7 Time Management Tips for Small Business Owners
As a small business owner, your time is pulled in a million different directions. You’ve got to handle staffing, assigning of work, payroll, client management, marketing, and more on a daily basis.
Often, it can feel as if you’re just crushed by the weight of your to-do list, and more tasks get added every day.
Getting everything done may seem like a 24/7 job, where you need to work through all the weekends, evenings, and holidays just to make some headway. However, burning the candle at both ends can quickly burn you out, leaving your work ineffective.
To help you make the most of the time you have during the work day, we’ve collected the 7 top time management tips for small business owners:
Before you dig into tackling your to-do list, you need to fully understand how every task you’re undertaking fits into your larger business goals. To make sure that you’re working hardest and most on the things that most support your overarching business goals, you need clear, measurable goals to keep in mind. For many people, using the SMART goal-setting method can help put these big dreams into workable goals.
For example, simply saying, “I want to grow my business” is your goal, how exactly do you go about that? Is writing that blog post going to contribute to that goal, or maybe it’s finding that new software to help you track invoices?
Using the SMART method, however, defining your goal as, “I want to have 5 new client leads in 40 days” makes the tasks that you need to take care of to make this happen more clear.
To create a SMART goal, you need to make sure that your goal is:
- Specific: You state exactly what you want to achieve.
- Measurable: You can measure your progress on the goal using a specific tool, such as dollars or numbers.
- Attainable: “Reach” goals are great, but setting a goal of increasing your revenue from $10,000 a month to $50,000 per month within 6 months isn’t realistic. Find a goal that’s ambitious but still possible.
- Relevant: Make sure that whatever you’re using to measure your success is actually relevant to your goals and won’t just give you a “vanity metric” such as new social media followers.
- Time-bound: There’s a specific due date for when you will achieve this goal.
Once you’ve set your goals, you can work backward to see which tasks need to be done to help you move toward that goal. While there will be times when you need to take care of tasks that don’t relate directly to moving forward on your goals, the majority of your daily activities should be made up of tasks related to your SMART goals.
When you walk into your office on Monday morning to voicemails, emails, and a task list, it’s easy to feel as if everything is important. However, many of these tasks can be delegated, taking them off your plate and allowing you to handle more important matters. Additionally, several of those “important” tasks actually can wait a little while without majorly impacting your business.
To help you understand exactly what’s on your plate and what’s most important, try using the prioritizing structure known as the Eisenhower Matrix. Evaluate each task on your list and sort it into one of the following four “buckets”:
- Important & Urgent: These tasks must be completed right away. Focus your time and energy getting the top tasks in this bucket completed.
- Important & Not Urgent: These tasks are still important to your business goals or the daily running of your business, but they can be put off for a little while. Schedule another time to get them done, and write the task down on your calendar so you don’t forget.
- Not Important & Urgent: These are the “noisiest” tasks, the ringing phones or the email notifications. They’re demanding your attention but they’re not necessary for business. If possible, delegate these tasks to someone else.
- Not Important & Not Urgent: These are your time-wasters, the things that give you the illusion of being busy but don’t actually help you make any progress. Either delegate these tasks to someone else or delete them if possible.
Each day, write down your three or four biggest “Important & Urgent” tasks, and focus on one at a time. Cross each task off your list as it’s completed. Realistically, you won’t be able to get more than three or four important things done in a day, and that’s OK. Some progress on a big task is better than tons of progress on a bunch of little, unimportant tasks.
Learn to Say No
For many people, saying “no” to someone can be difficult. Whether it’s a business contact asking to meet for lunch tomorrow or that volunteer opportunity at your child’s school, you only have so many hours in a day. Before you agree to any commitment, no matter how small it may seem, think about whether or not it’s going to help you further your business goals.
If that commitment is going to help you reach those goals, great! As long as you’ve got the time and energy to put it on your schedule, you can agree. But if it’s not going to help you move your business forward, say no. Guard your time carefully and you’ll find that you can make faster, more meaningful progress toward your business goals.
Jumping straight into your workday as soon as you step into the office is never a good idea. If you do this, you’re more likely to tackle those “Not Important & Urgent” tasks that are demanding your attention but aren’t really crucial to your business.
Instead, take some time at the beginning of each day, or, better yet, the evening before to plan out your day.
Look at your calendar and see what obligations, such as meetings or scheduled appointments, that you have. Then look at your to-do list and select your biggest “Important & Urgent” tasks. Write down these tasks, and even block out time on your schedule to complete them. Be realistic about your time scheduling; it’s always better to plan for more time to complete a task than less.
Keep this daily schedule where you can see it throughout the day, checking to see if you’re on-task.
You may love having an “open door” policy, allowing employees to come in and chat whenever your door is open. However, this policy is a huge time-waster, causing you to fall far behind on your work and your goals.
When you’re working on an important task, close your door, turn off your email notifications, and consider shutting off the ringer on your phone. Don’t even open tabs for those time-wasting sites - social media, news, or shopping - that take your attention the moment your mind starts to wander when you’re working. Really dig into your work.
Plan times into your day where you can have your door open so your employees still feel they have access to you, but where their needs aren’t fully dictating your day.
Track Your Time
It’s really difficult to know how you should be spending your time before you know how you actually are spending your time.
To help you better understand where all those hours are going, take a couple of days or a full week to log exactly what you’re spending your time on. Take a piece of paper or a desk calendar and divide it into 15-minute increments. As you start a new task, or take a phone call, or even flip to your Facebook feed (Admit it, you do!), write down the time and the activity.
After a few days, you should see some patterns emerge. Maybe you’re more likely to get distracted in the middle of the afternoon, after you’ve been back from lunch for a few hours. Or, you are able to crank out some great work on tasks earlier in the morning.
Use this information to change your schedule and behavior, such as scheduling a break for 20 minutes around 3 p.m., when you know your energy and focus usually flags. Or, try coming into work 30 minutes earlier each day to squeeze a little extra focused work out of your day before everyone else arrives.
Repeat this activity every few months as a check-in, and adjust your habits according to how you spend your time.
Take Time for Yourself
While it may seem counter-productive to your time management to suggest taking some time for yourself, hear us out: You can’t work effectively and efficiently if you’re burnt out. Yes, there are busy seasons where it will seem that all you do is sit at your desk. But you can’t sustain these work sprints for long.
Make sure you take a little time every day, or every week at first, to do something you enjoy.
Maybe you really want to get back to the gym, or you’d love to get to bed earlier, or you just want to sit in your favorite chair with a cup of coffee and a good book. Taking a little time to rest and recharge yourself often actually helps make you more productive, and your memory and cognitive function are better. Not only that, but knowing you have a favorite activity to look forward to can help you push through periods of hard work and can decrease your stress levels.
One big tip on taking time for yourself: Schedule it! If you just say, “I’d love to go to the gym today” without actually carving out time for it, it’s very easy for other things to worm their way in. But if you’ve got time blocked off on your calendar to hit the gym, you’re much more likely to actually go.
Think of your free time as an appointment with yourself you can’t miss!
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