Time management is about how you organise and plan your day and how long you spend on specific activities. I find there is never enough time in the day, but how is it that some people achieve so much more in just one 24 hour period than others?
The answer is managing your time, working smarter, not harder. But how do you do this?
Let’s face it, running a small business is hard work and you have a myriad of things to deal with, especially if you are a one man band. You have to divide your time between admin, marketing, chasing leads, taking care of your existing customers, managing your website and social media, as well as actually doing the work that makes you a living!
So, how can you manage your time so you can get everything done with the least stress? I guess the first port of call is to look at what you currently do. Make a note of all the tasks you do over the period of a few days. Write down how long each task takes and what it entails. Effectively you are auditing your time. When you look at the results, you will be able to see where you spend your time and how you can improve or change what you do to become more effective, or to give yourself some much needed down time.
Identify what tasks are big time wasters
These are tasks that take longer than you thought they would, or tasks that have a high risk of procrastination or distraction. Once you can identify these, you can allocate a set amount of time to doing them each day, so you concentrate on just that task and get it done – with a time constraint, there is less chance of being distracted or of taking too long to do it. Tasks could include email, phone calls, meetings and breaks – they are not productive, so give them a limit.
It might seem like the best way to do things to save time. But focusing on one task at a time increases productivity and performance. For example, if you’re working on one task, but still answering email and text messages, even phone calls, means you’re not giving any one task your full attention. This can lead to having to revisit tasks as you forgot to do something or made a careless error. In turn, this ends up wasting you more time having to revisit. Turn off email and your phone so you can’t receive messages and emails whilst you’re focusing on a particular task. And put your phone onto answer phone with a message that says you’re busy right now but leave a message and you’ll get back to them within a certain amount of time – could be an hour or just half an hour – whilst you concentrate on getting an important task finished.
Delegate or outsource
If you are a small business and find that you are spending too long on tasks that could easily be done by someone else, then delegate or outsource those tasks. That then leaves you time to focus on the important stuff. Hire someone to either do the mundane stuff that you really don’t have time for, or for the more complicated things that you don’t know how to do, or that you know will take you too long as you’re not experienced in that area. You can also delegate or outsource tasks you absolutely hate doing. There is nothing wrong in delegating or outsourcing; it simply gives you more time to do the things you enjoy or that need to have your undivided attention.
Organise your office space
If your office space is cluttered and untidy, it can actually hamper your efficiency. If the physical space you are working in is organised, neat and tidy, it promotes a more relaxed mental state that is also decluttered, neat and tidy. There are lots of ways to organise your desk space, from buying colour-coded folders and having an in and out box to ensuring that your waste paper bin is emptied regularly. A cluttered workspace serves as a distraction, so aim for a clean and clear space.
The 80/20 rule
The US President Dwight Eisenhower once said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” This is where the 80/20 rule (or Pareto principle) can help…80% of results come from 20% of effort, so it’s important to look at your list of tasks and decide what is actually important and just requires a bit of attention. Spend most of your time on the critical 20% and less on the rest…even if it does seem urgent.
Try the Pomodoro technique
No, I hadn’t heard of this until recently either! Apparently this technique was named after a tomato shaped timer (pomodoro is Italian for tomato). You set the timer for 25 minutes, work solidly until the timer sounds, then give yourself a 5 minute break before going back to do another task for 25 minutes. This is a great technique if you struggle with focusing on a task or structuring your time. This is a great method to use if you want to ensure you only devote a certain amount of time to one task or if you have trouble focussing.
Plan in advance
Planning ahead is always a good way to keep to a schedule. Give yourself a couple of hours a week to plan what you will achieve the following week – set yourself achievable goals by writing a ‘to do’ list – It’s such a good feeling to tick off the items on the list and to feel you have achieved something. And, make sure that your goals are SMART… Specific/Measurable/Attainable/Realistic and Timely.
Prioritise your tasks
Sort your tasks into one of these categories…
Important and urgent… tasks in this category must be done right away, so focus all your energy on doing these before moving on to others
Important but not urgent…tasks in this category will be those that appear important but on closer inspection, they could be left until a later date if necessary.
Urgent but not important…these are tasks that nag at you, but once done have little or no lasting value to your business. These can be delegated or outsourced.
Not urgent and not important…these are low priority tasks that often give the illusion that you’re really busy. Can be done at a later date, when you’re not so busy.
Add the Important and urgent tasks to your ‘to do’ list and tick them off as you do them, then you can move on to the other categories in a more timely way.
Take time out just for you!
This is often ignored, especially if you work alone on your small business. It’s so important to make sure you have some free time to do the things you love outside of your business. Spend time with family and friends, exercise or spend time in the garden. These down times are especially good for your mental health, can lower your stress levels and leave you feeling energised and ready to tackle those lists again.