Saturday, October 20, 2012

Time management routines for the small business owner

Time management in small businessThe amount of time we have each day is allocated to us all with absolute equality.

In other words, you have as much time each day as Bill Gates, Richard Branson, President Obama or J.K Rowling.

The question to ponder is how satisfied you are with what you accomplish with your time each day

No doubt, in running a small business you feel the need to ensure you are achieving as much as you can in every part of your working day...... However, this requires sound planning and considerable self-discipline. 

Time-management experts have reminded us for years that we can never really "save" time. The critical issue is how we spend it. How effectively do you use your time? Do you plan your time carefully – achieving the things that are most important to you and your business?  

We will look at some simple ideas that may help to improve your productivity on a daily and weekly basis. But let me emphasise that what must come first is having a sense of longer term purpose that guides your shorter term planning. When you're clear about where you want to be in 3 to 5 years - then you think about where you need to be by the end of the year..... And then you work backwards in determining what goals to set for yourself this coming year.

1.    Set priorities & plan your day ...
Begin by deciding what tasks must be done today, in order to achieve what must be done by the end of the week and the end of the month. If a project seems overwhelming or complex, break it down into smaller steps that can be handled one at a time.

Write up a 'Things To Do" list - don't just carry it all around in your head. Include all of the things which you would like to accomplish, and then go through the list and number the items in a sequence that reflects their level of relative priority.
Then, beginning with the highest priority item, write next to it the estimated amount of time likely needed in order to complete the item (building a bit of fat into the estimate to allow for likely interruptions) - this should then enable you to subsequently schedule your day around these estimated times, on the basis of doing “first things first” – you can ensure you do the things that really matter.

Be willing to re-assess your to do list and priorities during the day in the light of changing circumstances, sometimes this may have a shifting effect on the level of importance of particular tasks.  A key question to ask yourself is “What will happen if I don’t do this?”

Have realistic expectations of yourself when you are planning your day. There comes a time when you will have to set some limits on what others may be wanting from you - some customers can be quite demanding. It is better to be assertive early and respectfully let people know when they are wanting something that you can't reasonably deliver that day. Otherwise you can over-commit yourself and run the risk of eventually burning yourself out by working longer and longer hours to try and get everything done.

2.    Delegate

If you happen to manage staff, then you need to ask yourself whether you are spending time on tasks that could be better handled by one of your employees? Gain precious hours by seeing if there are some tasks that a member of your team might be capable of taking on, perhaps because they either have more skill or interest in it than you. Remember, they do not have to perform the task as well as you can – they just need to complete it to a satisfactory standard.

If delegation and especially people management are skills that you want to improve, then you'll find some great tips at How to Manage Staff

3.    Avoid procrastination

Many of us can have a tendency to put off unpleasant tasks. But in your business, you will require the self-discipline to tackle the important things, whether you like them or not. Mind you, if there are too many of these important tasks in the one category that you are finding unpleasant (eg. book-keeping) then maybe you should consider contracting the function out. The following three ideas may help you to deal with procrastination:

*       If the project is complex or overwhelming, break it down into a series of steps to be entered on your  "Things To Do"  list. Then set up a specific time and date to begin working on the first step, and follow through as if it were an appointment. Promise to spend just 15 minutes a day on the task until it's done, and schedule these daily segments at the same time--preferably for a quiet period when there will be no interruptions.

*       Create an incentive by promising yourself a special reward for getting the job done. Have a look at some Self Motivation Tips

*       Realise that not every task has to be done perfectly. There are times when something can be better than nothing (well, except when you're getting the brakes on your car fixed). But maybe you can get away with doing only part of the job and then passing it along to someone else for completion.
  1. Adjust your schedule to your energy cycles
Most of us have certain times during the day when we're more alert, more creative and perform better. Try to identify the daily patterns and rhythm of your physical and mental energy levels - then adjust the way you schedule your time during the day to capitalise on your peak periods. In other words, plan to handle the more mentally demanding and critical tasks during your peak energy periods - that way you will potentially be able to get more done in less time.  

As far as possible, fit your schedule to your moods and energy levels, and you'll find that you save time and become so much more productive

In summary ….

Developing good time management as a business owner is all about cultivating efficient routines, and ensuring that you allocate time to forward thinking and planning. By taking time to plan and think ahead, you will prevent problems and crises from happening and you can start to become far more proactive in shaping the future of your business.

Develop healthy routines that include regularly keeping a list of your daily tasks, addressing high priority tasks first, scheduling to take advantage of your peak energy times, avoiding procrastination and delegating where possible. Every so often, step back from the day-to-day grind and ensure that you are working on the things that really matter and are adding the greatest value to your business. The benefits from improved time management will include a greater sense of control and less stress in your life. And then you can focus on the things that really matter.

One final comment - making good decisions will help you to prevent time wastage. So always allocate adequate time for thinking through the big issues, and avoid making snap decisions about them under pressure. More often than not, these will be decisions that end up costing you time because you have to repair the damage caused by impulsive action or poor judgement.

"Seize this day, for you will never
have another one like it"

Copyright. Brian Carroll, Director of Performance Development - a leadership training and management coaching business based in Australia