One of the greatest challenges facing you as a small business is that of ‘multi-hat’ syndrome.
Not only do you need to physically operate your business which can be a full time occupation in itself, but you also have to be your own marketing and finance department as well.
No wonder you may feel there simply aren’t enough hours in the day!
It’s easier said than done to say it all comes down to managing your time better, but the question is how?
My first challenge to you is that you have to be committed to change.
Time management begins with you taking conscious actions to better protect your time, and then making the best use of this time.
You can improve your time management through better planning, prioritising, and delegating.
It is also about understanding yourself and identifying what will change your habits, routines and sometimes attitude.
That means it’s not just the practical diary stuff, but a bit of self-reflection thrown in too.
Keep a time management log
Before you can manage your time better you firstly need to know how you currently spend your time.
The best way to do this is by keeping a time log over the space of a week or so.
Write down all the activities you are doing and how long you spend on each one.
It will also be useful for you to review which activities may happen at varying times of the month and where the real ‘time thieves’ or times of stress kick in.
Alongside your list of working activities, keep another log with all of your distractions.
These are anything that take you away from the tasks you had intended on completing, particularly if you are working from home.
Make sure that you are as accurate as possible and be brutally honest with yourself.
The time quadrant
Once you have a clear idea of what activities you spend your time on, use the guidance notes below to assess how much time you spend in the below quadrants:
Quadrant 1: important / urgent
Time spent in the ‘important / urgent’ quadrant includes:
- Filing self-assessments which have been left until the deadline.
- Responding to customers demanding immediate action.
- Dealing with emergencies, complaints and crisis issues.
- Problems and general ‘firefighting’ issues.
- Meeting contract deadlines.
- Customer / supplier meetings.
- Urgent staff issues or needs (if you employ staff that is).
- Lack of turnover and cash flow requiring urgent marketing activity.
Spending most of your day in this quadrant will lead to a very stressful business life, as everything is important, and everything needs to be done now.
If this is the case for you, then this is an ideal opportunity to back track and see how you could have managed situations better.
Some possible solutions include:
Not leaving tax returns until the last minute
How ‘user friendly’ is your book keeping system and do you regularly up-date your accounts?
Do you need to consider delegating this task out to a book keeper?
If accounts ‘isn’t your thing’ sometimes book keepers can charge less than your hourly rate, and you may take twice as long as them to produce the same set of books.
Use a CRM system
Do you have a CRM system or diary management system that allows you to keep your customers up-dated on your progress in fulfilling contracts?
This, along with having Terms and Conditions which clearly set out expectations between both you and your customers could prevent you from having to deal with last minute demands or requests for information.
Remember, this may require you to start diplomatically managing their expectations.
Are they habitually unreasonable, in which case, could this be the opportunity to consider if the value to your business is really worth it?
Create a marketing strategy
Set yourself a marketing strategy that you can chip away at week by week, month by month as opposed to having to react with a flurry of last minute activity due to lack of business.
Do you need to consider ‘out sourcing’ your social media / digital marketing to a third party?
Quadrant 2: important / not urgent
In an ideal world, this is quadrant is where you want to be spending ALL your time. These activities can prevent quadrant number one from stealing your time and allow you to strategically manage the development of your business.
Basically, the principle here is that you break down all the activities of your role into bite sized chunks and phase them in over the course of the month.
In my experience, marketing is one activity that can be so much more productive and generate consistent ongoing revenue if you factor in tasks as part of the working week.
For example, networking isn’t ‘urgent’ and neither is staying on top of social media and keeping any eye out for collaborative opportunities, but they pay dividends and prevent business drying up.
Quadrant 3: not important / urgent
Below are some examples of how your time can be chipped away by others making demands on you:
- Trivial queries and requests from others (sometimes which they can answer themselves..)
- Lack of time management by others which then imposes an urgency on yourself which could have been avoided.
- Unnecessary and unproductive meetings.
- Requests for immediate progress reports when information has already been provided or is available.
When you have distracting demands placed on you by others, the solution is to be aware that you need to control your environment and start to consciously manage the expectations of others.
Quadrant 4: not important / not urgent
The main enemy here tends to be procrastination.
That means finding time wasting distractions because it’s easier to stick with the more enjoyable or comfortable ‘stuff’ than face a task which needs attention.
You may find the thought of getting on with it as being daunting or overwhelming.
Could it also be a touch of ‘rabbit caught in the headlights’ because you have left the task until the last minute?
If you find yourself surfing the internet, suddenly deciding it’s time to clear out the cupboard in your office or persistently checking your social media accounts then the chances are procrastination is to blame.
Just being conscious that you are doing it is a major step forward, and the solution could lie in cracking on with the tasks you have factored into your quadrant 2 activities.
Conclusion – Some Final Hints and Tips:
What environment do you need to be in to be most productive? If you need to be around like minded people, have you considered hot-desking or finding affordable office space?
If you prefer working at home alone, do you have a dedicated office space which allows you to ‘close the door’ on domestic life?
Do you have an automatic alert which notifies you of an incoming email, if so, switch it off and allot specific times in your day to respond rather than being continually distracted.
Break all tasks down into bite sized chunks and map them out over the course of the month. These can be factored into your newly ‘protected’ time.
Complete the quadrant exercise again in a month or so. Hopefully you can see where you have made improvements and measure your success at spending more time in quadrant 2, ‘important, not urgent’ tasks.
Do you need a mentor? I am lucky to work with some amazing businesses and individuals, and sometimes all they want is a ‘critical friend’ who can motivate them into carrying out the tasks which take them out of their comfort zone.
Can you relate to any of these issues and have you found any other ways of managing your time productively?