A critical component of managing your time responsibly is setting goals for your small business early on and then prioritizing specific tasks in accordance with achieving those goals. As a small business owner, it is easy to get caught up in small and trivial tasks that, though helping your business, aren’t critical for advancing your core business goals. This leads to inefficiency, and you can end up wasting a lot of time on small aspects of your business while at the same time neglecting important objectives.
Goals can come in many forms, and you will want to have many different types of goals, both long-term and short-term. For starters, when you design your business plan for your startup business, you should identify the core goals that you would like to accomplish in the coming years for your business. These can be revenue goals, profitability goals, expansion goals, and more.
Once you have these goals, you can start thinking about smaller everyday tasks and daily goals that will help you get closer to your larger goals. Remember, achieving long-term goals is a step-by-step process – it can’t be completed overnight. Breaking large goals into manageable tasks allows you to track your progress and see real, tangible results in the interim, allowing you to ensure your business is headed in the right direction.
At the end of the day, prioritization is critical. Knowing how to set certain smaller and less impactful tasks to the side (or delegate them, as well will discuss soon) in favor of tackling the big and consequential tasks can mean the difference between success and failure for your small business.
As noted, one of the biggest causes of inefficiency and low productivity is a lack of clarity as to what you want to accomplish and what you should be doing at any given moment. However, beyond just not setting goals – as previously mentioned – a huge mistake that many small businesses make is not setting a daily schedule and writing out to-do lists. Without a direction and a plan for each day, you can end up wasting valuable time throughout the day simply thinking about what it is you want to or need to do next. Plus, having a clearly defined plan of what you need to do helps prevent procrastination.
If you know going into the day exactly what you want to accomplish, you can better focus on actually getting that work done, as opposed to wondering what needs to be done in the first place. Plus, it gives you a clear metric by which to measure your productivity and determine your progress toward your goals and objectives.
This doesn’t mean you need to follow your schedule every day. You should still be flexible and ready to adapt if need be. However, in general, you should try to follow your schedule closely. It is a good time management skill to develop.
Given this, you should start using your calendar to schedule out each of your days, setting aside time to work on each of your goals and tasks.
Almost all entrepreneurs suffer from the desire to micromanage their business. However, not only is this a bad time management trait but it can also upset employees. Nobody likes to feel like their boss is constantly hovering over them and jumping in on their work. As such, great small business owners and entrepreneurs know how to delegate tasks to their employees. After all, you are hiring your employees for a reason! They are there to take on the tasks that you can’t handle or which they specialize in – let them do that.
Delegating tasks all comes down to planning and knowing your employees’ strengths and weaknesses. This is why it is important to work closely with and get to know your employees. The better you know your team, the better you will be able to assign tasks to individual team members. This can be a huge time-saver, removing tons of trivial and menial tasks from your plate so that you can focus on the big-picture work and planning associated with your business.
As part of delegating tasks, remember you don’t have to saddle your own business and your own employees with everything either. Instead, you can consider outsourcing for many tasks and needs. Outsourcing is a great resource for areas of work where your business does not specialize or where it needs additional manpower but does not need full-time employees for the work. An example of an area where you might outsource is marketing. Marketing is a wide and complex field, and individuals typically specialize in just one area of marketing. Outsourcing your marketing to an agency can work wonders because agencies have entire teams of full-time employees with each specializing in a different marketing expertise – something that just isn’t possible for most small businesses to maintain in-house.
Multitasking is a massive waste of time. Switching back and forth between tasks forces your brain to constantly re-orient itself to the previous task you were working on. This constant switching wastes time, makes you lose your train of thought, and expends additional energy. As such, as a small business owner trying to practice good time management, you should try to avoid multitasking at all costs. Instead, if you need to work on multiple things during the day, as already noted, make a schedule that allows you to get to all of them. Set cutoff times throughout the day for when you absolutely need to stop working on one project and move on to another. It is much more productive to limit the amount of time you spend on certain tasks than to try to multitask throughout the day. Setting up a clear schedule allows you to focus on just one single task at a time.
However, avoiding multitasking isn’t just about working on only one project or one task at a time. To avoid multitasking, you also have to minimize distractions so that you don’t lose your focus frequently, as we will discuss later. Losing your focus and then re-focusing is not all that different from multitasking.
We live in an age where technology is all around us, and that technology can be leveraged to incredible effect if done properly. Technology is critical for managing time and can eliminate tons of different time wasters.
The technology that helps you manage your time all boils down to automation and the resulting ability to eliminate repetitive and menial tasks. For example, if you are currently keeping your books by hand, consider switching to QuickBooks, which allows you to automate all sorts of processes. Automating things like billing removes tedious tasks from your plate, which otherwise take a great deal of time. Even though they are simple tasks that may only take a few minutes individually, together they add up and before you know it, you’re investing hours a week in a task that can be easily automated. Small businesses can also utilize project and team management platforms, like Asana and Monday.com. These platforms allow you to automate workflows, such as automatically assigning tasks you’ve entered into the system to certain team members based on their responsibilities and the nature of the task.
Streamlining your workflow and your business’ processes not only helps you in terms of time management but also makes it much easier for you to scale and grow your business. If your business is an organizational mess, it is easy for things to slip through the cracks, such as certain assignments being left incomplete until the last minute, etc. The more time you invest in establishing certain operating procedures and methods that can be used on a daily basis for your team, the smoother your overall operation will run.
The “Pomodoro Technique” is a famous time management method that many individuals utilize, both for work-related tasks as well as in other endeavors. The method emphasizes working with the time you have to complete tasks, rather than working against it (such as through trying to get too much done at once). The way the method works is, using a timer, you break your work into intervals of 25 minutes, separated by short breaks of usually 5 minutes (thus, in any given hour, you work for 50 minutes and break for 10 minutes). The regular 5-minute breaks not only let you rest but are also designed to aid what is known as “assimilation,” which is the construction of new understandings and insights as your brain integrates what you have completed, learned, thought about, etc. with your prior knowledge. Additionally, having the set intervals incentivizes and enhances your ability to direct all your effort and focus onto one task, minimizing the urge to multitask.
There is tons of research and information out there on the Pomodoro Technique, and while we don’t have time to detail it all here, if you are interested in the method, we definitely recommend researching it and learning more about it. A lot of people have used the technique with great success.
Minimizing the distractions in your workplace is another important part of maintaining your focus and minimizing the amount of multitasking and time-wasting you do. Nowadays, we have laptops, cell phones, social media, and all sorts of notifications coming through at any given time. It is easy to get distracted by these.
If you need an hour or two to devote toward a very important task that you can’t be distracted from, disable your phone calls, close the door to your office, and let your employees know that they should only interrupt you in the event of an emergency.
This brings us to another point, which is setting workplace boundaries and standards. As a business owner, you can’t have your employees getting you involved every time some small, little aspect of daily operations goes awry or interrupting you for trivial problems. You need to empower your employees to handle these situations on their own (and they will appreciate it since it shows you have confidence in them and trust them to make the right decisions). If you can successfully empower your employees to make important decisions on their own through proper judgment and careful reasoning, it will minimize the number of distractions and interruptions you have throughout the workday.
A lot of people do not realize the incredible impact their surroundings have on them. However, working in a messy and unorganized workspace can seriously inhibit your productivity. When your desk is cluttered, the amount of work you have to do can start to feel overwhelming in a very real way, and it can become difficult to find things.
Remember, the 30 seconds you have to waste searching around for a document that is somewhere in the papers on your desk may not seem like a lot on its own. But, if you have to find 40 or 50 documents during the day or shuffle papers over and over again, you could end up wasting 25 or more minutes just because you are not organized.
If you have a lot of papers, invest in filing cabinets or digitize them so that they can be organized on your computer (as a quick side note, always make sure to backup all your files, whether they are paper or digital).
As for your actual desktop, try to keep it as close to empty as possible. A lot of people prefer to take a minimalist approach to what is on their desk these days. That means staplers, paperclips, extra pens and pencils, sticky notes, etc. can often be left in the drawer when you are not using them. As for photos of your family or other ornaments you like to have on your desk, you probably only need a few of these, not an entire collage.
While a clutter-free space probably isn’t a stress-free space (after all, being a small business owner is stressful), it certainly helps minimize the stress you feel. So, next time you are in your office, take a look at your workspace and determine whether it is really set up as the optimal environment for driving productivity and facilitating concentration.
Nothing will destroy your concentration and your productivity more than if you become burnt out. As a result, a critical component (possibly the most important aspect) of time management for small business owners is maintaining a proper work-life balance. This means setting aside time to rest and relax, spend time with your family, go to dinner, etc. Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work hard or work long hours (most entrepreneurs work more than anyone else they know). But it does mean that you have to be cognizant of when a lot of work is becoming too much work.
Admittedly, maintaining a good work-life balance as an entrepreneur is extremely difficult, and at certain points will become impossible (such as when you have a very important project underway or during certain seasons if your business is seasonal). It’s a constant battle. Thus, it might be the case that you can’t really achieve a good work-life balance, particularly in the early stages of your company’s life. Whatever the reason, the balance doesn’t have to be great, but you do need to focus on setting aside at least some time to rest, relax, and rejuvenate. Without it, you can jeopardize your mental health and burn out very quickly. If that happens, none of the previously mentioned time management strategies will be of any use.
There is no doubt that time management is one of the most difficult challenges for small business owners. However, using the proper strategies and techniques can make a huge difference. Just the fact that you are reading this article and, by extension, clearly making an effort to improve your time management means that you are already well on your way to making a huge difference for your company!