When you have an entire business to run on your own—or with a small staff—there’s always a LOT to get done. Time management is one of the biggest challenges small business owners and entrepreneurs face on a daily basis. With a little planning and discipline, though, your days can run smoothly and calmly—and you can still get everything done. Here are 5 time management tips for busy entrepreneurs like yourself.
1. Make a List & Prioritize
As an independent business owner, you probably have a running list at any given time of about 1,000 things that need to get done. Some of these things are urgent and need to get done yesterday, while some are not so time sensitive, though they may be easier to check off your list. To ensure that the things that need doing now get completed in a timely fashion, make a to-do list that includes everything, but then run through it and prioritize tasks based on importance. A simple number system can work well, such as assigning the most urgent tasks a #1, the next most urgent #2, and so on. It can also be helpful to write down the weekday or date that tasks need to be completed by next to the task—a simple M, T, W denotation for day of the week or xx/xx date format works well.
2. Keep a Journal or Thought Book
As an entrepreneur there’s no question that you have a lot of ideas—great, important, useful ideas. By keeping a journal or notebook to write ideas, questions, or things you have to remember in, you can let thoughts come up, be recorded, and then forgotten for the time being so that you aren’t distracted from the task at hand for too long.
3. Create a Daily Schedule
To avoid falling into the traps of checking email for hours, getting sucked into personal social media, or spending way more time than budgeted on a particular task or project, plan out your days in blocks. If you know that you’re likely to get caught up in emails and social media, save checking and updating those for the end of the day. If your brain is sharpest first thing in the morning, block out a few hours in the morning for the most important tasks, or projects that require your complete focus and brain power. This can also be considered organizing your time energetically—knowing when you have the most energy for certain things and getting those done first, and recognizing which tasks distract you or drain your energy and completing those last so that they don’t take energy away from other important work.
4. Plan for Interruptions
Interruptions happen. Instead of being caught off guard by them and consequently distracted and stressed that a distraction has put you behind in your work, plan on being interrupted. Work in an hour (or more or less, depending on how many interruptions you typically deal with each day) to give yourself enough time and space to deal with both interruptions and your work for the day. If you end up not being interrupted, you have a bonus extra hour or so to relax or get ahead on the next day’s work.
5. Let the Phone Ring
Most businesses have a policy that states they must return phone calls, emails, and other client and business inquiries within 24-48 hours, and businesses and customers won’t expect or need a same-day follow-up. Create a follow-up policy for your business and stick with it. If ignoring client emails or phone calls gives you anxiety, write a small note in the signature of your email stating that it is your policy to return communications within 1-2 business days (whatever you decide), and then let the phone ring, and resist the urge to check your email every ten minutes.
Your Turn: What time management techniques have you successfully employed in your business? What is the most helpful tip you can share with new entrepreneurs that you wish you had when you were starting out?