What do almost 90 percent of small business owners say is one of the most critical components to running a successful small business? Time management, according to a survey by OnDeck. But it’s no easy task: Almost 60 percent of respondents said that they feel like they are “constantly racing against the clock.”
While some elements of your agenda are outside your control — say, an appointment with an important client — a quick evaluation is likely to turn up several time bandits that you can restrict with a few tweaks.
Here are six ways you can add some breathing room to your schedule.
1. Track your time
You’ve probably heard that dieters who keep a food diary are more likely to keep the weight off, or that writing down every dollar spent makes it easier to stick to a budget. That’s due to the magic of a real-time inventory, rather than estimating, which we’re often not so good at.
The same thinking applies to time tracking. If you want to know where you can save time, you first need to know exactly where your time is going. Try tracking your time for a week (here are some great apps that might help) to identify those schedule busters you didn’t even know were there.
2. Don’t let email take over your life
We’ve all been there: We take a “quick look” at our email, and 20 minutes later we realize that, well, it’s 20 minutes later and we haven’t done anything truly productive. Yes, email is a necessary evil. No, it doesn’t have to be a constant evil. Triaging email means taking a hard long look at your everyday habits. Are you worried you’re a victim of “digital hoarding?” Check out Marsha Egan, author of Inbox Detox and the Habit of E-Mail Excellence, for tips on how to first deal with the email you already have, and then keep new email at bay.
3. Ditto the meetings
It’s no secret that meetings are frequently a colossal waste of time. Aiming to make your meetings more productive is one answer, but there’s a better solution to taming the meeting monster: Institute a “No Meeting Day,” where everyone in your company knows internal meetings are off limits, and external ones as much as you can control.
Take your pick of days; Monday seems effective because you can start the week with a surge of productivity, but midweek can be a great choice too. Try this meeting-free day policy, and you’ll probably find that just looking at that empty day immediately gives you a sense of peace and burst of energy.
4. Schedule sensibly to stay on track
As a small business owner, it’s tempting to aggressively organize your day down to the last minute. But that doesn’t allow for an unexpected phone call, a traffic jam, or even a printer jam. By deliberately aiming to leave as much as 1/3 of your day unscheduled, and building in buffer times between every meeting, you’ll find you can respond to these inevitable emergencies — or even just annoyances — without knocking the rest of your day out of whack.
5. Use the 80/20 principle when designing your day
We often talk about how 80 percent of business comes from 20 percent of customers, but there’s another way to put that equation to work. Put broadly, the 80/20 formula (also known as Pareto’s Principle) finds that 20 percent of your “inputs” translate to 80 percent of the outcomes.
Small business owners are typically so busy putting out fires that they neglect the strategizing and long-term projects that will ultimately fuel their growth. Try devoting 20% of your day to those high-impact activities that are typically otherwise cast aside in favor of deadline-oriented priorities. And yes, schedule this time as if it’s any other meeting, lest it get eaten up with short-term concerns.
6. Learn to say “no”
Remember that saying “no” to something doesn’t mean that it’s not a worthwhile activity or request. It just means that it’s not something that you personally consider a priority at the moment. Try reframing your thinking about your time to consider it currency to be spent. You’re more likely to regard requests with a judicious eye, only choosing those that will improve your business or personal life.