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Manage Your Time Better With These 7 Strategies
Peter Drucker, the founder of modern management, once said, “Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.”
For small business owners, that’s easier said than done.
It’s very common for entrepreneurs to work long hours under the pressure of heavy workloads, aggressive deadlines, and the need to grow revenue. But overworking without employing effective time management strategies can lead to inefficiencies, costly mistakes, and burnout. And that’s true for your employees, too – small business owners lead by example, and your habits can have far-reaching effects on culture, performance, and profitability.
Want to develop better strategies to manage your own time and cultivate a workplace that works smarter, not harder? Read on for some valuable tips.
1. Track Your Time
Adding another task to your workload probably doesn’t sound like a time-saver. But recording how your time is used can help you identify and eliminate time-wasting tasks and inefficient work habits. You might also find that it keeps you focused on the task you’re working on. Whether time-tracking becomes a permanent practice or you use it as more of an initial audit, it’s a great place to start. A notepad on your desk is the simplest solution – or consider a time-tracking app for your smartphone if you’re often on the go.
2. Set Priorities
If you struggle with balancing big, labor-intensive projects with smaller tasks like returning phone calls, you’re far from alone. There are numerous schools of thought when it comes to prioritizing tasks. At the end of the day, the question of which technique to pick is probably less important than picking one and sticking with it. Here are three options:
- The Eisenhower Matrix: Based on the President’s comment that “what is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important,” this method calls for categorizing and conquering tasks in the following order: Urgent and Important, Important but Not Urgent, Urgent but Not Important, Not Urgent and Not Important.
- The Pareto Principle: You may be familiar with the observation that 20% of your customers generate 80% of revenue. This can also be applied to workload: 20% of your work will generate 80% of revenue. The Pareto method suggests analyzing and prioritizing the 20% of tasks that produce the biggest returns.
- The ABCDE Method: This easy-to-remember method has you assign letters to each of your tasks and tackling them in order. “A” tasks are mission-critical and should be your top priority. “B” and “C” tasks are less consequential. “D” stands for Delegate – pass these off to someone else. “E” is Eliminate – these aren’t worth doing at all.
You’ll note that all these methods make you do the major items first. While it might be tempting to clear all the little stuff off your desk before diving into an important project, most management experts advise against this – especially for operators of small businesses, for whom minor tasks might literally be never-ending.
3. Get Focused
Work on one thing at a time. Multitasking isn’t the time-saver it appears to be – it can lead to lower productivity and performance because it takes time and energy to regain concentration after each small interruption. When working at your computer, eliminate distractions by staying off your phone and closing any browser windows that aren’t relevant to your task.
Often in small businesses, practically every customer, vendor, and employee wants to “talk to the boss” – and as much as you want to be approachable and available, you can’t afford to have an open-door policy at all times. Schedule times when access to your office is restricted and your phone is silenced.
4. Set Aside Time for Communication
Constant messages across numerous channels make it very hard to finish projects. Plan a few times during the day when you’ll communicate with your staff and clients.
Consider trying the Pomodoro Technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo, as a way to segment work into dedicated intervals separated by short breaks. Set a timer – Cirillo’s was a tomato-shaped kitchen timer (hence pomodoro, which is tomato in Italian), but you can use a free online widget – for 25 minutes, then focus on one mode of communication, whether it’s responding to comments on your business’s social media pages or returning phone calls. When the bell rings, take a five-minute break.
5. Cut Down on Meetings
You can add hours of productivity to your workweek by cutting out nonessential meetings, setting clear agendas to keep meetings on track, and limiting attendance to employees who are essential to the topic. Many professionals find that a quick phone call, email, or online chat works just as well.
Another approach is to create timeslots when no meetings can be scheduled. One CEO recently spent a year declining all meetings before noon, and he’s reported huge improvements in his overall productivity. Other companies have established meeting-free days of the week, freeing up more time for uninterrupted creative thinking that can lead to rewarding ventures.
6. Stay Healthy
In addition to getting a good night’s sleep, schedule regular breaks for light exercise (like a walk around the building) to help you recharge your body and mind. Consider investing in sit-stand desks and stock your breakroom with healthy snacks like nuts and fruit, which can help you and your team power through those long afternoons.
Self-care isn’t indulgence – it’s vital to your personal and professional success and it should be a nonnegotiable part of each workday.
7. Automate Tasks
You can free up time to focus on growing your business by automating many routine tasks. Consider investing in software (including options with mobile-friendly apps) to help you and your team streamline processes around expense tracking, invoicing, scheduling, HR functions, social media management, and capturing and managing sales leads.
Ask your financial institution about cash management services that can help you to maximize cash flow and gain more efficiency for your business.
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