7 Tips for Effective Time Management
Time is precious, particularly when it comes to running a small business. Yet 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.
Are you in the latter group? You don’t have to be. With the right approach, you can work efficiently, productively, and relatively stress-free.
Here are seven tips for effectively managing your time:
1. Know your goals. Make sure you’re engaging in activities that support your business goals, both short- and long-term. Everything else is a potential time-waster. Your daily plan should revolve around working on tasks and activities that directly relate to generating income and growing your business.
2. Prioritize wisely. Stephen Covey, co-author of First Things First, offers an organizational tool for your to-do list based on how important and urgent tasks are.
Looking at what goes into making up your day, where do your activities fit into these categories?
- Important and urgent — Tasks that must be done. Do them right away.
- Important but not urgent — Tasks that appear important, but upon closer examination aren’t. Decide when to do them.
- Urgent but not important — Tasks that make the most “noise,” but when accomplished, have little or no lasting value. Delegate these if possible.
- Not urgent and not important — Low-priority stuff that offer the illusion of “being busy.” Do them 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 tackle less essential items.
3. Just say no. You’re the boss. If you have to decline a request in order to attend to 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 move on to more productive tasks. Learn from the experience to avoid wasting time later on.
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. The time you spend thinking ahead and planning your activities is trivial compared with the time you'll lose jumping from one thing to the next (and rarely completing anything). Depending on your personality, try one of these options:
- 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.
- First thing in the morning — Arrive a few minutes early and assemble your prioritized to-do list (see #2). 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 addictive and among the most insidious time-wasters known to mankind.
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, call people back, talk with staff, etc.
6. Delegate more often. If you’ve done a good job of hiring talented, dedicated employees, there’s always more work they can take off your desk. Running a successful small business depends upon the owner’s ability to think about what lies ahead and not get mired in day-to-day operations. Look for opportunities to pass responsibility for specific tasks to others on your team.
7. Take care of yourself. Be sure to get plenty of sleep and exercise. An alert mind is a high-functioning mind and one that’s less tolerant of time-wasting activities.
Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.