Running a small business is no small feat. Don’t be discouraged if you feel overwhelmed by all the various tasks that come up. You’re probably juggling several roles and responsibilities, and that takes some serious time management. To lower your stress levels low and better complete important and urgent tasks, read on to learn how to improve your time management skills.
What are time management skills?
Time management skills encompass the ways in which you divide your hours, days, and weeks to focus on one task at a time, complete each task diligently, and meet all your deadlines.
Why are time management skills important?
Effective time management isn’t good for just your work – it’s good for your body and mind too. Time management is stress management, so good time management minimizes the negative health benefits associated with stress while satisfying your clients and team.
As you get better at managing your time, you’ll spend less time completing tasks. You’ll also finish your work with as much diligence and accuracy as before, leading to more productivity.
How to improve your time management skills
Although business ownership can be stressful, you can improve your skills and become a master of productivity. Here are our top time management tips for increasing efficiency at work.
1. Build a realistic schedule
The first step to a successful time management strategy is creating a solid schedule that you can stick to. With a clear view of your upcoming days and weeks broken down into individual tasks, you’ll know what to expect so you can plan efficiently.
Not sure where to start? Use a week or two to track everything on your plate. That way, you’ll start noticing patterns: some tasks might appear regularly as part of your day-to-day routine, while others will require some more preparation and special attention. Use this information to plan ahead and create a thorough, streamlined schedule.
2. Learn to prioritize effectively
You might be overwhelmed by all the different tasks you have lined up, but with the right prioritization you’ll be able to get more done.
Any project can be broken down into actionable steps—once you do that, highlight the components that have the highest impact on your business and the ones that are easiest to accomplish. That way, you can complete your tasks in order of importance, all while keeping efficiency top of mind.
3. Take regular breaks
According to a 2012 study, taking breaks during your workday is correlated with easier relaxation and mental recovery after you stop working. That’s because regular breaks clear your head and temporarily distance you from the stresses of business ownership. After a short break, you can get back to work with less mental clutter and more ability to focus on the task at hand.
4. Learn to say no
As part of your prioritization, you’ll probably encounter moments where you don’t have the bandwidth to take on additional tasks. Politely saying no to these responsibilities can be crucial. You’ll avoid burning out on work that might not even pay off in the long run. Keep in mind that these are important decisions, so weigh your options carefully before turning down a potential opportunity for growth.
5. Set boundaries
If you’ve decided to only work during standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours, set a clear boundary of not answering business emails or phone calls outside this timeframe. Don’t just convey these boundaries externally – make sure you follow them too. That means no working after 5 p.m., even if you feel a nagging urge.
Similarly, if saving time for non-business affairs is of paramount importance to you, set boundaries in the form of a maximum number of projects or revenue per month. While growth is always good for your business, it’s not always good for you – identify the line dividing your work from your life and walk it carefully.
6. Set deadlines and stick to them
With any responsibility, you’ll probably have a deadline that you need to meet. Make sure you’re on top of upcoming deadlines: make notes, set reminders, and start early to stay as productive as possible. By challenging and rewarding yourself, you’ll be motivated to continue exceeding your goals.
7. Learn your patterns of productivity
Once you figure out when, where, and how you’re the most productive, stick to your routine as often as possible. For example, if you’re more productive when you work from home, don’t go into the office unless required. You’ll save time on your work and on commuting (since you won’t be commuting at all). You can even stick to working from home in the long term since digital communication and cloud computing make remote work not just possible, but easy.
8. Plan time to relax
With all the work you put into running your business, it’s important to take advantage of your downtime and reduce stress whenever possible. Got a few minutes in between meetings? Have a long commute to work?
Planning a vacation anytime soon? These are the times to switch off and shift gears. Take breaks so you can reflect, relax, and reenergize. Then you’ll be ready to take on the responsibilities of business ownership, one day at a time.
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9. Deal with stress wisely
Whether lowering your stress levels means working from home or taking frequent breaks, figure out what’s best for you and make it a priority. Your stress-busting habits can include general anti-stress behaviors such as taking deep breaths or stepping away from work to get some exercise. They can also include work-specific approaches such as turning off notifications that can distract and stress you as you approach a big deadline.
10. Use tools and programs to help keep you organized
There’s an endless number of options out there when it comes to time management software. Just search for “Productivity” applications and you’ll see thousands of results, each with its own avid supporters and 5-star reviews.
The only way to find the best fit is to identify what you’re looking for first. Think about how you currently organize your notes, to-do lists, and calendar. Then, find an app that makes the transition to digital organization as smooth as possible.
11. Reinforce your good habits
To stick to the good habits that your tools and programs can help you foster, find ways to reinforce these habits. Appropriate methods include rewarding yourself, tracking your tasks and accomplishments, having someone hold you accountable, or something else. Business Insider explains several ways to reinforce your best habits: 6 Ways to Make Good Habits Stick.
12. Avoid procrastination
Procrastination is a way to avoid doing work by choosing to engage in more pleasant, easier, and distracting activities. While it provides immediate rewards, it can seriously impact your productivity.
To limit your procrastination, start by identifying patterns in your behavior: what are the triggers that shift your focus toward distractions? Once you have a better understanding of your unique situation, you can take steps to avoid continuing down the same path. That might mean choosing a designated area for work only, setting timers, and blocking off time on your calendar.
13. Don’t multitask
Many of us believe that multitasking will help us achieve multiple goals at the same time, but that’s not always the case. When you’re constantly shifting your attention back and forth between several projects, you might actually be exerting more effort and not getting as much done. After all, in the moments when you’re “in the zone” and time seems to fly, you’re probably working on the single project at hand.
14. Delegate tasks and responsibilities
Have too much on your plate? You’re not alone. As a small business owner, you’re probably involved in every aspect of your operations. Sometimes the number of tasks can get to be too much for one person to manage. That’s when delegating tasks to the reliable people around you can prove to be a worthwhile effort.
Although it can be nerve-wracking to hand over your projects and share the responsibility, the benefits might just outweigh the costs. Not only will you have more time free, but with strong communication you’ll also have the opportunity to build meaningful, lasting relationships.
15. Stay away from bad distractions
As mentioned earlier, effective time management requires breaks. However, you shouldn’t conflate breaks and distractions. The former is healthy, but the latter can so sharply pull you away from work that you might not realize how long you’ve stepped away, or you might lack the motivation to return. Lifehacker has a list of ways you can avoid distractions that deter you from completing your work: 10 Ways To Remove The Distractions That Keep You From Doing the Best At Work.
Time management is a balancing act for the busy small business owner. At the end of the day, you’re the only one who knows what matters most to you and your business. Remember that this is a skill just like any other: as you practice and make adjustments every day, you’ll see improvement.
For more helpful tips, visit the SmartBiz Resource Center! We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know as your business grows, from education to key updates to fun recommendations.
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