Running a small business means you must carry out a lot of diverse roles in any given day. Admin, Business Planning, CEO, Finance, Marketing and lots more. When it feels like there aren't enough hours in the day for everything you need to achieve effective time management is critically important.
Plan your week
This is a Must Do, at least I have always found it so. Some people prefer to plan for the coming week on Friday whilst others like to plan on Sunday evening or Monday morning. I have a monthly plan that has all the key milestones on it, which I prepare prior to month end and keep up to date throughout the month. I then have a weekly plan that has the milestones and tasks for the current week on it.
Planning ahead in this way allows you to structure the week to be as productive as possible. The first step is to mark down all the deadlines and highlight any urgent tasks so you can ensure they get done no matter what. The less urgent items can then fit in around them.
If you think of your week like a jar and your tasks as stones, gravel and sand that you want to put into that jar, it can be easier. The deadlines and urgent tasks are the stones and you put them in first. The items you need to complete that week which don't have set completion dates are the gravel and they go in next. Finally, the sand is the tasks you'd like to do, but they could wait a few days. That goes in last. The reason they go into the jar in that order is that if you put the sand or gravel in first it fills the bottom half of the jar and quite often the stones won't fit in. However, all three fit into the jar if you put the stones in first and allow the gravel to fit around the stones. The sand then fits in around the stones and gravel.
Group tasks together
If you group similar tasks together your brain will process them more quickly and this will lead to greater productivity. Your brain hates changing tracks and takes time to get up to speed on the new task. Focusing on one type of task, such as marketing, for a few hours as you will find that you will come up with more ideas once you are in the zone. This works well with repetitive tasks such as invoicing as well. You will actually get through your invoices faster if you do them all at once as you get into a rhythm with the task steps. This is why I am faster than my clients at some of the less exciting tasks. I have done them so often that I can rattle through them with speed and accuracy.
Those posts on Social Media about how people concentrate for several hours without allowing any distractions? I don't really believe them. We all get into the zone and when we do, we can certainly work without distraction for a good while. However, there will be a greater number of days when we are distracted by a phone call, a business challenge, an unexpected problem, or just pick up our book to read during lunch and suddenly realise we've sat there a little longer than planned because the book got exciting. So, when you plan your week, build in some distraction time. You know it's going to happen so you may as well embrace it.
Time Blocking for Focused Work
We have a great capacity to concentrate for long periods but only when we are not interrupted. Interruptions can be the enemy of productivity. If you have to work on something which is complex, detailed or creative, it can be helpful to allocate a block of time in your week to complete that work without interruption. Out of Office or Do Not Disturb on your email and calendar can be very useful here. For those clients who need to regularly work on tasks without interruption, I usually recommend blocking out certain times each week in their diary just for this work. This allows them to allocate these types of tasks to the blocked-out areas in the diary and feel more in control of their workload.
If you use Calendly or another meeting scheduler, you can also set this to block days when you want to focus on tasks so that no one books a meeting with you at that time.
You can also time-block your entire day if you wish. To do this, divide your calendar into work blocks then allocate work tasks to each block. Some people might block in hourly chunks. Others in two hourly or half-day chunks, it depends on what you do and how you work best.
When you time-block you allocate tasks to the most appropriate block and allocate the most important daily tasks to the time block when you will be most productive. For some, this is first thing in the morning whilst, for others, it may be late afternoon.
This tends to be the most challenging part for small business owners. Productivity requires rest as well as hard work. Although it seems counter-intuitive, taking a break does make a difference to your ability to get through the work. When I work with clients that struggle with this I often suggest they start by taking a lunch break every day. Half an hour minimum, ideally an hour. Do something that will recharge but not distract you. Read a chapter of your book and perhaps take a short walk after lunch since exercise can be beneficial.
Making sure you get sufficient sleep and time away from the business is also critically important. Both give you time to develop ideas and make new connections between things you have been working on. We've all had the blinding flash of inspiration on a dog walk, in the shower or whilst washing up. This is because when our brain isn't really thinking too hard about things consciously, it is often turning things over unconsciously and will come up with the best ideas when you least expect them.... usually when you are rested.
I hope these tips help you to achieve all that you need to within a reasonable working day. If, however, you need more help with time management check out my Power Hours.