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One of the key skills for business owners is time management. Learning how to manage one’s time most efficiently is particularly important for new entrepreneurs trying to get a startup off the ground, as they will often be accustomed to working during specific hours defined by their former employer.
Moving from employment to being self employed can dramatically alter daily routines and it’s crucial to ensure that time is spent as carefully as money in the early days of a new business.
How to successfully manage time…
There are many different theories regarding the best time management techniques in business. However, a few common elements which contribute to effective time management are as follows:
Societal convention dictates that most work is still done during daylight hours, which essentially translates to the traditional 9-5 working day. Aside from being a historical precedent, these hours tend to tally with most people’s sleeping patterns. But it’s increasingly recognised that everyone has a unique body clock that determines the hours during which they are most productive.
One of the great advantages of being a business owner is the ability – depending on the type of industry – to tailor one’s working hours to fit in with “night owl” or “morning lark” tendencies.
But irrespective of one’s predisposition to work most effectively during the morning, afternoon, evening, or at night, it’s nevertheless important to ensure that some semblance of a routine is maintained. Some people work most effectively by setting aside a continuous stretch of time, such as sticking to an 8 hour working day with a lunch break.
Others prefer to have short “bursts” of activity – perhaps just a couple of hours at different times of the day. It’s important to understand what works best for each individual in order to optimise productivity, efficiency, and health.
There is obviously a big caveat in terms of tailoring one’s working hours; meeting the needs of customers and clients is crucial. For example, a coffee bar that is not open in the morning is unlikely to succeed long term, and lawyers who are never available during regular working hours will struggle to retain clients.
Furthermore, if a business has other members of staff, the owner must ensure that they are on hand at similar hours to provide sufficient support.
Effective organisation can vastly reduce the total amount of time that needs to be spent on routine business tasks. There are specific methods that can be applied to improve efficiency and there are plenty of business texts which consider different theories, such as the acclaimed Getting Things Done (GTD) technique. But the basics of organisation involve:
- Awareness of deadlines and timings – using a spreadsheet can help
- Planning ahead – using a calendar or “To Do” list
- Prioritising different tasks – tackle tasks in order of importance
Harnessing technology can also substantially improve efficiency within a business. Software can easily be implemented which effectively automates certain routine time consuming manual tasks, such as the billing process or maintaining client records. It’s worth researching the various apps and software tools that can help you manage your business and save time.
Many business owners have a tendency to micro-manage, maintaining a tight grip on all the day-to-day decisions. Whilst it’s a good idea to retain an overview of all the different aspects of a business, once there are capable staff members in place, they should be handed a certain level of responsibility.
Not only does effective delegation streamline business processes, but it also provides employees with a greater sense of purpose. It allows the owner to consider the bigger picture and steer the business, rather than preoccupying themselves with every small detail, reducing stress and the possibility of burnout.
Although starting any new business is always going to be slightly stressful and will rarely run smoothly, it’s crucial that a work-life balance is nevertheless maintained, even in the early days. There are many unhealthy myths of how famous entrepreneurs worked day and night to get their businesses off the ground, neglecting their social lives and putting every ounce of energy into their startup.
The truth is that most successful business owners are self-disciplined when it comes to time management – and this includes setting aside time to relax, look after their health and engage in social lives, exercise and eat healthily, and get enough sleep. Burning the midnight oil and relentlessly focusing on their business will often have the opposite effect, reducing productivity, leading to stress and even resulting in mental and physical burnout.
Setting realistic goals
Clients can be very demanding, often specifying very short timescales or making urgent requests for fast turnarounds. Whilst it’s necessary to meet expectations as far as possible to avoid losing business to a rival, it’s crucial that only realistic deadlines are agreed.
Ultimately it’s better to refuse work that cannot be completed on time, rather than agreeing to unrealistic timings and consequently disappointing the client.
Notepads, spreadsheets, and VAs
Although there are a plethora of software products that are specifically designed to help entrepreneurs manage their time and schedule work, often the simplest tools work best.
One of the most effective time management tools for a business owner is the trusty physical notepad. Putting away the laptop and phone for a moment, and using paper and pen to write To Do lists, scribble notes and organise priorities for the next few days, can help to focus the mind and plan things without distractions from screens.
For more complex scheduling, a spreadsheet will usually be more than enough. These can be easily updated and shared online amongst colleagues and even clients. It’s worth spending a little time to learn some of the more advanced functionality of spreadsheets.
Virtual Assistants (VAs) have grown in popularity over recent years. Rather than employing an assistant, entrepreneurs can ask a VA to spend a few hours a week or month helping them with basic administrative tasks and allowing them to focus on growing their business.