There aren’t enough hours in the day to waste any. Time sucks backlog your output, slow your creative flow and frustrate you to the extreme. The bottom line: Small-business owners can’t afford to waste time.
And yet, they do, without even realizing it sometimes. By being more attentive and applying a few (relatively easy) fixes, small-business owners can boost their productivity and stop wasting time.
Know what needs to be done
List-making is a pain, but when you find a tool, app or method that works for you, embrace it, says Rivka Caroline of So Be Organized. She says you should never leave your office for the day without knowing the eight to 10 tasks that need to be done the following workday.
That might sound daunting, but there are ways to make it easier on yourself. Caroline likes to divide her tasksinto categories and split up her daily tasks between them. That way, she gets some variety and contributes to several different areas of her company.
Even if you run a small operation, you can cut back on your workload to invest more time in the most important aspects of your company, says Donald Wetmore. He is a time-management expert at the Productivity Institute.
For the past 15 years, Wetmore has hired a college student to assist him with the minutiae. He sees it as purchasing 10 to 15 hours a week that he can devote to marketing and product development. Wetmore wrote Organizing Your Life and The Productivity Handbook.
Get to work early
Setting your hours to assure yourself a bit of alone time in the office before your employees show up could be key, Caroline says. It gives you time to devote to your to-do list without distraction (or at least with a lower chance for distraction).
But it's not about setting your work-life balance askew. If you come in early, you shouldn't be staying extra late, too.
"It shouldn't be about being in the workplace longer," she says. "It should be about leveraging your time-management [to maximize productivity]."
Keep a time log
For a week, Wetmore recommends dividing your days into either 15- or 30-minute increments, and tracking how you spend your time. This sort of "snapshot" of where your time goes can help you realize where you have fat to trim and where you need to delegate.
After that, integrate a time budget into your weekly routine.
"Ask yourself, 'Which [task] represents the best use of my time?'" Wetmore says. "I do this every Sunday when I look forward to my business week … I look at all the different dimensions of what makes my business work."
Track your interruptions
Interruptions are a fact of office life, particularly for small-business owners and managers. They're not all bad. A new customer calls to inquire about your product or service. But some of them can eat up your work time.
Wetmore suggests drawing up an "interruptions log." Create a few columns with dates and times of interruptions, their source and the duration. Spend a few days keeping track of all of them. By the end of that process, you'll have a good idea where your wasteful interruptions are coming from, and you'll be able to take action to reduce them.
Manage your information flow
The average person spends about two hours each day reading, according to Wetmore. We live in an age where the information flow is constant and access to it is easy.
"We can't stop that flow, but we can increase the rate at which we absorb it," he says.
So how do you do that? Wetmore suggests learning to speed-read. It's something that's offered through classes, and he says you can expect immediate results.
The only thing worse than a meeting is an aimless meeting. The roundabout dialogue makes you feel like nothing gets accomplished. Without a clear outline and direction, meetings can be among the biggest time-sucks in your office. But Caroline offers a few suggestions for making meetings useful, productive and way less hateful.
First, have an exceedingly clear agenda. Know what you'll discuss, who you expect to contribute and why. Circulate a rough draft outline ahead of time and invite meeting participants to add notes or answer questions beforehand. Sometimes, that simple step eliminates the need for a meeting altogether.
Second, stand up. If you can't recline and swivel in your office chair, chances are meetings will speed right along.
Embrace "white space"
No one likes clutter. Eliminating it is a rule of thumb when it comes to advertising design and interior decorating, and the principle should carry over to your work life, too.
If your schedule doesn't have enough "white space" between appointments, tasks and deadlines, you can get overwhelmed and fumble the things you need to do, says organizing expert Harriet Schechter.
"White space functions as a sort of shock absorber for scheduling bumps caused by distractions, interruptions, emergencies and delays," she wrote in a piece for Entrepreneur.
"White space pumps flexibility into your schedule, and flexibility is one of the keys to an effective structure." Schechter also wrote Let Go of Clutter and pens answers for Ask Our Organizer at Stacks and Stacks.
Photo credit: flickr/Daniel Morris