When you’re an entrepreneur, you may feel like you never have enough time in the day. You can’t create more hours, but you can make the most of the time you do have. Maintaining focus and actively managing your time help you move your company forward. By evaluating how you spend your time and implementing productivity techniques, you can cross things off your to-do list faster. Effective time management helps you reach your goals with less stress.
Increase Productivity With Goals
Being organized and working efficiently is only part of the equation. To really maximize your time, you need to spend it on tasks that matter and that support your overall company 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. Before you can do that, you need a concrete idea of your goals. Maybe you want to increase your revenue by 20% or gain a 10% increase in customers; maybe your goal is to create a new marketing campaign that promotes your latest product. When you clearly define the outcomes you want, you can determine what you need to do to achieve those business goals.
Prioritizing your tasks helps you get the most important things done first. Those critical business activities are often the ones that grow your business and increase your revenue. You can prioritize your to-do list by deciding which tasks are both important and urgent. Other tasks that are less urgent and/or less important fall down on the list. The Eisenhower Matrix and Covey’s time management grid both use this principle. The idea is to create a two-by-two grid with urgent and not urgent columns, and label the two rows as important and not important. You can then place items in the matrix based on how urgent and important they are. Tasks fall into one of the following categories:
- Important and urgent: Priority tasks vital to your business with an immediate deadline
- Important but not urgent: Tasks that are important with a looser timeline
- Urgent but not important: Tasks that make the most “”noise”” but provide little or no lasting value; you can delegate those tasks
- Not urgent and not important: Low-priority stuff that offers the illusion of being busy
A good way to use this matrix is to write down your three or four important and urgent tasks for the day. As you complete each one, you can check it off your list. This gives you a sense of accomplishment and can motivate you to tackle even more tasks.
Just Say No
Sometimes being the boss means you have to decline a request so you can focus your attention on the most important and urgent tasks. The same goes for any projects or activities that aren’t succeeding the way you want. Perhaps a new product doesn’t do as well as expected and you don’t see any way to save it. Knowing when to scrap the plans and focus on something else is part of being an entrepreneur. Likewise, you might have other entrepreneurs who want to partner with you: Some of those relationships may help boost your business, but other partnerships might drain your time and keep you from working on your own company. When you choose your activities with intention and say no to tasks that don’t increase productivity or benefit your business, you can make better use of your time.
Planning ahead lets you start your work day with action items. Referring to your goals and your to-do list can help you make a plan for each day; using your calendar and clearly marking deadlines for various projects also makes it easier to plan for the day to ensure you meet those deadlines.
If you want to hit the ground running as soon as you get to the office, consider planning the night before. At the end of the day, you might 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 feel better sitting down at a clean desk in the morning. Because you just finished up your workday, you know which tasks you need to do next to keep the flow going, so this method can create continuity from one day to the next.
Another option is to create your plan first thing in the morning. Instead of just jumping in and starting on random tasks, you might arrive a few minutes early and assemble your prioritized to-do list. You can get going on your plan right away with this method instead of waiting until the next day.
Whether you work in a commercial office space or a home office, you often face several distractions throughout the day. Your employees might pop into your office to chat or ask you a question. If you work from home, you might find yourself turning on the TV or doing chores around the house. Try to pay attention to all those little distractions that interrupt your work flow. You may find you’re wasting a significant amount of time each day on interruptions. When you stop to do something else, you lose your focus on your work task. It can take time to get back into the flow when you return to the task, which makes you less efficient.
Once you identify the distractions that slow you down, try to take steps to eliminate or minimize them to improve your time management and productivity. Say you look at your phone every time a social-media notification pops up. Try silencing your phone and placing it in a drawer so you don’t see those notifications, or simply set it to do not disturb mode. If there’s too much noise in your work area, consider relocating your office, soundproofing the walls, or using a white noise machine to block out the distractions.
Take Care of Yourself
Your self-care routines can have a major impact on your time management and productivity. If you’re well-rested and fuel your body with healthy foods, you’re better able to focus and have the energy you need to stay alert. Exercise can improve your overall health and boost your mood, which can increase productivity. Caring for your mental health is also important, including finding healthy ways to manage your stress levels. The better you feel overall, the better you’re able to handle the responsibilities of being a small-business owner.
Track Your Time
Increasing your productivity means understanding how you spend your time during the average workday. Try keeping a log for a week and recording everything that you do in 15- or 20-minute increments. There are several logging methods depending on your preferences, including paper and pen, spreadsheet, or an app, such as BigTime, on your smartphone. When you review your log at the end of the week, you can look at the time spent on actual work tasks. You may be surprised where your time goes.
Now that you know how you spend your time, you can structure your schedule to accommodate your needs. Making a to-do list at the start of every day keeps you on track. It’s a good idea to only schedule what you can actually do within the available time, so you feel productive and accomplished without feeling rushed. Scheduling in blocks and focusing on one task at a time instead of multitasking can also help you increase your productivity. For example, you might set aside the hour from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. to focus exclusively on making sales calls. Leaving wiggle room for handling unexpected tasks can help you stay on track overall: For example, a phone call with a client or a meeting with your staff may go longer than expected. If you make your schedule flexible enough, you can accommodate the 10 or 20 minutes of extra time.
As a small-business owner, you probably know what it’s like to handle everything on your own. But as your business grows, you can free up some time in your schedule and increase your productivity by delegating or outsourcing some of your responsibilities. If you’ve hired talented, dedicated employees, you can confidently take work off your desk and place it onto theirs. One of your main jobs as the business owner is to consider the overall picture and to look to the future rather than handling all of the day-to-day administrative tasks. Try looking for opportunities to pass responsibility for specific tasks to others on your team. You probably don’t need to pack and mail every product shipment by yourself, for example. One effective way to delegate is to look at the tasks that take up a lot of your time or that you don’t enjoy doing, and assign those to another employee. For new businesses on a tight budget, hiring an intern can be a cost-effective option to get a little extra help.
Use Smart Solutions
Using software and apps to do some of your work for you can help to increase your productivity. For example, Hubdoc imports your receipts into QuickBooks and turns your bills into online transactions, which saves time over manual entry. You can also automate many of the daily operations tasks, such as running payroll, creating sales reports, managing orders, and tracking your time. Technology can decrease the time spent on complicated accounting and business tasks such as balancing the books and billing clients. QuickBooks allows you to create invoices and business reports in minutes, as well as sync accounting data across multiple devices.
When you run a small business, your time is money. So using the tips and tools that make you more productive ultimately helps your finances. The QuickBooks Self-Employed app helps freelancers, contractors, and sole proprietors track and manage business on the go. Download the app to free up more of your time.”