggling multiple tasks, trying not to let anything slip. Small business owners have to wear many hats, dealing tasks ranging from formulating company strategy to changing a printer cartridge.

Interestingly,  50% of small business owners feel lack of time is one of the most difficult aspects of owning a small business – even higher than making a profit!   Clearly getting on top of managing your time effectively is something worth conquering.  In the US 1 in 4 small business owners believes that  just one extra hour in the working day is worth more than $500. Successful time management can help:

  • increase productivity   
  • reduce stress levels
  • improve efficiency 
  • cut time-wasting.

We take a look at some practical, easy to implement tips that will help you better manage your valuable time.

1. Prioritise

There are always going to be some tasks that need to be prioritised over others. The trick is to ensure you focus on the real priorities rather than just the tasks that are easier or of more interesting. Before embarking on your working day decide what your priorities are. A simple way to do this is to get into the daily habit of categorising tasks into order of importance and urgency. This way you can focus on the tasks that have to be completed today rather than ending up spending your time on something that really could wait.  For example categorise tasks into groups –

 1 – Critical tasks. Important tasks that have to be completed  today or you face significant consequences

2 – Tasks essential to the daily smooth running of your business – important but not so urgent as your critical tasks

 3 – Everything else. 

Ensure you get everything completed in group 1 before you move onto group 2 and then only move on to group 3 when all the tasks in group 2 are completed. Getting into the discipline of prioritising your daily workload will enable you better focus your time on the areas that matter rather than being sidetracked by the ‘nice’ but not essential’ tasks.

planning2. Plan

Planning follows neatly on from prioritising. Once you know your priorities then you can schedule them into your day. A schedule can sometimes be more effective than a ‘to do’ list. There is a tendency to just keep adding to a ‘to do list’ until it becomes a very long, endless list of tasks – which is no help to anyone.

Juggling lots of things at the same time makes it difficult to see the wood for the trees. Try putting half an hour aside first thing to plan and prioritise. This will help you feel in more control of what you are doing. Think realistically about what you want to achieve that day and plan your day around those task. At the end of the day it feels rewarding to have completed what you set out to do.

There are certain times of the day that we work better. For example if you know you are a morning person then plan to get all the tasks that you know you need to focus on done first thing. Plan the routine ‘no brainer’ jobs during the afternoon slump time – it’s a far more productive use of your time. Trying to get complex tasks done when you are tired will take twice as long as it would if you were fresh and at your best.

staying motivated3. Stay motivated

Small online business owners often work from home and as a consequence can find themselves spending long period of time alone. Humans are inherently social creatures so it can be demotivating not having people around to banter with or bounce ideas off. The weight of your business usually rests on your shoulders alone so keeping motivated is essential. Of course everybody has an off day now and then but you need to remain motivated to ensure you stick to plans, manage your time well and stay focused.

  • Make time to be social. Try joining small business discussion forums or local networking groups. This can be a good way to share any small business concerns or ideas you have amongst like-minded people.
  • Take regular breaks. Typically the human brain uses up its energy reserves in 60-90 minutes so putting time aside to recharge is essential.
  • Try exercise. research shows that regular exercise is closely linked to increased levels of motivation.
  • Remind yourselves of all the positives. It can be all too easy to focus on the harder aspects of owning a business. Make time to remember all the great benefits there are to being your own boss!

organised work space4 . Streamline your processes and organise your work space

Sounds simple but an ordered workspace will make you more efficient. A messy, cluttered environment can be a real distraction. Keep on top of paperwork and have a proper filing system in place.

Think about what processes could be streamlined in your business. For example, do you spend hours a week dealing with customer queries? If so implement a Help / Frequently Asked Question page on your website and direct people there as their first port of call.  Can you set up templates for routine communications? The more efficient you can make your systems and processes the more time you will be able to free up.

And, don’t forget there are some excellent automated software and apps available to help you in all aspects of your business such as time management, task management, scheduling, accounting and email, to name just a few.  Work out what areas you could do with a bit of help and investigate some of the software on offer.

time management procrastination5. Stop procrastinating

We’ve all been there. It’s all too easy to put off things we don’t won’t to do by focusing our efforts on more enjoyable things. Many a time I’ve put off doing a task I’m dreading by distracting myself with other ‘pressing’ jobs such as tidying the house or surfing the internet. Of course we all know that in long run the unwanted task doesn’t go away and often just gets worse the longer we leave it. So instead of leaving it to fester,  grab the bull by the horns and just deal with it. I promise you’ll feel a whole letter better and waste a lot less time by getting uncomfortable tasks done as soon as possible.

“Done is better than perfect”

We also put things off by spending too long trying to get things perfect. Perfectionism can eat up your time like nothing else. Sometimes it’s better to just do ‘good enough’ and get it finished  so you can move on to the next thing.

6. Delegate or outsource

We all have things that we are better at doing than others. But as small businesses owners the need for control in all areas of our business can mean we end up doing absolutely everything – even things that we know we could easily  delegate or outsource to somebody else. It is always going to be a struggle to keep up with the demands of a small business. According to research, the average small business owner has between 3-6 different roles in any one day. If you want to manage your time more effectively try outsourcing or delegating areas you don’t enjoy or  feel confident doing to someone who is better placed to do it. It will free up your time to focus on other important areas.

managing distractions7. Get rid of distractions

Distractions can disrupt all you good time management intention. You could be cracking on with a priority task only to get distracted by a phone call, email or social media update. Once distracted it can be hard to get back to the task in hand and you can end up wasting a lot of valuable time.  Learn what things are most likely to distract you and have a strategy to cut those distractions out until you have got on what you need.

The average American worker admits to “wasting” about 3 hours of a typical 8 hour work day (not including lunch breaks).

For example group together routine tasks such as admin, social media updates, answering non-urgent emails and phone-calls and build in a specific time of the day to deal with all such tasks. Put your phone on silent log-out of the social media, close the door and focus on getting on with what is important.

The very nature of small business means we’ll always want more hours in the day. Of course that’s impossible, however getting on top of time management will help you better cope with the many jobs and pressures you deal with on a daily basis. In return increasing your productivity and helping lower your stress levels.

We’d love to hear your own tips on time management – so please do share you thoughts and experiences.

 

 

 

 

 

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Working from home? 7 tips for successful time management

Alarm clock

Working from home offers some great benefits for small business owners. Potentially your working hours are flexible  – you can start early or finish late.  Plus, there is the added bonus of not having to build commuting times into your day. In theory, time is on your side and achieving all you need to in a day is a breeze. Or is it?

Stress effects productivity

In reality, and speaking from experience, more often than not most of us working from home feel we rarely achieve all we set out to do; spending more time on a work task than it warrants or distracted by bits around the house that ‘urgently’ need doing. Poor time management can make you feel out of control and stressed, which in turn affects your overall productivity.

Never enough hours in the day

Small business owners often feel that there are never enough hours in the day and have to juggle their precious time wearing multiple hats such as salesman, accountant, customer services, marketer and administrator.

Indeed a study from Mavernlink  found that small business owners:

  •  viewed ‘Time’ as their most valuable business asset – ahead or more tangible assets like a computer.

And when asked, small business owners found:

  • covering multiple jobs and lack of time were the most difficult aspects of managing a small business.

So, in an attempt to better manage my own time working from home I  scoured the internet for the time management tips that I felt were most likely to help keep me motivated and focused on the task in hand.

Seven simple techniques to help you better manage your time

1. Work out clear goals and objectives

It is often hard to see the wood from the trees when you are trying to juggle all sorts of business issues. Therefore, taking time out to create a clear picture of what it is you need to achieve can help you focus and plan effectively. An overall goal will help you implement useful medium and short-term objectives to plan your days around. Try using the SMART acronym when setting  your long, medium and short-term objectives, plan your goals and objectives to they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.

Pile of paperwork2. Get organised

Don’t under-estimate the importance of an organised, clutter free work space. There is nothing more annoying or time-wasting than trying to locate a vital piece of paper buried under a huge pile of unfiled paperwork. Get a good filing system in place, sort out your paperwork into urgent, non-urgent, filing or recycling. A clear work space will also stop you procrastinating and thinking ‘I must tidy up’ rather than getting on with what’s on your to do list…

to do list3. To do list

Okay  an old, familiar one but still a really useful time-management tool if used properly. Creating a daily list of tasks, ranked  in order of priority and deadlines can help keep you focused on the key tasks of the day. It’s all too easy to spend time on the areas you enjoy and put off dealing with something that you find boring or difficult. Keep a single to do list that you can tick off tasks once they are done (which is actually surprisingly satisfying and motivating). Remember though, be realistic – only put down what can be feasibly achieved in a day – don’t put down a week’s worth of work.

3. prioritise

Learn to prioritise. We all find ways to put off tasks we don’t enjoy even if they are the most urgent or important. The NHS suggest that you should group your tasks into four categories with the aim of being able to become better at reducing the number of ‘important’ and ‘urgent’ tasks:

  • Urgent and important
  • not urgent but important
  • urgent but not important
  • neither urgent nor important

This way you will start being able to focus on non urgent important tasks and minimise the chance of them turning urgent.

do not disturb sign4. Do not disturb

I’ve just started not getting up every time my house phone rings. I was finding some days I’d be up and down like a yo-yo – usually for unsolicited and unwanted sales calls.  Now I figure that if it is important people will leave a message or call me on my mobile. It is  far more productive to try to schedule in time to answer non-crucial emails and telephone calls at a point that suits you, rather than continuously interrupting your workflow. If you have a busy household why not try putting up a ‘do not disturb’ when you have to get something important done.

5. Delegate

Where you can , delegate. Have a look at your workload to see if there some areas that really don’t need your input and could be delegated out. For example general correspondence, customer service, administration tasks or basic accounting. If you are a one man band then of course it is going to be difficult to delegate tasks, however if you can find a way to outsource some tasks externally then it can leave you more time tackle the more important and strategic areas you need to build your business.

6. Tools and Systems that can streamline your time

Implementing systems and processes for everyday tasks can help free up time.  For example if you deal with a large amount of similar customer service queries than think about putting a FAQ page on your website that you can direct typical queries to. Putting together formatted templates for standard emails or letters  will also help save time you time. Consider implementing customer relationship management software to help you manage  customer data and information more efficiently. Essentially, take a look at your business and see where systems and processes could be implemented to help free up your time and organise your business better.

coffee cup7. Take a break

Take regular  breaks from your workspace – it really does help productivity. When you have a lot on it is always tempting to stay at your desk and work through lunch. Although this can actually be counter productive. Taking a lunch break, perhaps getting 30 minutes fresh air will re-energise you ready for the next part of the day. According to the NHS:

“As a general rule, taking at least 30 minutes away from your desk will help you be more effective in the afternoon…go for a walk outdoors, or better still do some exercise, you’ll come back to your desk re-energised, with a new set of eyes and renewed focus”.

There is no magic wand for small business owners working from home that will give you the hours you feel you need in a day but hopefully implementing at least a few of these time management tips will help keep the stress at bay and give you back a little control.

We’d really love to hear your thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment.

Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net: Alarm clock: Keattikorn, Old Documents: Nuttakit, To Do list: Stuart Miles, Do not disturb: Smarnad, Cuppa: Michelle Meiklejohn