A key business driver for a business is time, so using your time efficiently enables you to successfully manage your business and achieve work-life balance.
Time is like money. If you control how you use it, you can create a productive and profitable working environment. If you don’t, you can spend your working life always being busy, but not getting the important things done.
It’s good to set goals
Few people have the time to do everything so it’s important to focus on priorities. Set goals and spend most of your time on activities that help you to achieve these goals.
Give the highest priority to activities that are important and urgent. Consider whether you need to spend time on things that are urgent but not important. Can you delegate them to someone else? Should you be spending any time at all on things that are neither important nor urgent?
Base your plans on your priorities, taking into account your way of working. You might find it useful to plan first your week, then your day:
- Identify which tasks will help you achieve your goals, and allocate your time accordingly.
- Get small, urgent tasks out of the way first.
- Delegate work if other people can do it as well, or more quickly, cheaply or effectively.
- Ensure other people know what they need to achieve each day.
- Divide the principal tasks for the day into achievable blocks of work.
- Tackle them one at a time.
Set realistic deadlines for all your activities. With long-term projects, set interim deadlines and a final deadline. Allow time for contingencies – the longer the project, the more contingency time will be needed.
Decide whether your deadlines are fixed or flexible. Don’t allow work (particularly less important work) to take longer than it should. If ten minutes is all a job is worth, make sure it’s done in ten minutes.
Schedule your work to suit your temperament at different times of the day or week. For example, if you’re at your liveliest and most outgoing in the late morning, schedule your customer calls at that time.
Routines and systems equals benefits
Managing a small business can be made easier by creating systems for routine tasks:
- Consider investing in contact management software or other technology that will help you schedule and manage regular calls and activities.
- Use email for regular contact with customers and employees.
- Use a personal organiser or notepad to capture ideas.
Establish written procedures for dealing with common events so you can delegate routine tasks wherever possible. For example, develop clear systems others can follow for handling sales queries, logging customer contacts, answering queries, processing sales and invoicing.
Arrange procedures for monitoring performance, until you’re certain the tasks are being performed efficiently. Once systems are established, in many cases you should be able to stop worrying.
Build unpleasant or long-term tasks into your routine. For example, automatically call late payers the week a bill becomes overdue. Or, if you have to monitor a project, make sure everyone knows you will want progress feedback at the same time every week.
Handling information better
Find ways of dealing with information overload. For instance, ask for the information you need in a form that suits you. Ask for summaries or charts if you find them easier to deal with.
Consider regularly analysing or summarising the information coming in. For example, summarise reasons for complaints, so you can draw up ways to tackle specific causes.
Restrict your information gathering to what you really need to know. Exclude areas outside your responsibility that don’t affect you.
Apply this four-part procedure to all paper that comes across your desk:
- Act on it – if it’s relevant and important.
- Delegate it – if it’s relevant but less important.
- File it – if it’s relevant but not immediately important.
- Otherwise, bin
Set deadlines for making decisions. Don’t wait until you know everything.
However carefully you prioritise the use of your time, your attempts to manage it efficiently will be undermined unless you can find effective ways of dealing with distractions:
- Manage mail at the beginning of the day. It may have a bearing on your activities during the rest of the day and you will be in a position to deal quickly with any subsequent queries.
- Limit the time spent on each call, and differentiate calls from VIPs, regular contacts and timewasters.
- Avoid unproductive and inefficient meetings. Agree on start and finish times in advance and establish an agenda.
- Use email as a less intrusive form of communication and pick up your messages when it suits you, rather than having to respond immediately.
Be careful not to cut yourself off completely, or you could stifle the flow of ideas and creativity from your colleagues and contacts.
Monitoring your own use of time is an effective way of improving your time management. This involves logging your activities in some detail over a given period, for instance a week. You’ll have to do this anyway if you charge for your time.
Once you’ve worked out how you spend your time, analyse your activities, such as working out which activities contributed most towards achieving your goals and which can be classified as:
- urgent and important
- urgent but not important
- neither urgent nor important.
You may well find you’re spending 30% of your time on unnecessary activities. This analysis will help you decide what to delegate and what to abandon.
Writing ‘to-do’ lists
One of the simplest forms of time management is a ‘to-do list’. This will remind you what you have to do and help you learn how realistic your scheduling is. Note down what you have to achieve today, or this week.
Tick off tasks as you complete them. Seeing what you’ve achieved will increase your motivation. Remember to add any new tasks that arise from a completed job.
For long-term projects, it makes sense to use project planning tools. These can be anything from simple memos listing key dates and tasks, to flow charts or project planning software. Choose tools that enable you to see at a glance how well you’re performing and whether you need to reschedule tasks or provide additional resources.
Time management tools
Use your diary, Smartphone, or computerised calendar for both day-to-day organisation and forward planning.
Calendars that can be accessed by your colleagues will enable them to identify the gaps in your schedule in which they can organise meetings or discussions. Such devices can also record how you’ve spent your time, jog your memory, alert you to meetings and important tasks, and store useful information such as to-do lists and contact details.
Following are some suggested solutions for the most common time management problems.
Doing it all yourself
Trying to do everything on your own is a common mistake. Aim to delegate jobs that are routine, require no special skills or are time-consuming. Also delegate any jobs that someone is keen to take on – delegation can be good training and an opportunity for people to progress in their jobs.
- Regularly sort out your systems and ensure files are in order.
- Tackle large projects in sections – you don’t have to do everything at once.
- Concentrate on staying focused and keep this message above your desk: ‘What is best use of my time right now?’
Please note that this is a guide only and should neither replace competent advice, nor be taken, or relied upon as financial or professional advice. Seek professional advice before making any decision that could affect your business.
You may also be interested in:
How to write a business plan (How to guide)