Few would argue that being a small business owner can be enormously demanding. Whether it's dealing with vendors, managing staff, or serving customers, finding the right balance for these tasks can be a formidable challenge. While some try to handle the time management dilemma by working overtime every day, this kind of solution can often lead to burnout. How then can business owners successfully manage their time without sacrificing their health and personal lives?
Following are time management tips from several small business owners who have faced this challenge:
1. Don't be afraid of shutting down technology to complete a project.
Because technology allows us to instantaneously access information via an unending assortment of mobile or wireless devices, it can be tempting to constantly check for e-mails or alerts—and then just as quickly respond to them. Try to avoid this trap. Unless you are waiting for a time-sensitive response from a client, your time is probably better spent attending to other aspects of your business.
Diana Ennen, president of Virtual Word Publishing, an online PR/marketing firm that handles book authors, wholeheartedly agrees.
“You absolutely need to focus and turn off all notifications when working on projects,” she urges. “That means turn off your cell phone, social media, Skype, or e-mail notifications. Log out of Outlook so that way you won't see new e-mails coming in. If it helps, set a timer and work for several hours.”
To prove her point, Ennen, who works with four subcontractors regularly, says she often does this when writing press releases and articles for clients. As a result, she can complete the job easily. “It's so much better because I've committed to it and am fully focused,” she says.
2. Carve out a block of time to complete jobs.
If you want to use your time productively, schedule in your calendar a block of time to work on a key job or project. This way you will be able to concentrate on what needs to be done without scattering your energies or letting your attention wander to a host of other things.
Dana Manciagli, a Bellevue, Washington-based career consultant with her own business, says this is an imperative.
“Schedule your important work as an appointment to yourself,” advises Manciagli, who previously worked at Microsoft as a worldwide sales manager. “If you need to write proposals that you are not getting to, open your calendar and make an appointment with yourself for it. If you need to remind yourself which ones to work on, put more details in the body of the invitation.”
3. Master the art of saying no.
Cultivating potential customers and associates at meetings or networking events is good for business. But if your attendance prevents you from planning your monthly budget or training new personnel, you might have to decline the invitation to focus on the task on hand. Be strategic when weighing the pros and cons of invitations as well as favors that others may ask of you.
“Learn how to say no,” insists Manciagli. “I made a lot of mistakes in my first year [as a small business professional] and this is one of them. Ask yourself: Which line item of my P&L will benefit immediately if I attend this event? Cost-Savings? And within revenue, be more specific with yourself. Will new clients be there? Will I get leads? If not, say ‘no, thank you.’”
4. Get up early.
It might be a platitude but the old saying, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man, healthy, wealthy and wise,” might have some validity for business owners seeking to better manage their time. Drew Stevens, owner of Stevens Consulting Group, which helps small struggling healthcare professionals improve their revenue, endorses this takeaway as a great way to get things done.
With the extra time, Stevens says small business owners can review a perplexing client issue or look over notes or PowerPoint slides for an upcoming board meeting. “I remember getting up at 5 a.m. to get my master’s work done before I commuted to work,” he says. “And if you do commute, do some work on the train rather than read a book or sleep.”
5. Create a to-do list.
Sometimes scheduling time to complete a project is not enough. You might need to actually write out a to-do list on a regular basis. Then once you're finished with each task, just cross it off until you get to the next job. It might sound like an obvious time management solution for small business owners, but not too many do it, says Essen. However, if you don't adhere to this simple best practice, you might be subjecting yourself to a lot of all-nighters.
“To feel more in control, make this a habit—even on your busiest days,” she advises. “It takes away the feeling of being overwhelmed and the fear of forgetting something. For me, it has been instrumental as well in completing larger projects, such as redoing my website. It's amazing how freeing it is to take large projects a chunk at a time. And if they don t get done, put it on the list for tomorrow.”
6. Learn to delegate.
As a small business owner, it is not incumbent upon you to do everything yourself. Lighten your load by learning to assign some duties to your staff or others who can help you.
Says Stevens: “There is no reason to be involved in everything. For example, I operate a very busy coaching business and recognize I cannot do it all. To that end, I hire freelancers for my graphics, my invoicing, my collections and even printing. This allows me to focus on my most vital aspect—clients.”