At some point every small business owner has wished for more hours in the day to accomplish what needs to get done. In reality, the solution is not a longer day, but in how you prioritize and structure the time you have.
The U.S. Small Business Association offers a time management guide that encourages business owners to evaluate themselves: How many days end without a key task being completed? How often do you miss activities with family and friends to finish work? If this sounds like your workday, try these time management tips:
Plan and prioritize
Times of growth are when most entrepreneurs feel the time pinch, says Jennifer Martin, owner of Zest Business Consulting in San Francisco. They continue to micromanage the business even as sales accelerate, and productivity plummets. “That’s when it’s time to go back to strategic planning,” Martin said.
Write down specific goals for the business and break them into tasks. Do the same for each project. Keep a visual chart that tracks progress toward each goal. And figure out which tasks can be delegated.
Track your time
Martin recommends that her clients keep a diary of every minute of their time for two weeks. Then they can begin to attack the interruptions that pull their focus. “Always ask, is doing this going to get me traction toward my goals?” Martin says.
Once you see where your time goes, you can set a budget for how you spend those hours. Estimate the time needed for every task and plug that into a daily or weekly planner. But don’t fill every slot in the grid. The SBA guide recommends business owners reserve about 25 percent of their time to handle unexpected problems—and to take breaks.
Much of time management is really information management. Tim Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Work Week, advocates a “low-information diet” for productivity. One of the major tenets is to check and send email only two or three times a day.
Martin recommends using website blocking software. These apps let you identify distracting sites, then block you from visiting after you’ve exceeded your time limit. Other software can monitor everything you do on your computer or device, and then analyze your productivity.
When people interrupt you in person or by phone, be quick, firm, and polite. The SBA guide suggests either giving an immediate response or writing down the question with a promise to respond later. When people stop by at the wrong time, politely ask them to come back at a better time.
Finally, Martin says, save time and stress by letting go of perfectionism. As Facebook executive and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg is fond of saying: “Done is better than perfect.”
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