In the fourth in a series of articles sponsored by Visa, Christian Annesley explains how business owners can make better use of their time and speaks to one entrepreneur who has done just that.
Time is precious for small business owners but it's easy to waste your energy on things that don't matter or get bogged down by slow processes and procedures. However, there are things you can do. Here are 14 tips for improving your time management.
- Any time you spend organising yourself and your working environment will be time well spent: you won't be distracted by clutter and outdated material and won't waste time looking for documents.
- Once that desk is tidy and functional, start the day by clearing the decks of smaller issues: quickly scan new mail and messages, review your schedule and deal with any defined, urgent tasks.
- Next up, you need to prioritise any bigger actions that are important and urgent: for example, where others are waiting for your input.
- Act decisively to delegate unimportant activities or drop them altogether. That's something every busy director and business owner shouldn’t be afraid to do. So trust your staff.
- Keep all tasks that remain manageable and do each task beginning to end. Only reward yourself when you hit a meaningful milestone. Stay focused.
- Allow some time between tasks so you've space for the unexpected and for conversations with the team.
- Be realistic about tasks and how long they take. Just knowing that a certain task will genuinely take no more than an hour will motivate you to complete it.
- Recognise what times of day best suit different activities: for example, make important customer calls when you are at your liveliest.
- If there are any tedious, unpleasant or long-term activities on your agenda that you cannot delegate, don't ignore them. Build them into your routine, perhaps by scheduling tasks at a set time.
- Consider using time-management and project-management tools to improve effectiveness. Also use other simpler software: a smartphone-synced diary and to-do list as a minimum. You’ll also need a good physical filing system, templates for standard letters and procedures for routine tasks.
- Keep an eye on your business processes such as payment and HR procedures to see if they are slowing your operations down. If they are, improve them.
- Get rid of all those regular distractions. At times that will mean turning off your smartphone when you need to, ignoring email, and refusing unscheduled or unnecessary visits and meetings.
- Try to collaborate effectively: ask others to provide just what you need, in a form that suits you when you need it, and do the same for them.
- Analyse your time use: log all your activities, and end each day with a review of how much time you wasted on unimportant matters and tasks you should have delegated. That way you can tweak things for tomorrow and be even more effective.
Joe Tuckwell, co-founder and director of creative digital agency Moresoda
Time and how to manage it is a challenge for every ambitious business owner, and particularly in the services sector where time is something you sell. But where to start with the challenge?
For Joe Tuckwell at Moresoda the issue of using time effectively has sharpened in recent years as the five-year-old company has started taking on bigger and more sophisticated projects.
"Managing these projects puts extra demands on our time – and has added complexity to the business that we knew needed to be better understood," says Tuckwell.
"We started by trialling readily available project management tools like Basecamp. What we found was that these sorts of systems are good at managing workflow but for us they weren't delivering enough in terms of ready metrics. We ended up wasting time pulling out the right data to measure effectiveness."
With developers to call on in-house, Moresoda's response was to build its own dedicated system integrating time-keeping and project management – and Tuckwell is so far pleased with the outcome.
"Now we have one location for tracking all the important dimensions of our various projects, and with everything recorded the system can then easily generate reports and visuals showing the time-efficiency of any tasks."
Week by week and sometimes day by day, Moresoda can now see where it is keeping up or exceeding its time-goals – and where it is falling short.
"For most of our work we are in the business of estimating a time allocation up front for each element. Now it is straightforward to cross-check that estimate against the reality and learn for future projects," says Tuckwell.
Whatever your business looks like, and whatever markets it serves, isn’t it time you took control of the clock?