Starting a small business is not an easy task. You have an idea, a passion, and a desire to help, however, creating a business plan, coming up with marketing strategies deciding what type of structure you want to use, researching accounting systems, finding networking groups, identifying your goals, deciding if you want to work from home or online, deciding your marketing niche, coming up with your value proposition, chasing leads, taking care of clients, managing your web presence, and the myriad other activities that are necessary for business owners in the 21st Century, it’s understandable that you will get overwhelmed. Often new business owners give up even before they get started because of all these reasons and because they also have to balance everything with their personal life and their families, and often with a full-time job.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do about being busy. As a small business owner, you’re always going to have a pretty packed schedule at least until you reach the level of success where you can pay other people to do the heavy lifting for you. The best you can do is make sure your time is well-managed, so you can pack as much productivity into the time you have as possible.
Here are my favorite time management tips for small business owners. Hopefully, they’ll help you and your business thrive through even the most hectic of working days.
Prioritize. Decided what criteria are important to you and set a schedule that would you allow you to respect those criteria. When you have a clear set of priorities, you can set a schedule and stick to it. One of the worst things you can do for your productivity is to show up at the office or sit at your desk at home without a clearly defined set of goals and tasks to accomplish for the day. Disorganization leads to inefficiency and wastes time. Organize your time based on your current priorities, and whether it means making an hour-by-hour breakdown or just a bulleted list of chores for the day, do what you need to structure your time effectively. Maybe Mondays are for sales calls, Tuesdays are for billing, and so on. Maybe mornings are for emails or for cold calls and afternoons are divided between strategy and order fulfillment. Whatever the case, make sure there’s a structure you can stick to. Otherwise, you’re bound to spend as much time fretting over what to do next as you do actually get things done.
Until what you are doing becomes second nature try to avoid multitasking. Multitasking may seem like a smart way to save time by cramming as much work as possible into a short amount of time, but it’s likely doing more harm than good. Focusing on one task at a time increases productivity and performance. Conversely, trying to take care of a single task while you answer every new email, respond to every text, and micromanage every issue as it arises means you’re not giving any one thing the attention it deserves. Not only does this mean you’ll likely have to go back and correct careless errors later, it also means you’re wasting time at the moment by shifting mental gears. One thing at a time is the best way to go.
Don’t Be Afraid to ask for help. Sometimes it may take you hours to be in front of the computer and do research for the type of businesses that you may need to open, what would be the best pricing for your service, which accountant is the best in your market, etc. If possible, ask people you can trust, and give them the work you don’t have time for or the work you don’t know how to do. This will give you time to focus on the tasks you’re best at and the ones that mean the most to you.
Make sure you have Time to Rest and Relax. Sometimes taking a break actually saves you time and results in greater productivity. Our minds, like our bodies, need rest from time to time. Without taking a break you’re guaranteeing yourself exhaustion and ultimately diminished returns.
Organize Your Space. A cluttered office or desk in your home makes it more difficult to work effectively, and that ultimately makes for wasted time. When your physical space is organized, it leads to organized mental space and more efficient work. Color-coded file folders, designated incoming and outgoing piles, and similar tactics help you to find what you need when you need it. Keeping your desk free of trash and clutter also helps to maintain a balanced head space conducive to productivity.
Identify and Eliminate Your Time Wasters – self discipline Everyone has something that leads them to waste more time than is healthy. Take steps to identify what these are – keeping a diary can be a good way of doing this and then try to cut them out of your day. If you waste too much time on social media, set up a URL blocker for the problem sites in your preferred browser. If you spend too much time answering emails, set a cap on the time you spend on email each day.
President Eisenhower and the 80/20 Rule. President Dwight D. Eisenhower once famously said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” Many believe that the 80/20 rule: “80% of results come from 20% of effort” came from him.
Try the “Pomodoro Technique” Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late ‘80s and named for the tomato- called pomodoro in Italian – the Pomodoro Technique involves setting a timer for 25 minutes and focusing on a single task until the alarm goes off. Then, 5 minutes is taken as a break period before devoting 25 minutes to the next task. The Pomodoro technique is great if you have trouble focusing, and structuring your time, or if you want to make sure you’re devoting a certain amount of time to a single task.
Know How to Balance Your Time This goes hand in hand with prioritizing, once you know what’s important to you, you know exactly how much time to allocate to each item in the order of importance. You can’t spend too much time online, networking, putting out fires, doing research for small issues. All of these may be necessary, but too much focus on any one means the others fall by the wayside and time management suffers.
Automate, Automate, Automate – use the Apps and Tools available to you While technology sometimes makes the modern business owner busier than ever -one wonders how Steve Jobs would have managed social media marketing when he was still working out of a garage – it also offers numerous opportunities to streamline and make things easier. With a near-infinite number of apps, programs, and online services available, there are at least as many ways to take difficult, time-consuming tasks and let the computer handle them for you.
Keep track of your Finances Finances have the potential to be a large stressor and therefore take up an unnecessary amount of time to handle. Creating and adapting a bookkeeping system early on will help you stay organized, thus saving you time down the road. If you don’t already have one in place, there’s a handful of services to help you stick to a bookkeeping system. QuickBooks, offers a ton of functions to simplify your accounting. Xero, another accounting tool, works through the cloud. It graphs your payment schedule and debts, helping you see when to pay what and manage your cash flow. It’s extremely user-friendly and a definite timesaver. If you have any small business financing or other owed debt, keeping track of all the money coming in and going out can be difficult, but software can help make it manageable.
Avoid distractions as much as possible As a solopreneur, the biggest struggle you may face is staying productive without a team breathing down your neck. As your own boss, you’re going to have to work diligently to stay motivated and avoid distraction. It’s important to keep your work life separate from your business life. Turn your phone on silent, use an app such as SelfControl to block those websites you mindlessly browse, and make sure you are mentally and physically present during work hours. That also means keeping business matters out of family time. Learning to truly segment your day will help you manage your time and make the most out of each precious hour. If you’re getting bogged down with endless tasks or find yourself feeling burnt out before the day even starts, it could be a sign that something is wrong with your current routine. There may be little you can to do make that to-do list go away, but the more efficiently you use every hour you have, the more successful you’ll be at managing those hectic days.
Plan ahead. One of the worst things that you can do is wake up without a plan for the day. It’s going to take you a long time to get things organized and make a list of what you need to accomplish. That’s why you should always plan ahead using one of these options: The night before. Before you end your work for the day, spend the last 15-minutes organizing your office if you have one, or your desk, or maybe your computer and composing a list of your most important items for tomorrow. Who am I meeting? What networking groups am I attending? Who do I have to call and follow up? First thing in the morning. During your morning routine write down the 3 or 4 most urgent and important matters that need to be addressed today and work on those when you’re most productive.