Time is precious when you run your own business. Especially if that business is just getting started. While being your own boss is a dream for many, it comes with a lot of responsibility. No doubt, you never seem to be able to check off all the items on your to-do list.
From accounting to inventory management, offline advertising to digital marketing, networking to growth strategies—it may seem like there’s an endless number of tasks and never enough time.
If you want to maintain some semblance of work-life balance, your time management skills have to be on point. After all, there are never more than 24 hours in a day. Some entrepreneurs respond to this fact of life with focus and purpose. Others freak out.
If you find yourself in the latter group, don’t worry.
With the right time management techniques, you can take control of your time, making your work efficient, productive, and relatively stress-free. The following time management tips can help ensure you get your work done when you’re in the office, so you can enjoy your time away from work as well.
1. Set goals
Goal setting is crucial to any good time management strategy. To make sure you’re engaging in activities that support your business goals, both short- and long-term, you need to define those goals in terms that are clear and attainable. After all, if your goal is to just “to grow your business,” you might find yourself overwhelmed and not know where to begin.
To counteract this paralysis, many companies find that the SMART goals methodology helps keep them on task and on track. Standing for “Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound,” SMART goals provide clear, step-by-step tasks to help you get where you need to go.
For example, a SMART goal might be: “Increase traffic to my website from 1,000 to 5,000 unique monthly visitors in the next six months.” When broken down, we can see that this is, indeed, a SMART goal:
- Specific: The goal states exactly what needs to be attained.
- Measurable: The goal can be measured with a specific tool, in this case, Google Analytics.
- Attainable: Rather than vaguely wishing to increase visitors — or setting a goal too high to reach — this goal states a specific number that is well within the realm of possibility but still ambitious.
- Relevant: Instead of measuring something like site sessions or overall site visitors, the goal is to reach potential new customers — always crucial when growing a small business.
- Time-bound: There is a due date set at the end of six months to attain this goal.
Once you’ve set your SMART goals, you can work backward to determine the individual steps you’ll need to achieve your goals. Everything else is a potential time-waster. Your daily plan should revolve around working on tasks and activities that directly relate to growing your business and generating revenue.
2. Prioritize wisely
Once you’ve set your goals and determined the individual tasks you need to complete to achieve them, it’s time to prioritize. Of course, you want to make sure you’re getting things done, but they should be the right things.
Stephen Covey—author of the classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and co-author of First Things First—offers advice on how to work through your to-do list based on urgency. His advice is to evaluate what’s on your plate, placing each task into one of the following buckets:
- Important and urgent: If a task falls into this category, you know it must be done right away. Focus your energy on completing your most important and urgent tasks before moving on to less time-sensitive items.
- Important but not urgent: These are tasks that may appear important, but upon closer examination, can be postponed to a later date if necessary. While these items are likely integral to smoothly run your business — perhaps you need to update your website or find a more efficient payroll solution — they are not do or die.
- Urgent but not important: Tasks that make the most “noise,” but when accomplished, have little or no lasting value. In this category, you might find a sales call from a potential vendor seeking to work with you, or perhaps a coworker drops by your desk unexpectedly to ask a favor. Delegate these tasks if possible.
- Not urgent and not important: Low-priority stuff that offers the illusion of being busy. Do these later.
Write down your three or four “important and urgent” tasks that must be addressed today. As you complete each one, check it off your list. This will provide you with a sense of accomplishment and can motivate you to move down the list, so you can also tackle less essential items in a timely fashion.
3. Just say no
You’re the boss. If you have to decline a request in order to zero in on what’s truly important and urgent, do not hesitate to do so. The same goes for any projects or activities that you’ve determined are headed nowhere. Be prepared to cut your losses and move on to more productive tasks.
When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” — then say “no.”
But, how do you determine what get nixed? Derek Sivers’ advice on this front is powerful:
Learn from experience to avoid wasting time later on. And remember, for every “yes” that goes into building a great career or business, stands an army of nos.
4. Plan ahead
One of the worst things you can do is jump into the workday with no clear idea about what needs to get done. While it might seem like a waste of time to take five to ten minutes to think ahead rather than getting straight down to business, you’ll be surprised at how much more efficient you can be just by dedicating a little time to planning out the rest of the day.
If you plan your time wisely, you can focus on one task at a time, rather than wasting time jumping from one thing to the next (and rarely completing anything). This allows you to work smarter, not harder. Depending on your personality, make one of the options below part of your daily routine:
- Plan the night before: At the end of the day, take 15 minutes to clear your desk and put together a list of the next day’s most pressing tasks. It’s a great decompression technique, and you’ll feel better sitting down at a clean desk in the morning.
- Plan first thing in the morning: Arrive a few minutes early and assemble your prioritized to-do list (see tip two). This may prove to be the most productive part of your day.
5. Eliminate distractions
Start paying attention to the number of times someone interrupts you when you’re in the midst of an important task. Track self-induced interruptions, too, particularly those of the social media variety. Your smartphone is extremely useful, but it’s also highly addictive and among the most insidious time-wasters known to man.
It may take a massive exercise in will power, but shut the door and turn off your phone to maximize your time. Instead of being “always on,” plan a break in the day to catch up on email, make phone calls, talk with staff, etc.
6. Delegate more often
If you’ve hired talented, dedicated employees, one of the most impactful management tools available to you is the power to delegate. Running a successful small business depends on the owner’s ability to think about what lies ahead and not get mired down in day-to-day operations. Look for opportunities to pass responsibility for specific tasks to others on your team. That’s what you hired them for, isn’t it?
7. Track your time
How many productive minutes are you actually packing in each week? Time tracking is an extremely effective tool to help you gauge exactly how much time a single task takes you. With a simple timesheet tracker, you can quickly and easily clock in and out of various tasks or projects throughout the day.
Switch jobs or tasks with just one click using this mobile time tracking app or track time directly from your desktop. Then generate robust, real-time reports to see exactly where you’re spending your most valuable asset — and where it’s being wasted.
8. Take time for yourself
This tip is often forgotten in the hustle and bustle of running a successful business. However, taking care of yourself — i.e. getting plenty of sleep and exercise — is critical to maintaining any upward growth trajectory.
In fact, one Harvard study found that insomnia can cause the average worker to lose up to 11.3 days of productivity each year, while another study found that regular exercise helps improve concentration, sharpen memory, speed up your ability to learn, and even lower your stress levels.
Making sure you have some free time each day to spend on the people and things you love outside of your business is important for your mental health, and can help keep you energized and passionate about your work. After all, it’s important to keep things in perspective. You chose to become a small business owner, and every day you get to wake up to a day full of the possibilities you created for yourself.