Time management for small business owners

Whether you’re a first-time entrepreneur or a longtime small business owner, you know that time is one of your biggest assets. After a month of poor performance or supply chain issues, you can always bounce back and do better the next month. But you can never recover lost time. When you don’t manage your time well, you don’t complete tasks, you struggle to meet goals, and your business suffers as a result.

For most business owners, failing to manage time properly typically falls into a few common categories. If you’re prone to multitasking, you might try to complete a simple project but find yourself falling behind after countless distractions. If you don’t set smart goals, you might fail to get key information from calls or meetings. And if you start each day without a plan, you’ll never know exactly where you’re headed, which can spell disaster for your to-do list.

Adopting key time management strategies is the key to success for entrepreneurs and small business owners alike. Discover five steps for improving small business time management and find out how you can apply these suggestions to your workflow.

1. Plan your day

One of the most helpful tasks you can do to improve your time management is also one of the easiest tasks you can do. If you tend to start each day untethered and unsure about what you’ll be working on, you need a plan.

Rather than doing this planning in the morning or when you start your workday, many time management experts recommend creating a plan for the following day at the end of the previous workday. Since you’ll already have the day’s most pressing issues on your mind, you’ll be in a good place to prioritize the next day’s tasks based on what you didn’t complete and which issues arose during the day.

You can plan out your day on paper, on your laptop, or on your smart device, but whatever you do, make sure that you create a written record of your plan. Start by prioritizing potential tasks in order of urgency and mark the amount of time you’ll need to spend on each one. Then review your to-do list and consider whether you can hand over any tasks to colleagues instead. Then, keep your schedule nearby throughout the workday and cross off each item as you complete it.

While time management experts tend to recommend sticking to your plan no matter what, you may need to leave a small margin for error. For example, if you tend to receive many email, phone calls, or other messages after the business day ends, you may need to leave time to assess and address these communications on the following workday. Rather than allowing the previous evening’s messages to take over your workday, allot yourself 15, 30, or 60 minutes to skim through them and add them to your list of priorities.

2. Remove distractions

For entrepreneurs, one of the most challenging aspects of running a small business is handling distractions throughout the workday. When you work with a small team, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself pulled in several directions at once. You might be the CEO, but you’ll inevitably have to deal with marketing, sales, and community-building issues from time to time.

If you want to build a positive work culture, you may also have an open-door policy with your employees. Although this approach can lay the foundation for an engaged, transparent workplace, it doesn’t always bode well for your productivity.

Eliminating distractions is essential for small business time management. Start by closing your office door for designated periods each day. Turn off notifications for emails and messages, and resist the temptation to check them every few minutes. Do the same for phone calls, even if you need to turn off your smartphone or office phone and send calls to voicemail.

Then, set aside an hour or two in your schedule to read and respond to emails, return calls, or check in with staff members. If you receive any non-urgent messages, don’t hesitate to add them to tomorrow’s schedule instead. After all, not every email requires an immediate response.

3. Adopt an organizational method

If you continually struggle with knowing which tasks to prioritize, you aren’t alone. Choose from one of several prioritization and organization methods to get your to-do list on track and make scheduling much less painful.

  • Time logging: If you’re looking for a DIY approach to time management, this approach is a simple way to start. Download a time logging app and use it to track the types of tasks you do throughout the day and the amount of time you spend on each one. Then you can easily identify where you’re wasting the most time and take steps to end those issues.
  • Pomodoro technique: This time management technique has been popular for decades, and it’s easy to see why. If you need frequent breaks to refocus and do your best, you’ll appreciate that this method requires you to take five-minute breaks after each 25-minute period of work. If you need longer stretches between breaks, try a modified version of this method with 40- or 55-minute work periods.
  • ABC method: This simple ranking system prompts you to jot down all of your tasks and group them into categories. Then give each category a label, such as A, B, or C, to select its priority. Within each group, assign priority to each task so that you know which one to tackle first.
  • Pareto principle: Also known as the 80-20 rule, this technique abides by the general idea that only 20 percent of the work you do will generate 80 percent of your revenue. Knowing this principle should help you to prioritize the most important 20 percent of your work to generate the biggest returns.

4. Delegate effectively

As a small business owner, you might be tempted to do it all, especially if you’re the face of the company. If you’ve already tried this tactic, however, you know that it’s one of the worst things you can do for time management.

For small business owners, delegating tasks is part of the job, and it’s important for ensuring that you stay on track. Of course, you can’t delegate anything to anyone, though. In fact, poor delegation can cost you more time, as this thinking often means you’ll have to clear up issues and complete tasks properly.

As you review your to-do list, mark tasks that your employees can do on their own or with your oversight. While you don’t want to overwhelm your staff, you also want to give them opportunities to learn about other aspects of the business and offer them a chance to advance. Allowing them to become more involved in day-to-day operations accomplishes this goal while helping you manage your time.

5. Focus on your objectives

On an average day, countless tasks will alternately demand your attention and waste your time. It’s up to you to stay focused on your goals in the face of distraction. You can’t always easily keep your focus when you’re under so much time pressure, so most time management experts recommend setting aside a few minutes to define and hone your goals throughout the day.

For example, before each important call or meeting, set aside a few minutes to record your goals and what you’ll need to do to realize them. Afterward, assess your success and decide what you could do next time to meet your goals faster or more effectively.

You can also apply this technique to major projects and daily tasks, instead of only to calls and meetings. Keeping your goals in mind helps you to stay focused and removes distractions, both of which can improve your time management dramatically.

Whether you’re getting started with a new business enterprise or you’re falling behind as an experienced small business owner, learning to manage your time properly is essential for growing your company and staying ahead of the competition. Follow the steps above, and you’ll quickly incorporate smart time management skills for business owners into your own daily routine.

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