If you're a small business owner, a dream day for you would be one where you got twice the work done compared to usual but still managed to hit the gym and spend a relaxing evening with friends or family. Unfortunately, it can often feel like each work day comes with a choice of what to sacrifice: your health, or your relationships. Between chasing new leads, managing employees, and attending impromptu client meetings, it's easy to lose track of how many hours you're sinking into the business. And how many times have you gotten to the end of a day feeling like you haven't completed even half of what you wanted to?
It's normal to feel overwhelmed by tight schedules as an entrepreneur, at least until you've hired enough people to do the heavy lifting for you. Until then, the best course of action is to improve your time management skills so that you can make the most of every working hour.
Why is time management important for business owners?
One of the most appealing aspects of being an entrepreneur is that you get to be your own boss and choose when and how to work. However, as enjoyable as this may seem, it does come with certain drawbacks. Without having anybody to answer to or review your work, it's easy to fall into bad habits that damage your productivity and the quality of what you create. If left unchecked, these habits can grow into significant barriers that prevent you from expanding your business.
Poor time management at work can result in:
Missed deadlines or rushed submissions
Stressful work environments
High employee turnover
Strained work-life balance
Bad professional reputation
To avoid such situations, here are 6 time management strategies to maximise your productivity, keep your business running smoothly, and (with luck) give you a few extra hours for yourself and those you care about.
The first step towards better time management is to prioritise your tasks. As a business owner, no matter how much you work, you are always going to have something more to do, so it's essential that you set smart goals that you can stick to. Organise your tasks by what needs to be completed by the end of the day, week, or month, and hold yourself accountable.
A great way to start is to develop the habit of writing a to-do list every morning or before you go to bed. The key is to set realistic expectations and write each item down in order of importance, so even if you weren't able to cross everything off the list, the most crucial tasks would hopefully be taken care of.
Tip: Keep your to-do list somewhere that's constantly visible while you work, and break down large projects into smaller activities to avoid task paralysis.
2. Delegate work
One common mistake that most small business owners make is that they intentionally take on too many responsibilities. In the early stages, it's common to do as much work as you can by yourself. You may worry that nobody else can do the job as well as you can. Whatever the reason, it shouldn't get to the point where you are always overworked. If you're serious about scaling your business, you need to learn to delegate.
First, assess how you're managing your current team. Do you trust them to handle even some of the most important functions in your business? Try taking on more of an advisory role. Guide your employees and slowly give them more and more responsibility in the areas where they excel. Not only will this save you time, but it will also create a more empowering environment for those you work with.
If you already have that covered but your team is still drowning in work, then it's time to do some hiring. Find the right talent, and set them up with a mentor from your existing team. If you're a solopreneur, that may be you at first. Hiring comes with high upfront costs, like financing additional salaries and training new recruits. In the long run, however, these expenses will pay for themselves in the time you save and the teams you build.
Tip: Periodically check in with your employees about a task's progress, and assist them only when they genuinely need your help.
3. Identify time wasters
Whether it's a chatty coworker or your business' social media profile that you can't stop checking every few minutes, distractions are the number one enemy of productivity. While certain distractions are entirely beyond our control, others can easily be avoided by exercising self-discipline. Even if it requires establishing healthy boundaries with the people you live or work with, blocking access to certain sites, or having to lock your phone inside a drawer, you must be willing to take the necessary steps to boost your productivity.
Tip: Overcoming distractions can be challenging at first. Start slow by identifying your top three distractions and focus on eliminating them one at a time.
4. Automate your business
Automation is all about finding the right technology to help reduce workload and optimise your operations. These days, cloud-based software providers are giving more small businesses and startups access to the technology they need to stay competitive. These solutions are designed to automate those pesky routine tasks that consume a lot of time but yield little return. This gives you and your employees more time to tackle complex problems or come up with better product ideas. For instance, if you spend 4 hours a week drafting reports for your weekly team meeting, you can use AI-powered analytics software to auto-generate visually engaging reports that reflect real-time data with the click of a button. Or, if you struggle to prioritise leads, you can use an efficient CRM to evaluate your leads and tell you which are more likely to convert.
Tip: The first step of choosing a software solution like this is identifying what business process you would get the most value from by automating. Check out this post to learn more.
5. Use time tracking tools
Time tracking tools are great for two reasons. They:
Challenge people to complete tasks before set deadlines
Hold employees accountable for their contributions
Whether your employees are working from your office or remotely, you can evaluate the hours that are going toward specific tasks to measure efficiency. There are several time tracking apps that you can integrate into your existing system, or if you're in the market for a new software program, find one that comes with built-in time tracking capabilities. For example, project management software like Zoho Projects helps you keep track of ongoing assignments as well as the time each team member spends on tasks related to that assignment. This makes it much easier to identify which activities are causing the largest delays in your workflow. Then, you can reassess the activity's time requirements or develop a new strategy that makes that part of the process more efficient.
Tip: Time tracking tools can also be integrated into your invoices to give customers more transparency about the billable hours they're being charged for.
6. Give yourself a break
As cliche as it may sound, sometimes you do actually need a break. Yes, it's natural to be bombarded with endless tasks and have your mind constantly wondering about what to do next, especially as a business owner. But the key to improving your productivity is striking a balance between work and rest. Not to mention that creativity can't flourish if you're always thinking about what task needs to be accomplished next. Make sure you and your employees take regular breaks and spend some time away from your desks to recharge. Whether it's having a cup of coffee in your favourite cafe, taking a stroll in the park, or reading a book, set some time aside each day to do something that refreshes your mind.
Tip: Rest breaks aren't a luxury. Most employees in Australia are entitled to them. Check out the Fair Work Ombudsman website to learn more about the minimum break requirements that apply to your industry.
Time management isn't a skill you can pick up overnight, and the way you use it will change as your business grows and your workload evolves. Take baby steps: find habits that align with your work and practice them one at a time until they become like second nature. Once you've incorporated these habits into your routine, take note of how they are helping you accomplish more in less time. This will help motivate you to stick with them. Don't forget to celebrate the personal victories, too, like finally getting to that dentist's appointment or finding time to watch the film your friend has been bugging you about. In the long term, both your personal and professional life will benefit from better time management.
Are there any other time-management tips you'd like us to add? Feel free to drop them in the comment box below.