8 Tips for Managing Your Time

Perhaps the most important asset of a business is your time, especially if you are a sole proprietor. How efficiently and effectively you use each workday will determine your success.

Here are some tips for making the most of your working hours. Many are obvious, but may require a conscious effort to make them a permanent part of your daily routine.

1. Review your “as is” condition – Take a look at the way you are currently doing things such as buying supplies, keeping the books, making products, and shipping to customers. This is your baseline of how you are using your time. Then ask yourself how you can improve the processes. For example, would a $25 financial software package reduce your accounting time by 50%? Can you save money by having your shipments picked up rather than delivering them to the shipper? While the cost of the shipper may go up, that may be more than offset by the time saved and applied to more productive tasks.




2. Delegate whenever possible – Even if you work alone, there are still tasks you can delegate if it makes sense financially. For example, you can let a freelance accountant keep your books. While this is an added expense, it frees up your time to do things that will expand your business and add more profit than it costs for the accountant. If you have employees, delegate to them as much as possible. The more time you have to manage and grow your business, the more you will add to your bottom line.

3. Set priorities – Plan your work for the coming week, listing the tasks you want to start and finish each day. Establish realistic goals and compare your actual performance against the plan. Once you see how the average day plays out over a period of a few weeks, step back and review your list again. Identify high-value activities that are critical to maintaining work flow and revenue stream. Reallocate priorities where needed, and carve out a block of time that you want to spend on the highest priorities. Concentrate on the most important tasks, especially those that need to be completed before other tasks can begin.

4. Establish schedules – Once the priorities have been determined, lay out a schedule with time targets. This is especially important if you are making products and have more than one person working for you. Their tasks have to be integrated to make sure everything comes together in sequence. Try to finish an important task before jumping into a new one. Set aside time every day to deal with unscheduled events and do forward planning. Avoid over-scheduling to keep the stress level down and your customers happy.

5. Tools – There are tons of tools available to keep track of your plans and schedules. From Outlook to various free smart-phone applications, you can get organized quickly and easily. These can be set up to automatically remind you of daily commitments, such as meetings and phone calls. If you prefer to do it manually, you can use a day-timer book or an informal “to do” list. Even something simple is better than no formal planning. Consider videoconferencing as a means of personal interaction without the cost of business travel. Only hold meetings when they’re really needed.

6. Eliminate distractions – This is a challenge if you work out of your home and an even bigger challenge if you have young children. If possible, dedicate one room exclusively to your business. Set up business hours and stick to them just as if you had to report to work on the outside. Block some time on your schedule for taking care of personal matters and stick to it. Avoid multitasking unless you are working on simple tasks that don’t require your total focus and concentration. You make mistakes when you are distracted and lose your train of thought, and those mistakes could come back to bite you.

7. Adopt a system – Keep the top of your desk as clear as possible, and organize your paper and electronic files so that you can find data easily. Back up all your electronic files locally, or subscribe to one of the services that provide automatic backup over the internet. Establish processes for key tasks that maximize efficiency and save time, and consolidate similar tasks. Bring a notebook or tablet computer with you if you leave your office during the workday. If you end up waiting for a meeting or a doctor’s appointment, you can use that lost time to your advantage.

8. Crisis management – When things go wrong and you revert to firefighting mode, try your best to leave unfinished tasks in a state that allows you to pick up where you left off. Delegate if you can and focus on critical schedule items. Once the storm has passed, recalibrate your schedule for the next day or two to make up for lost time.

Summary

Managing your time may be your most important management function of all. While it may be difficult in the beginning, it will come naturally as you go along. One important lesson is understanding when to say “no.” That word has to be part of your vocabulary if you want to maintain control of your life and business.

Don’t put off tough tasks in favor of the easy ones. Procrastination and lack of discipline can be the worst enemies to a successful business. Reward yourself when you complete an especially hard job on schedule. Your sense of accomplishment will help drive and motivate you to achieve your goals and objectives. Measure yourself on how you are doing and use that information to adjust the way you run your business.


Michael Sanibel is a freelance writer specializing in business, marketing, personal finance, law, science, aviation, sports, entertainment, travel, and political analysis. He graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and is also licensed to practice law in California and New Hampshire. Michael wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie May.com (www.DebbieMay.com), an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.