There are many ways to address time theft and refine your time management strategies. Through a solid understanding of how you currently spend – and waste – time, you can determine which strategies you need to implement to correct unproductive behaviour.
Here are an initial set of 8 ways in which you can turn less of your time into more money:
1. Set Clear Priorities
The foundation of time management is a clear understanding of what your time is best spent on. Once you accept that you can’t do everything, you need to decide what needs to be completed now, what can be completed later, and what someone else can complete. Each to-do list you create should be put through this filter, and reorganised so the highest priority items are on top, and the lowest priority items are less visible, or on the bottom.
Once you have established your priorities – which will also naturally reflect the priorities and goals of your business – stick to them. Just because someone else feels something is of a high priority, doesn’t mean it holds the same status next to your other tasks. Prioritisation is also helpful in your personal life and leisure time. Your spare time is precious – so make sure are clear on how you would like to spend it.
2. Use Your Skills – Delegate Your Weaknesses
As a business owner, your day naturally consists of tasks you dislike doing. Some are essential – signing cheques, reviewing financial statements, and other business maintenance – while others are simply not within your skill set.
If you are a strong public speaker, but struggle with report writing – delegate to a copywriter or editor. If you own a retail store and have no experience in design – outsource your signage. These freelance professionals often cost half as much as you, and take half as long to complete the task. Your time is saved for tasks that use and strengthen your skills effectively, your stress is managed, and ultimately a better product is produced.
3. Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
As a small business owner, the only way you will ever get everything done is by delegating. Delegation is a vital skill that needs to be refined and practiced, and once mastered is the key to profitable time management.
Too often, owners and managers believe that it will be “faster” or “more efficient” to complete the task themselves than to train and monitor someone else. Other times, there are no internal resources to download assignments to.
As a result, the following trends can be seen in many small companies:
• Owners and senior employees are stressed and overworked, while junior employees are underutilized and under capacity.
• Employees are not given an opportunity to grow and develop in their roles, and may perceive a lack of trust or confidence in their ability. The company loses good people.
• Owners and senior employees are always in a reactive state, instead of a visionary or proactive state.
• Delegation happens at the very last minute, and junior employees have little understanding of either the overall project or expectations for the task.
The easiest way to fix this problem is before it starts. Create a solid team around you who are well-trained and prepared to support the business. Attract and retain qualified and quality people who can be cross-trained and promoted within the company. Ensure that communication flows throughout the business, so everyone has the product and service knowledge to step in and assist when necessary.
4. Learn to Say “No”
It’s easy to fall into the habit of saying yes to everything. You are, after all the business owner! No one can complete these tasks as well as you ok? You’ll lose that customer if you don’t help them? Wrong. The most successful business owners have a keen understanding of how their time is best spent, and delegate the remaining responsibilities to trusted others. It’s too easy to say yes to every request in the moment, and later feel overwhelmed when it’s added to your to do list. You may not ruffle any feathers, but what toll does it take on your stress level? Your workload? Your time is valuable – so protect it! Remember that if it is too challenging to say no immediately, you can always request some time to think about it. This way, you can evaluate your workload and realistically decide whether or not you can take on a new project. Then, stand by your decision, or assist in bringing in the necessary resources to get it done.
5. Create (and keep!) a Strict Schedule
While multi-tasking is a desirable skill, it is also often a time thief. Attempting to do too many things at one time ensures that nothing gets done. As a business owner, you need to be able to focus and concentrate on essential projects without interruptions.
The only way to do this is to commit to a strict schedule. Once you understand your work style and concentration patterns, you can allocate periods of the day to specific tasks. This includes personal and leisure time – schedule it, and stick to it.
Schedule time for: list-creation + prioritisation, email messages, telephone messages, internal meetings, client meetings, meeting preparation, “me-time”, family time, recreation + fitness, daily business tasks, and blocks for focused work.
Remember that there is a training period involved in beginning a new routine – for yourself and those around you. Use your voicemail, out-of-office email message, and a closed door to begin to let people know when you will not be disturbed.
6. Make Decisions
The choice to not make a decision is a decision in itself. The most successful business owners have the ability to make good decisions quickly and efficiently, and do not waste time deliberating over simple choices.
In leadership positions, often people are afraid of making the wrong decision or looking foolish if they make a mistake in front of junior staff. What they don’t realise, is that hesitating or avoiding decision making impacts their leadership just as much or more than making the wrong decision. Not only can being indecisive be personally stressful, but it is also stressful for those around you whose tasks are waiting on your choices.
Remember, you must make the best decision with the information you have, in the time frame you have to make the decision. No one expects you to be a fortune teller – be decisive, make some mistakes, and learn from them.
7. Manage Telephone Interruptions
This is a huge source of time theft that can easily be managed and avoided. If you are available to take phone calls at any time of day, you are setting yourself up to take work home in the evenings. The phone will always ring when you are focused on an important task, and this is something can easily be avoided.
Work out when you are most productive. Is it in the morning or the afternoon? Before, during, or after lunch? Once you have identified this time period, set your phone on “do not disturb” or have your calls directed to voicemail. If you do not have a receptionist, a variety of automatic answering systems are available for a nominal fee. To structure your phone time further, let callers know on your voicemail what specific time of day is best to reach you via phone. Then, set that time aside to receive and return phone calls.
8. Keep Your Work Environment Organized
Have you ever tried to make dinner in a messy kitchen? More of your time is spent looking for dishes and tools, then cleaning them, than actually cooking the meal.
The same goes for your work environment. If your desk and office is in a constant state of chaos, then you mind will be too. In fact, some studies have revealed that the average senior business leader spends nearly four weeks each year navigating through messy or cluttered desks, looking for lost information. Does that sound like productive time to you?
Once you make the initial clean sweep, it’s easy to maintain order in the chaos:
• Tidy your desk at the beginning and end of each day. Attach pertinent documents to your to do list, or have clear and organized folders for loose papers.
• Organise your supplies drawer so you have easy access to stationery like pens, post-it notes, staplers and highlighters. Every minute counts!
• Only have the documents and files you are working on, on your desk. The rest should be neatly filed on a side table for later retrieval.
• As for your office or store, there are many ways to make its layout more conducive to effective time management. Try:
- Minimising the distance between the reception desk and electronics like photocopies and fax machines.
- Keep a clear line of sight between your office and the most productive area of your business, so you are aware of what is happening amongst your employees.
- Organise shelves and filling cabinets so files are not only easily accessed, but out of sight when not being used. Consider putting sliding doors or cabinets in storage areas, and remember that the floor is not a storage cabinet.
More strategies to follow in Part 2!