Being organized is the key to operating efficiently, especially for a small business. Integrating time management skills into your daily routine is worth the effort when time is of the essence.
Time may be your most valuable asset, especially if you’re a sole proprietor. You wear many different hats, and the stress of juggling a hundred different tasks at once can be overwhelming. You’re the manager, bookkeeper, salesperson, janitor, marketer, secretary, and customer service representative all rolled into one.
If you’re unable to organize and operate efficiently, your chances of success are slim. The keys to improving time management seem obvious, but it takes effort to integrate them into your daily work routine. It’s more than worth the effort.
Goals are highly useful in many ways. They provide an overall roadmap for the direction of your company. They provide motivation to press forward when times get tough. Write them down and post them in a visible spot. They’ll help you focus on the most important tasks every day.
Goals don’t have to be detailed, and it’s often better if they aren’t. They should set the tone for how you want to operate and conduct your business. If you stray from the path toward achieving those goals, you know you’re wasting your time that could be better utilized elsewhere. Otherwise, it’s time to update your goals and mission of your company.
Before you start overhauling the way you do things, it’s useful to review and analyze how you do them now. Then focus on how you can improve your processes to save time and effort. Sometimes it may be worth spending money in the short run to save time and money in the long run. For example, if keeping the books is occupying too much of your time, consider updating your accounting software or hiring a firm to maintain the books for you.
Depending on the complexity of your business, it may be worth bringing in an outside consultant to review all your processes and procedures. Another set of eyes with no stake in the company can often expose troublesome issues that you don’t even see.
If you’re a small business operating out of your home, there’s likely a never-ending supply of distractions. There are things you can do to minimize the inevitable disruption:
- Establish business hours and stick to them.
- Dedicate one room as your office and make it off-limits to other family members unless it’s very important to interrupt.
- Have a separate phone and computer for your business. It’s an added expense but you can write it off and it will help keep your personal and professional lives from constantly colliding.
- Avoid multitasking on personal and business matters. Block off time on your calendar to take care of personal matters and adhere to it.
Staying focused is a challenge, but distractions cause mistakes that will cost you time and money to correct.
Take advantage of the technology available to simplify your operations as much as possible. Computer software now exists for just about any need you come up with, including scheduling, budgeting, accounting, planning, inventory control, pricing, product design, graphics, invoicing, etc. A day planner is especially useful and there are tons of apps available to choose from. Whatever system you use to organize your time, keep it simple so you’ll always use it.
Make sure your digital data is easily accessible and transferable to and from all your electronic devices. Many businesses have reduced or eliminated business travel by relying on videoconferencing whenever possible.
The value of prioritization can’t be overstated. The success of any business depends on the ability to sort through a myriad of seemingly important tasks and isolate the ones that have to get done now. A daily schedule aids in sequencing events in the order needed to maximize efficiency and minimize disruptions to work flow. Keep the schedule realistic and achievable. Otherwise you’ll get behind quickly, making it more difficult to concentrate on the tasks that need to get done first.
Over a period of time, measure your performance against key milestones that had to get done. Use that information to reassess how you’re doing things and readjust priorities. Apply what you learn from experience and mistakes to continually improve how you schedule activities. Include time to deal with interruptions and unscheduled events. This will help avoid stress and keep your customers happy.
It’s not uncommon for small business owners to try to do everything themselves. If money’s tight, this seems like the only option. Or is it? There’s an important concept in business known as "opportunity cost." Simply put, it’s what you forego by choosing one action over another.
Let’s say a freelance bookkeeper would cost $20/hour at five hours per week. Also assume that’s $100 out of your pocket that you don’t think you can afford. However, ask yourself how much you may have lost by spending five hours of your own time on the books, when you could have been doing something to bring in more business. If you could have made an extra $150 through productive use of that five hours, then your opportunity loss would be $50 by doing the books yourself.
Examine everything you’re doing and figure out what can be outsourced. Review this periodically as time goes on. You’ll likely find that you can afford to delegate more than you first expected.
Have a system
Organization is critical and computer automation can help you get there in a hurry. The list of available software applications is almost endless and some of it is free. Use them for budgeting, scheduling, and keeping track of all your financial data. Back up all your electronic files or you’ll regret the day you didn’t. There are multiple services available now that will do this automatically without having to think about it. Establish business processes that work for you and adapt them as you go along.
Effectively managing your time and learning when to say "no" are two key components of a successful business. If you don’t have control of your schedule, you’ll be far more prone to making commitments you can’t keep. Failure to honor obligations to suppliers and customers can spell certain death for any business.
While it’s tempting to put off the hardest tasks to focus on the easy ones, that approach will wreak havoc with your schedule. When crises arise that force you to drop everything to fix a problem, leave the unfinished work in a condition that allows you to easily restart it. The old saying "think before you act" is great advice for any business owner.