To an entrepreneur, time is precious. Saving time allows you to devote more energy and thought into the essential elements of your business: Getting and satisfying customers, cutting expenses, and planning for the future.
According to a 2012 eVoice survey, small-business owners believe that their time is their businesses' most valuable asset, with 95 percent responding that each hour is worth at least $100 to the business.
In another survey, half of small-business owners claim that "not having enough time to get everything done" is the most difficult aspect of owning and managing a company. Technology, once thought to be the business owner's savior, has magnified responsibilities and multiplied the demands upon attention and time. The ability to capture, store, and manipulate digital data floods managers with minute details concerning the irrelevant, as well as the important. Smartphones and laptops demand 24/7 attention, and ultra-competitive markets require constant monitoring and business adjustment. As a consequence of the unrelenting pressure, many small-business owners experience stress and burnout at some point in their careers and never recover.
While the amount of hours in every day is fixed, how we use those hours is a matter of choice. The following tips can help you control your day, improve your decisions, and gain a healthy perspective about your life and your company. Even though time marches on, you can proceed to your own beat.
1. Plan your day. Your last task at the end of the day should be a listing of those activities to be accomplished the following day. While a to-do list is never perfect, having one ensures that you keep your important targets in mind. You can keep a list on a simple yellow legal pad, or use one of the many programs that are available over the Internet. According to a Lifehacker poll, Astrid, Remember the Milk, Any.Do, Toodledo, and Wunderlist were the five to-do list managers ranked highest for ease of use and utility.
2. Prioritize your tasks. Typical entrepreneurs deal with everything during a business day, from the mundane to the extraordinary—decisions with financial ramifications, personnel matters, and beyond. It's easy to fall into the trap of micromanagement and to believe that every decision should and must be made by you. Upon completing your to-do list for the following day, consider each activity for its importance and timeliness to your business, putting each into one of four categories:
- High Importance, High Timeliness: These tasks have the highest priority and should be on the top of your to-do list. This is where your time is best spent.
- High Importance, Low Timeliness: These tasks should be delegated to your trusted employees. Since they are not urgent, subordinates will have the time to get up to speed on the issues and the desired outcomes. Don't forget to establish deadlines and the method by which they will keep you informed of their results.
- Low Importance, High Timeliness: These are generally the routine tasks that must be completed, but don't require your personal attention in order for the business to go forward. Examples include such items as calculating payrolls, writing and delivering checks, and checking time cards. Take the time initially to standardize the activities and their performance, then let them occur automatically. Don't get involved unless there is a serious problem.
- Low Importance, Low Timeliness: These activities are neither important nor urgent. Ignore them.
3. Focus. As newspaper columnist Marilyn vos Savant once said, "Many feel people they must multitask because everyone else is multitasking, but this partly because they are all interrupting each other so much." While multitasking has become the rage, few people are capable of doing simultaneous tasks well. Trying to do too much is a sure recipe for error, omission, and stress. Research has proven that multitaskers lose as much as 40 percent of productivity by constantly switching tasks, especially if the tasks are complex. Concentrate on one task at a time, completing it before moving on to the next.
4. Incentivize. Share the load by involving other members of your business team in decision-making and implementation. Get them on board by communicating the importance of their activities and decisions and encourage them to take responsibility. While sharing in the outcome of the company's success is important, praise is an exceptionally powerful stimulus and an incentive every small business can afford. According to a study by Gerald H. Graham and Jeanne Unruh in the publication Healthcare Supervisor, the most powerful motivator for employees is "personalized, immediate recognition from their managers." In other words, ask for help and say thank you often.
5. Turn off and disconnect. To gain control of your own time, you need to employ a few simple rules:
- Leash your phone. Rely on your voicemail, or instruct your receptionist to hold calls and return them for limited periods in the morning and afternoon. Answer your mobile phone with a message to text you in lieu of leaving a voicemail. If it is a true emergency, someone will physically contact you.
- Only answer emails with completed subject lines. Use a filtering system to automatically direct emails into categories for easy scanning, and don't check emails more than once per hour.
- Identify the objectives for every meeting prior to scheduling or attending. According to various research studies, executives spend 40 to 50 percent of their time in unproductive meetings discussing irrelevant issues. In fact, there are 11 million meetings every day in the United States, costing an average of $5,197.50 per meeting, according to a Verizon Conferencing white paper, Meetings in America. To avoid wasting time and money, determine what you aim to accomplish with each meeting prior to scheduling it and stay on task. For example, some managers set time limits of 30 minutes and require all participants to stand. While one size doesn't fit all situations, these measures are worth consideration.
Andrew Schrage is a Boston native who graduated from Brown University with a degree in economics. He worked at an investment fund in Chicago and now writes about personal finance and lifestyle topics to help people better manage their finances.