Time. There’s a good reason that books, TV shows and even movies are devoted to it. It’s slippery stuff. When you think you have enough, all too often it turns out that you don’t. On those rare occasions you need it to speed up, it moves like treacle. But most often, as small business owners, we find ourselves posing the same question that we use so often in regard to the TV remote control – ‘just where the hell did it all go?’
To roll out the old cliché, time is money, so there are obvious reasons why managing it effectively is vital to good business. And beyond business into our wider lives, it remains vital that we control how much time we burn, because it’s all too easy to let work time become all the time, and watch in distress as it swallows up family and leisure hours, piling on the stress and stuffing up our social lives and relationships.
You either master it, or you’ll become its slave. So to…well, save time, let’s cut to the chase and look at some techniques that can help small business owners becomes masters of time.
To understand it, write it down
Ever heard of a person intent on losing weight being advised to keep a food diary? It works for food and it works for time, too. Spend a week briefly noting how you spend each day – the conversations, meetings and activities that fill your day. Look back over it later in a quiet moment and you’ll quickly gain perspective on where you are productive, and the areas where you’re burning time. Note the problem areas and adjust your behavior accordingly. Time well spent!
Schedule the important stuff
Don’t let business just ‘happen.’ Meetings and activities that are important to your success should be scheduled on paper or on your PC. Plan ahead and put aside blocks of time for the high priority things you have to do, and don’t leave anything open-ended – estimate how much time things should take and then schedule start and end times.
Give your priorities a big slice
When you’re scheduling, don’t try to spread your time evenly across all the activities you need to take care of. Make sure that you allot at least half of your total available time to the activities that deliver the results you need – in short, the core profitable stuff!
Interruptions? I’ve got time for that…
Interruptions happen. Interruptions will keep happening. That’s just how business is. But you can gain some control by actually putting aside some time for them. Set aside time to be yanked away from what you’re doing and it won’t feel like a disaster, or start a ‘domino effect’ landslide that could wreck your day.
Don’t just dive in
You know how it feels…you get to work and you’ve not even finished the day’s first coffee before you are elbows deep into things. Feels great, doesn’t it? But it’s not! You’ll cope with each and every day a lot better if you put aside the first half hour of each and every day, close your office door and spend some time planning your day. Schedule your time, then get into your work. Doing it any other way is setting yourself up for a random, frustrating roller coaster ride.
Never fly blind
We all divide our days into blocks of time set aside to address certain tasks and activities – but do we just ‘do things’, or map out the results we expect to achieve? Take a few minutes before you set about each activity to think about what result you’d like to wind up with when you’re finished. Too many meetings are held, discussions shared and points considered…only to see everyone walk out without having achieved any real goals because time’s up. Make sure that when time’s up, you’ve done what you set out to do.
Just because you can always be available doesn’t mean you should be
Here’s a crazy idea – try not answering the phone every time it rings and not replying to each email as soon as it shows. Wow. It’s very liberating! You really don’t have to reply to every incoming call unless it’s utterly critical. Jumping to answer everything that pops up is a good way to see each and every day eroded into a frustrating mess.
Unless you use them as vital work tools to generate business, stay well away from the various forms of social media. A great axiom to live by is ‘When I play, I play hard. When I work, I don’t play at all.’
Closed for business
When you seem to be facing a tsunami of interruptions, remember that it’s okay to put a ‘do not disturb’ sign on your office door. You’ll get some peace, and people will wonder what you’re up to…
It’s simply not possible to get everything done every day, so don’t beat yourself up if you fall short now and then. But if you do, a good way to put a positive slant on things and re-set for the next day is to consider this – it’s very likely that just 20 percent of your actions and plans produce as much as 80 percent of your results.
I think that’s it for now. Business can be relentless, but it’s worth remembering that while there’s nothing wrong with commitment to hard work, relentlessly slogging away can wear you down. It really is worth pausing to consider how you’re doing things, not just now and then, but regularly. Small adjustments to how you manage your time can ease your stress, help you see more clearly and win you back some leisure time, too.
Even if you’re running at full tilt, next week try putting aside at least a couple of hours to re-think how you manage your time.