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Tips for better time management print Print

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Want better time management? Here are 19 tips on how to get the most out of your time as a small business owner.

Time is a finite commodity. Unlike most other resources, time is not subject to the laws of supply and demand. There's only so much time available in each day, and no more. All the more important, then, to extract the maximum value out of what's available. Here are 19 tips to help you.

1. Achieving, not doing

Here's the essence of time management: focus on achieving, not doing. They're not the same thing! Too many managers imagine they are highly productive because they are constantly busy - answering calls, speaking to people and subordinates, talking on their cellphone (even in their cars), and so on. Activity in itself can be a drug, convincing you that you're really getting somewhere or that you're doing important things. In fact it's quite easy to be flat out busy all day and achieve very little of substance by the end of it. Simply falling into the trap of doing, doing, doing without structuring your day typically makes very poor use of your time. Your task in running your business is to get results and achieve your objectives. Achieving should always be your primary focus, so…

2. Prioritise your day

The point is, most people don't prioritise their day. They just take it very much as it comes. This is not the way to get maximum value out of your day. Successful business people are proactive, not reactive. They achieve more by taking control of their time and business. This is how they achieve more. Draw up a daily list of activities and prioritise them into:

  • Must do
  • Should do
  • Could do

Focus on achieving at least your A list every day. Note that if you're using the 'small step' or 'poke a hole in it' tactic, an item can be on your 'A' list for a stretch of time, but you should be making progress towards completion every day.

3. Know what you're going to do tomorrow

The last thing you do before you leave the office for the day is draw up your priority list for the next day. This way you leave the office knowing what you have to do, and you won't waste time in the morning, or lie in bed at night thinking about possible courses of action.

4. Do the most difficult task first

Most of us are procrastinators to some extent or other. We put off the difficult task for later and start with something easy (and possibly trivial). Meanwhile the uncompleted difficult task is nagging away at the back of our minds, causing stress and worry. Tackling a difficult task (such as an awkward phone call) first thing in the working day achieves several things. Firstly, you're invigorated by getting it behind you. All the other tasks for the day seem a breeze in comparison. Secondly, you've liberated yourself from that nagging stress. Thirdly, you've probably discovered it wasn't as bad as you thought. Our worries seldom are.

5. Making progress

Why do we put off difficult tasks? Often because we're daunted by the thought of the total hours needed to complete the task. Imagine the time you'd need to write a 200 page book! But suppose you just nibbled away at it by writing just two pages a day. The book would be finished in less than four months. Now that sounds achievable. All big projects can be broken down into small steps. Achieve them by setting aside some time every day devoted to making some progress.

6. Try to complete tasks in one step

Many routine tasks can be completed in fewer steps than we're accustomed to. For instance, try to handle each piece of paper that crosses your desk only once. Handling a task more than once wastes your time. If you find yourself handling the same piece of paper repeatedly, stop and think about the process. Is there a more direct and simpler way of doing it?

7. Put a value on your time

What's your time worth an hour? Work it out - you may be in for a surprise. The exercise is often necessary to change people's mindset. For example, if your time is worth $50 an hour, why are you wasting hours in the day doing things that you could pay someone $15 or $20 an hour to do? Look at this from a different angle. If you had to physically hand over that $50 in bank notes every hour to an employee, would you want that employee to be fetching the post or doing routine admin tasks that someone could do for $15 an hour? It's all a matter of changing your mindset. Once you realise your real worth to the business, then you can set about leveraging your limited time to maximum advantage.

8. Maximise your discretionary time

Everyone has some discretionary time in the day. This is time that you have control or discretion over, rather than other people dictating its use. For example, as a business owner your theoretical discretionary time is 100% of the day, but this is reduced by:

  • An employee coming into your office
  • A phone call from a customer
  • Tea, lunch and other breaks
  • Being given a task or problem to sort out
  • The many other daily interruptions.

Discretionary time ranges from 10% to around 75%. Most people are lucky if they can achieve 50% discretionary time. That means your working day is immediately cut in half, therefore intensifying your need to maximise your use of the discretionary time available to you. Try not to further reduce your discretionary time! If you're constantly being interrupted, is it perhaps partly your own fault? For example:

  • You allow employees to wander in at any time of the day with problems or queries. Try instead to set times for them. For example, the half-hour just before tea breaks (that encourages them to keep it brief - they want their break too!).
  • You allow phone calls to be put through to you at all times, including during meetings.
  • You allow sales reps or casual callers unlimited access at all times.

9. Use filters

Use filters such as receptionists and answering devices to help control who has access to your time, and when. For example, get an employee to take messages. If you don't have staff, listen to the call as it comes through an answering device. You can decide whether it's urgent - such as an order that you want to secure immediately - or someone you could call back later).

Teach employees when you can be disturbed and when you need uninterrupted time. Learn to say no more often. It is one thing to be accessible to employees (and others). It is another to let people interrupt you at will.

10. Delegate more

It's easy to get overloaded if everyone sees you as the source of all decisions and solutions. Being able (and prepared) to delegate can increase your discretionary time. The ANZ Biz Hub article The importance of delegating will help you here.

11. Link activities to structure your day

Create a more efficient structure to your day by linking activities in blocks of time. For example, set aside a half hour a day to make all your phone calls or reply to your emails, rather than interrupting other activities during the day.

12. Task jumping

The opposite of task linking is task jumping. We're all guilty of this to a lesser or greater degree. We settle down to focus on a task and there's an interruption. Suddenly we're off in a different direction. Then another interruption and we're off in a third direction. Then it's the tea break. It's hard to achieve much if you're jumping on a different horse every few minutes.

13. Focus on priorities

The ability to multi-task may be an important business skill, but it also guarantees that you split your time and attention and achieve far less. Concentrate on improving your task focus. Do one task at a time to completion and resist the urge to start running off in a new direction. The urge to change direction often comes because the alternative task is familiar or easy and offers a welcome diversion from thinking. Resist and focus.

14. Get to the office earlier

If you're not a 'morning person' it may be a challenge to rise early to get to office even half an hour earlier. But the rewards are great. In the quiet before others arrive and phones start ringing you can get a real head start on the day.

15. Recognise Pareto's principle

Pareto's 80/20 principle applies to many business activities. In the case of time management, it means that you should be spending 80% of your time on the 20% of activities that generate the most revenue.

16. A quarter of your 'doing' you could stop doing

Famous business management guru Peter Drucker estimates that most business people spend at least 25% of their time (or around 600 hours a year) doing things that would make absolutely no difference to their business or anyone else if they stopped doing them. What non-productive activities can you stop doing to free up another quarter of your day?

17. Anticipate crises

We can waste a lot of time in crisis management. Don't waste time fighting fires every day, especially fires that can be avoided by better management in other words, anticipating events. Good management is proactive, not reactive. Avoidable crises include:

  • Stock running out
  • Cashflow crises
  • Leaving commitments to the last moment
  • No backup staff for unexpected staff absence (such as sickness)
  • General procrastination.

All of these crisis generating situations (and many more) are avoidable.

18. Work towards your objectives

Keep your focus and motivation level high by having clear:

  • Business goals.
  • Personal goals.
  • Family goals (including recreation and community service goals).

For help on this topic see our ANZ Biz Hub article Why goal setting is important.

19. Get an outside perspective

Finally, it's often helpful to get an outside perspective on your business. Sometimes you're just too close to the business to get a clear perspective on your time management. An outside mentor, coach or advisor can often see more clearly than you where you may be wasting time and in which areas you could make meaningful changes.


Want to start putting these time management tips into action? Try our Time Management Action Plan to help you and your employees use work time more effectively and get more of the important stuff done.


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