You can lose money and get it back. You can go bankrupt and still start another business. Time, however, is a resource that you will have no way of earning back.
Whether you’re business is a globally successful corporate or a small local startup, every business owner has the same 24 hours available to them in a day. Of course, as a small business owner, with all the things you need to juggle — the calls, the emails, that irate customer that won’t let up — you will often end your day without taking a single step closer to the goal of growing your business.
Inevitably you end up spending more time in the office, compromising your personal time by working long hours in order to stay on top of everything.
In fact, a survey The Alternative Board conducted in 2017 shows that 84% of business owners are working over 40 hours in a week. With that number, it doesn’t come as a surprise that 72% of small business owners feel overwhelmed with all the tasks they need to do.
If these statistics resonate with you, here are actionable strategies for you to better manage your already precious time:
Create a schedule and stick to it
Starting your day without a defined set of tasks to accomplish is a recipe for being unproductive. Event a disorganised schedule will only serve to waste your time in the long run. You should make sure you:
Create a schedule that works for you, be it an hour-by-hour blocking, a daily bullet list of things to do, or morning-afternoon blocks (e.g. morning for emails, afternoon for billing).
Spend 30 minutes to 1 hour at the start of the day to plan your tasks.
Make sure all meetings have a list of topics that need to be covered, and limit your team to discussing those.
Be realistic with prioritising tasks, taking into consideration not just the urgency but also the time it takes to finish them.
The success of your daily schedule lies in sticking to it. If you have your Monday mornings blocked for making sales calls, then do so. Refrain from answering emails at these hours. It’s okay to go over your allotted time, but stick to your plan as closely as possible.
If you alter your schedule in the process of completing tasks, chances are, your momentum will break. One of the biggest time sinks in business is the time it takes transitioning from one activity to another.
Distractions for a business owner is the root of all evil. Five minutes browsing social media or checking your personal texts, can easily turn into half an hour or more. On top of that, people will be talking to you every five minutes and we haven’t even got to the unavoidable unscheduled calls yet. All these distractions can quickly add up to an alarming amount of unproductive time.
To make sure you do not get distracted, even by your own doing, you can:
Turn off notifications for emails and social accounts.
Stick to your scheduled task for the hour, refraining from checking messages and returning phone calls.
Train your employees to work effectively so they will not disrupt you at odd times during the day.
Resist shiny object syndrome (or better yet, set aside new-idea time on your weekly tasks).
Plan for disruptions
Of course, it would be nigh on impossible to completely avoid your employees. Instead of letting them pop up in your cubicle or office of sending you private messages willy-nilly, create a schedule when you can accommodate their questions.
Let them know that you can only answer their queries at certain hours of the day. This will ensure that no minute is wasted and that your momentum throughout the day will not be broken.
Use the Pomodoro Technique
A time management strategy developed by Fracesco Cirillio in the ‘80s, the Pomodoro Technique breaks down high-intensity work in 25-minute intervals, with 5-minute breaks in-between. After four 25-minute pomodoros, you can take a longer 15-minute break.
Using these 25-minute increments, you can then better schedule your tasks. For example, you can set aside ten pomodoros per week exclusive for answering emails. Or you can make a goal of hitting thirty pomodoros per week for developing more efficient processes.
Once you have a good grasp of how long each task takes (i.e. how many pomodoros), you can now accurately and realistically block out your time for each task within the day.
Apply the 80/20 rule
According to the 80/20 rule (a.k.a. the Pareto principle), 80% of your business results come from 20% of your efforts. So, instead of focusing on every task that comes your way, you should spend more of your time on the 20% that generates the greatest results in your business.
Similar to the Pomodoro technique, this is a habit that needs to be formed, so keep doing it until it’s easier for you to determine which task gives you the highest returns.
The Pareto principle also has its drawbacks of course (ie is it possible to tell from what 20% of all activity you will generate 80% of results?)
Track your time
Without any idea of how long each task takes, you will find it hard to set goals and stick to your schedule. On your next work day, track each task (use pen/paper or a spreadsheet) that you do, from the time that you wake up until you go to bed again. How long did it take for you to get ready for work? How many hours did you spend in meetings, answering emails, or strategizing?
The idea here is to find out how your typical work day looks and how long each task takes to accomplish. With that data, it would be easier for you to schedule your tasks and prioritize which one to do first.
Identify time wasters
With an accurate time log, you can then find out which task eats up most of your time. Add the number of hours you spend on each task per week, and determine if that is a reasonable time or if those hours are better spent on a more income-generating activity.
For activities that do not affect your bottom-line, you may want to consider outsourcing or delegating.
Remember the 80/20 rule? To be an effective business owner, you need to concentrate your efforts on the work that will get you the highest returns. For instance, do you really need to spend hours poring over your ledgers and making sure your books are balanced? Do you also have to check on each of your employee each day, making sure they accomplish their daily deliverables?
Even if you can do a particular task, it doesn’t mean that you should.
What you should do, however, is trust your employees and delegate tasks to help free up your time. The key here is balancing oversight with delegation. Whilst it’s easy to micromanage, it’s also easy to leave people to no properly manage people. Hiring the right employee and giving them proper training is crucial so they can handle the responsibilities you will give them.
Although technology can sometimes prove to be a distraction, it also provides great opportunities to streamline your business processes. You have an infinite number of apps and software at your disposal to make sure that your time is maximised.
For instance, you can now use sophisticated cloud accounting software to upload transactions and keep track of your finances in real time. You can automate your billing and make sure it reflects on your books and bank accounts the minute you update the transaction. You can also easily collaborate on a document with your team, eliminating the need for an editing back-and-forth with whoever is involved.
With the right tools in place, you can significantly cut the amount of time needed for tasks that usually take hours to do, making your business operations running more efficiently.
Have time to rest
Lastly, remember that you are not a robot. If a car needs gas to run and your phone needs batteries to function, you also need time to recharge.
Without scheduled breaks and proper sleep, you will inevitably become exhausted and your productivity will drop, leaving you to manage your business on fumes. You then run the serious risk of burning yourself out. Being able to function on three to four hours of sleep is not a badge of honour; it will hurt your business and eventually you in the long term.
Consistency is Key
Small business owners do not have the resources of their enterprise and corporate counterparts to spend on infrastructures and staff. At this stage of your business journey, you are required to take on a jack-of-all-trades role, which further highlights the need to be more efficient with your time.
With strong time management skills, you will stop feeling like you’re in over your head and start running your business like a well-oiled machine. Be consistent with applying these strategies, and you will start seeing massive improvements in your day-to-day operations and your personal well-being.
About Andy Hyland
Andy Hyland is a certified Xero Accountant and the owner and director of AK Tax, an accountancy and tax advisory firm based in Medway, Kent. He has spent much of his professional career advising small business owners and has written extensively on finance related subjects.