How often do you find yourself looking for that important – yet somehow misplaced – piece of paper? Do you promise yourself that you’re going to become better organized, but find the days, weeks and months slipping by with too much work to do and not enough time to start that new filing system or categorize your overflowing email messages?
Everyone can benefit from good time management skills, but these practices are particularly valuable for entrepreneurs, who typically wear many hats on any given day and don’t ever seem to have a second to spare.
Here are some tips that successful small business owners and time management experts have shared with us:
The best and the worst of times –To better assess what changes might be most helpful for you, it is crucial to understand how you spend your time each day. Where are you not making the best use of your time? Another way to approach this is to note what you are doing differently on the days you find yourself most productive.
Are you diligent at daybreak or mentally best at midnight? Do you need solitude and a deadline to focus, or do your best ideas seem to be found after social interaction or when you’ve taken the time to simply let your mind wander? But it’s Leap Year, so I got an extra day – Every day has 24 hours, and there’s nothing you or I can do to modify that. It is up to each of us to manage our behavior: it’s the only way to better cope with the finiteness of time.
Eliminate those distractions that are not helping you become productive. Find a system that works to help get – and keep – you on track (there are many available, so choose something you feel comfortable with and will use). Set realistic goals toward better time management. Streamline your inbox and organize physical and electronic files of information.
Routine tasks need handling, but perhaps they need time limits. A perfect example of this is reading and responding to email. If you keep an eye on incoming email messages all day long and then stop to respond immediately, there might be room for improvement by simply limiting the times you read and reply. Many small business owners put email at the top of their list as an area that truly needs better organization and time management. What’s really important – Make that decision and prioritize each day accordingly. Many small business owners feel they accomplish more if they begin with the most difficult challenge. Usually this is the very task one wants to avoid but by facing it first, with fresh energy and a clear mind, you might find it wasn’t so bad after all. When using this approach, deadlines are often met ahead of schedule.
Let someone else do it – Determine which jobs could or should be outsourced, and then allow someone else to do the work. Tedious or simple tasks could be contracted out to free up your time for something more precious, and those areas that fall outside your comfort level and areas of expertise should definitely be left to the professionals.
Just say “no” – Only you can decide where your time should be spent. In addition to running your company, you want to ensure you enjoy quality time with family and friends. Most entrepreneurs are also involved in their communities, which is a wonderful way to serve others while networking to help grow their companies.
But, how much time do you really have? Many self-motivated business owners find it difficult to turn down requests to serve on boards or volunteer in other capacities. By thinking about your time restraints in advance, and realizing how much energy will be required for various community activities, you might find yourself making different choices going forward.
This pie is always being cut in different proportions: one year may be a great one for volunteering, as your youngest child heads off to college; another year might be too busy with helping your parents move, hiring new employees and wanting to spend more time with your spouse. Be true to yourself as you give of your time and talents. What I need most – Don’t neglect spending time just on you. Understand your physical and mental limitations and respect those times you need to take a break. When you find your schedule slowing, embrace it (that might be a great time to review your progress and switch priorities).
One final note is that some flexibility must be considered with anyone’s schedule, but by spending a few moments each day organizing and staying on track, you are creating habits and routines that will enable you to stay calm and focused as you manage your small business (and your life!) now and in the future.