TIME MANAGEMENT TIPS
It is far too easy when running your own business and trying to do everything yourself to find yourself feeling overwhelmed and crushed by the mountain of tasks demanding your attention. The accounts need updating, bills need paying, the marketing needs doing, quotes need chasing, meetings need to be booked and all of this before you even start on the core of producing your product or providing your service.
All too often small business owners find themselves working 15 hours a day, neglecting their family and eventually reaching burnout through sheer exhaustion.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. Once you accept that your to-do list will never be fully completed you can start to plan and prioritise the big things and let the small things go. You need to understand that time management is not about getting everything done. It is about figuring out how to get more of the right things done with the time you have.
So here are some tips:
Plan Your Day/Week/Month
If you’re going to be productive, you must create some sort of structure to your working day, week and month. Block specific times out in your diary for dealing with those tasks that keep getting pushed down the list but are too important to ignore completely. Block off the first Monday morning of every month to reconcile the accounts. Use the last Friday afternoon of each month to analyse your marketing and plan what you are going to do for the next month. Block out two hours midweek each week to follow up past contacts or quotes.
Treat these times blocks with the importance they deserve. Do not let other things push them out the way. You can plan this either in a paper diary or schedule on your online calendar, so you get a reminder. This will put you in a feeling of control and stop you worrying you are going to miss something.
When structuring your day, week or month, create a list of things that need to be done.
A daily list should have no more than three key items that need to be achieved. This does not mean you have to stop working when these three items are completed but it will help ensure the top priority items get completed first. And you can choose a fun task from your monthly list when you have completed your daily tasks which will help keep you motivated.
Once you have completed your daily list, have a look at your weekly list and pick something else from there that needs completing. Do the same with your monthly list. If a particular task seems too huge, break it down into smaller chunks as mentioned before and create a number of subtasks to get it completed.
At the end of each day, prepare your list for the next day. If nothing urgent and important with an impending deadline shouts out at you, one trick I use is to put a red dot against each item on my weekly list as the days move forward. If I get to seven dots, I either put that item as a priority for the next day or make the decision the item is not really that important and delete it. You can always move it to an ongoing list if you wish and then put another colour dot against it for each week that goes by and use the same principle.
By sorting out your next working day the evening prior, it will help you to relax and sleep better by knowing your next day is all planned out.
Set out your working hours
When you run your own business, there may creep in the temptation to start a little earlier in the day or finish later. Whatever hours you want to work is up to you but set up a routine of working hours that suits you and your business.
Treat it like a business and start and finish at the same time each day. Ensure you take a lunch break for at least 20 minutes and get some fresh air in this time if you can. I promise you will be more productive by taking this short break than if you work through thinking you haven’t got time to stop.
By having set working hours you can focus more clearly on what needs to be completed by when rather than thinking you can do it later and ending up working into the late hours of the night.
Have the right tools
You need tools to keep track of what you must do. Trying to keep everything sorted in your head will result in failure and lead to massive stress.
- Calendars As mentioned above, by putting tasks into an online calendar which will send you a reminder when it is due, you remove the stress of trying to have to remember it.
- Emails If you have more than one email account, synchronise them into one place so that you don’t have to keep logging in and out of different accounts.
- Project Management Software Use task management software to organise your documents and keep a track of tasks pending and completed and how a project is progressing.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)If you only have a few clients, a simple spreadsheet may do but have a look at a simple CRM system such as Capsule. These help organise your clients, hold all their notes, emails and documents in one place and set your follow up tasks.
- Accountancy software Hate balancing the figures at the end of the month? Always get in a muddle? Try software solutions such as FreeAgent and Freshbooks that look after your invoicing and expenses and balance your figures with your online bank account. There is a small monthly cost for many software solutions, but these could be well worth the expense (approx. £19.99 pcm for FreeAgent) if it saves you hours of time and stress. It will take time to get your head around some of these systems, but start slowly and simply and you will soon end up wondering how you ever coped without them. And many systems integrate with each other, so you always have access to all your information in one place.
Big tasks can seem so overwhelming that you just don’t know where to start. Think of the adage ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ The answer, one mouthful at a time. And it is the same with your work. Break it down into bite-size chunks or baby steps.
If you have a task that you think is going to take you hours to complete and think you just don’t have the time, set an alarm for just 15 minutes and make a start on it. You may just surprise yourself with how much you get done when the pressure is off to complete the task all in one go.
Focus on one task at a time
Multi-tasking is not always the best way of being productive and is when mistakes tend to happen. It can be far better to focus on one task at a time and get that over and done with. Turn off any distractions for important tasks such as your phone and close those social media tabs! Set your time and get going. It is far more therapeutic to see whole tasks being crossed off a list than just doing bits here and there with nothing ever getting fully done.
Outsource what you hate
Have a look at those tasks that are building up the red dots and still sitting on your list. Is there a pattern or any similarity between them? Mine is always the financial tasks. I love being creative and being with my clients. I hate sitting down number crunching and cross-referencing. So, go get someone else to do it for you. Someone with a passion for numbers can get my books up to date in a couple of hours where it would take me days to truly get to grips with it. Outsourcing things you hate may cost you a small amount of money, but this will make up for itself in getting those things done to free up your time doing what you love and making sales.
Prepare for emergencies.
Life rarely goes smoothly and the unexpected happens to put us off track when we least need it. You feel like you have everything under control and then your dog gets taken ill and must be rushed to the vet. You have a load of documents to print-ready for a workshop and your printer decides to stop working. The school phone because your child has been involved in an incident and you need to go and talk to their teacher.
So, have a contingency plan up your sleeve. Prepare for the ‘what if’s’. Just having an emergency plan in place will give you so much peace of mind. Try to keep a few hours free in your diary each week to plan for the unexpected. This will give you a few precious hours to help get yourself back on track with your tasks. And if you don’t need to use this time for an unexpected event, use it to either do a task you enjoy or even to take a couple of hours for yourself to relax and recharge.
Try these time management tips and see if you start to work more effectively.