A Small Business Owner Guide to Managing Your Time Effectively
It's an old cliche, but in business, time really is money. Learn how to make the most of yours in business
The most precious resource you have, it is crucial you manage your time smartly. Here’s how
More than anything else, time is the most precious resource you will deal with as a business owner. Unlike money, you can only make so much of it in a day, so it is crucial you manage your time as effectively as possible.
This article will provide you with invaluable tips on how to make time work for you, including how to prioritise and plan your time, which day-to-day tasks can be automated or delegated, and common pitfalls to avoid.
How do I prioritise my time?
You won’t have the time to deal with everything in your day, so prioritising is essential.
Follow these steps to manage your time effectively:
- Work out your goals:
Write down a list of all your goals. Try and spend time on activities that help you achieve these goals.
- Work out which activities are urgent and important:
The most time-sensitive matters and important should be dealt with first, such as matters that need your input or go-ahead to proceed.
- Work out what is important but not urgent:
Obviously, if tasks are not as time-sensitive, you should deal with them after you have finished with your urgent activities.
- Work out what is urgent but not important:
Urgent but not important tasks can often be delegated to someone else. If you deal with tasks like this regularly, consider whether you can put a policy in place so you don’t waste any more of your time with them.
- Work out what is neither important nor urgent:
Ask yourself whether you should really spend any time on tasks like this.
How do I plan my time?
When you have worked out your priorities, write them into a concrete plan.
Start by planning your week and work out generally what needs to be done on each day of that week. Allocate the most urgent and important tasks first and then you can get down to the detail and start planning what each day is going to look like.
Allocate at least half an hour each day for ‘clearing decks’ i.e. dealing with small, urgent tasks that crop up in day-to-day life, such as support emails or voicemails. If you find this is taking up too much of your time, ask yourself whether you can delegate these duties to someone else.
Divide your time into blocks as you will achieve more by focusing on one thing at a time without worrying about everything at once.
Make sure to set realistic deadlines and allow yourself time for contingencies and unexpected tasks. The longer a project will take, the more additional time you are likely to need.
Set time limits, if twenty minutes is all a task is worth, limit yourself to twenty minutes working on it.
Finally, schedule tasks around your state of mind. If you find you are most productive in the late afternoon, for example, allocate your most labour-intensive tasks then.
How do I reduce the time I spend on routine business?
If you put systems in place, you can dramatically decrease the time you spend on day-to-day administration. In particular:
Use technology – From contact management software to smartphones, a range of technology is available to automate routine tasks. You can now use smartphones to micro-manage your daily schedule, automate replies to emails and much more.
Create standard templates for communications – Create standard templates and letters in Word so you don’t waste time formatting and writing down your company’s address every time. Create an email signature so all your contact details are appended to emails you send out.
Have a good filing system in place – Try and empty your in-tray daily and make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to filing and storing documents.
Establish everyday workplace policies – Having standard procedures in place for handling events like complaints and sales queries will save you a lot of time in the long run.
Build unpleasant tasks into your routine – If you don’t force yourself to take care of unwanted business – such as chasing late payers – as a matter of course, there is a risk you will keep putting it off until it is too late. Have a routine in place so you have to deal with such issues or problems at a set time.
Delegate where possible – When you have delegated a task, monitor whether it is being performed correctly the first few times. You should be able to let them get on with it after that.
How do I avoid information overload?
With the proliferation of mass communication via email and the web, there is a risk you can become overwhelmed with the amount of information you have to deal with – potentially missing out on vital information as a result.
However, there are a number of measures you can take to ensure this doesn’t happen.
If you regularly receive lengthy reports or documents, ask for the information in them to be summarised in order to make it easier to deal with.
You can also consider collectively summarising common information; for example, if you receive a slew of complaints about a common issue, get whoever deals with these to summarise what these are.
Restrict yourself and ignore information that is outside your area of responsibility, and avoid spending time on unneeded details.
Get your employees to cut down on cc’ing you into routine emails you don’t need to see.
Apply a standard procedure for documents:
Correspondence that lands on your desk should be dealt with in common ways:
- If it is relevant and important, deal with it yourself.
- If it is relevant but less important, get someone else to deal with it.
- If it is relevant but not hugely important, file it away.
- If it is neither, bin it.
- Set deadlines for yourself:
If you need more time to come to a decision, set yourself a concrete time to do so. You don’t always need to wait until you know everything.
How do I minimise distractions?
Even the most carefully-planned schedule can unravel if you are constantly dealing with distractions and unexpected events.
To minimise the risk of this, it’s important to keep some things in mind.
Deal with emails and post at the beginning of the day so you can free up your schedule for the rest of the day, and will be in a better position to deal with any follow-up queries.
You can cut down on phone calls by restricting your availability for phone calls to certain hours of the day.
You don’t necessarily need to ring someone with every little idea; consider whether it could be dealt with in an email instead.
Also, don’t just meet for the sake of it. Make meetings more efficient by establishing a clear agenda for each meeting, and set concrete stop and start times.
Whilst having an open-door policy in your office is admirable, colleagues constantly walking in can dramatically decrease your productivity.
Restrict your drop-in availability for certain times of the day, and insist upon people making appointments otherwise.
Email is a more time-efficient and less intrusive form of communication than the phone; it should be your medium of choice for day-to-day business matters.
Finally, simply improve your office environment by trying to cut down on clutter, and throw out or recycle any unwanted equipment.
Should I monitor my own use of time?
In addition to creating a plan and routines, taking a critical look at how you actually spend your time can be an excellent way to identify where you can improve your time management.
To do this, follow these simple steps:
- Record your activities Log your activities in terms of blocks of time over a week or so.
- Analyse your activities: Looking at what you actually did, ask how your activities contributed to your goals for that week – in particular, how they corresponded to your priorities (see above). Work out what percentage of your time you spent on unneeded, unimportant and unnecessary activities, and consider how you can cut down on this.
- Compare your plan to what you actually did: This will help you find the tasks that you failed to complete on time. If these were important, you will have to cut down on time spent elsewhere, or consider other ways of getting them done on time – such as hiring a secretary or another employee.
- What are some of the most common time management problems? There are some time management issues that are seemingly endemic amongst businesses. In particular, watch out for:
- Trying to do everything yourself: As a business owner, it is often difficult to step back and let someone else take care of tasks – but it is essential to properly delegate. When considering which tasks to delegate, ask yourself if the task is routine or uncomplicated, or whether someone is keen to take on a particular responsibility – assigning tasks in this way can be effective training for employees.
- Failing to instruct people properly: Even if you routinely delegate tasks, failing to explain the job properly will mean you will spend your time dealing with it anyway. Encourage the person taking on the responsibility to ‘own’ the project, explain the objectives clearly, and put in place systems for monitoring and support.
- Perfectionism: Most clients and customers would prefer a pretty good job done on time rather than a flawless job done a month late.
- Dithering: Don’t waste time agonising over decisions. Write down the pros and cons of each choice when you have a decision to make – if the balance is in favour, go ahead, and if it is not, don’t. If it is equal either way, do whatever you feel like, as you have an equal chance of being right. It really is as simple as that.
- Disorganised filing systems: Find out how to put a good record-keeping system in place here.
When should I start managing my time?
Take action now – there is no point delaying any longer than necessary. Remember:
- Prioritise your tasks
- Plan how you will use your time
- Review how you actually used it
- Establish routines for day-to-day activities
- Delegate wherever possible
- Encourage colleagues to do the same