If you’re in the process of starting your own business, you may feel like there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. To compound matters, for a small-business owner, every minute that ticks on the clock represent dollars – either earned or wasted.
Does that sound extreme? Consider this: In a study conducted by Microsoft, researchers found that workers used only about 60% of their available work time. That means that out of a five-day work week, they were productive only three of those days. Now, apply that to your own business. If time is money, then how would you feel about earning money only 60% of the time that you spend at work?
Now do I have your attention?
The reality is that time is easy to waste, and unless you have a pre-set idea of how you’ll spend it, it will go by before you even know it. But don’t fret – here are six tips that every small business owner can use to make the best use of their time.
Small Business Time Management Tips
1. Ignore Your Email
This probably sounds a lot easier than it is as most people tend to check theirs every 5-10 minutes. But if you add up all of the minutes that it takes to continually check your inbox and then reply, it’s easy to see why it’s such a time waster.
Instead of being a slave to your email, make it subject to your time constraints. Set aside two time periods during the day to check and respond to all of your messages. This will take some serious motivation and discipline, but it will allow you to devote more focus and time to other tasks that might otherwise be constantly interrupted by checking email.
If you’re worried that people will get offended by how long it takes you to respond, set up an auto responder that lets people know that you take 10-12 hours to respond, or even 24 hours if that is acceptable for your business type.
2. Don’t Multi-Task
In the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, experts showed that only about 2.5% of people are able to effectively multi-task and still do well at each activity. Additionally, the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London shows that a person’s IQ falls 10 points when they’re overly stimulated by emails, texts, and phone calls.
On the other hand, time management experts estimate that focusing on one thing at a time will double productivity, work output, and performance. And when you’re running a small business, that can mean the difference between success and failure. Force yourself to do one thing at a time by setting a clock or timer for a certain amount of time, and then focus on that one task until it’s complete.
3. Set Step-by-Step Goals
It’s one thing to set a goal, and quite another to set a detailed goal where the steps and increments needed to accomplish it are outlined in advance. Many people set general goals and then never follow through with them. For example, think of the millions of New Year’s resolutions that are set every year. The problem with these types of goals is that while they’re nice ideas, people just don’t know how to implement them.
In order to make the best use of your time in your business, your day should be made up of a series of goals that have specific milestones. For instance, if your goal is to get five new customers, you should think it through and write down all of the steps that you’ll have to take in order to accomplish it. By breaking larger goals into smaller steps, you will be able to more effectively accomplish your goals since you know exactly what steps must be done along the way. Plus, who doesn’t like a little positive reinforcement? Knowing you’ve completed certain steps towards conquering your goal can be extremely motivating.
You should set goals for before lunch and after lunch, and make sure that the most important ones are slated for before lunch. If you know that you can’t leave to eat until your goals are met, you’ll be more likely to concentrate on getting tasks done and not allow yourself to be sidetracked.
4. Organize Your Time and Space
It’s difficult to work in an organized manner when everything around you is in chaos. A study done by Esselte shows that 43% of Americans consider themselves unorganized, and that lack of organization causes them to stay late at the office at least two nights per week. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Organization experts agree that the first step to increasing productivity is to clear and then organize your space. Eliminate everything that isn’t necessary, then create a system for the things that are. For example, use a color-coded file folder for the items that are urgent, to be done that day, and another for things that can wait until tomorrow. Or if you’re a techie, make use of your scanner and create files on your PC or Blackberry using the same type of system.
It will be necessary to organize not only your space, but also your time. Many people use a time-increment system, where they allow themselves a certain amount of time to do the things on their to-do list. With great free online tools such as e.ggtimer, a gadget that works just like an egg timer, you can set the time, and then be alerted when it’s up. There’s nothing like racing against the clock to meet a goal for those of us more competitive types.
5. Put It in Writing
There’s something about committing to a plan in writing that somehow solidifies it in your mind. By writing down your plan of action for the day – including your goals and the details of them – you’ll be armed with a plan that should carry you efficiently through the day. You’ll of course still be confronted with distractions, but if you have a clear understanding of what you need to accomplish for the day, you’ll be more likely to get right back to the task at hand, rather than aimlessly drifting from one task to the next.
Some experts believe you should create this list the night before. That way, you’ll be able to start the next day fully prepared, rather than wasting time deciding how to approach tasks and figuring out what you need to get done.
6. Turn Your Car into an Office
If you’ve seen the movie, Lincoln Lawyer, you’ll appreciate this next, more extreme tip. Do you ever find yourself wishing you could get some work done as you drive between appointments or hang out in your car waiting for a meeting to begin? Instead of wasting this precious time, hook up a fax and copy machine to your car and use the time to do the things that are necessary, but often very inconvenient when you’re on the road. Check out the Possio Greta portable GSM fax, printer, and scanner, and never let your drive-time be wasted time again. You can also invest in a smartphone or a laptop computer with a mobile Internet card so you’re connected at all times.
The old adage “time is money” is based on a truth that isn’t likely to ever change. And if you’re in business for yourself, the easiest way to increase your income is to pay attention to how you’re spending your time, and then make adjustments to help you spend it better.
If you have other suggestions for making the most of your time spent at work, please post them below.
(photo credit: Shutterstock)