WHEN KERUL KASSEL, a productivity expert in Harmony, Fla., meets with small-business owner clients, it’s usually the same story. The entrepreneur feels overloaded, overwhelmed — and frustrated. “They are essentially not getting what they want, and feeling like they are spinning their wheels in the process,” she says.
People who run their own businesses often fall victim to a spate of time wasters — among them, disorganization, mind-wandering and procrastination — that can ruin productivity. The biggest problem, time-management experts say, is that business owners often juggle a wide variety of roles, from chief sales person to book-keeper to head marketer. Going in “a thousand different directions” makes it especially hard to focus on any one task, Kassel says. Business owners often say they feel like they’re spending too much time getting too little done, leading to disappointment and burnout, she says.
The good news is that with a few lessons in time management, enterepreneurs can get their operations back in shape in short order. Christi Youd, founder and president of Organize Enterprise in American Fork, Utah, teaches her business-owner clients how to prioritize, delegate and streamline. “It’s a combination of helping them develop skills to manage their time, their tasks, their paperwork and their communications, and then organizing their office space so they are working as efficiently as they can,” she says.
Good time-management skills can boost the company’s bottom line and give the business owner more freedom to tend to personal matters and home life, she says. “The whole point is for them to get all the work done without having to work overtime, so they can be home and be with their family,” she says.
Here are simple tips to better manage your time.
Update your business plan
Every entrepreneur should have a document that outlines the company’s mission, financial goals, market analysis and plans for the future. Often, small-business clients who come to Kassel because they feel directionless or inefficient haven’t revisited or even assembled a business plan — and that’s a big problem. She recommends writing a plan immediately, with a focus on both short- and long-term goals. Year’s end is the perfect time to ask: “What do I want to accomplish in 2008, and how do I go about doing that?” she says. Break down a plan for the new year into monthly or even weekly to-do lists, she adds. Click here for the Small Business Administration’s primer on business plans.
Pinpoint what’s important
It’s easy to spend too much time on inconsequential matters, which is why Youd tells her small-business clients to focus — first and foremost — on finishing jobs, completing projects and landing new deals that will directly result in revenue. “After those tasks are done, they can work on tasks that indirectly bring in profit,” such as advertising or marketing, she says. When in doubt, choose the task that’s “closest to the money line,” she says. “Prioritizing is a paramount skill. In business, [you] are there to make a profit.”
A small-business owner wears many hats, from product development to tax preparation; learning how to assign tasks to others is critical. “A lot of people are afraid of handing off the hat to someone else,” says Victoria Pericon, editor of online magazine SavvyMommy.com in New York, who frequently doles out time-management advice to business-owner parents. “But it’s actually hurting us.” The best approach is to focus your time and energy on what you do best, and assign other tasks to employees or consultants. If resources are strapped, hire an intern or a student, Pericon recommends. Some business owners can try bartering services — for instance, “if one person is in web development, and the other is in law, perhaps they can trade services,” suggests Kassel. Keep in mind, barter transactions need to be recorded for tax purposes.
Limit time checking email and voicemail
The ping of emails flowing into one’s inbox can suck the productivity out of the most laser-sharp-focused individuals. While opinions vary on how best to deal with the constant interruption, many time-management experts agree: Curb your viewing time. Youd recommends that business owners spend a full hour, first thing in the morning, getting work done before checking emails. So if you start work at, say, 9 a.m., “never check until 10 a.m.,” she says. Then, wait until after lunch to read the next batch of messages. “You want to compress how often you check your emails,” Youd says. Time on the phone also reduces productivity, says Pericon. Some business owners find themselves constantly checking voicemail. She recommends changing the outgoing voicemail message to inform callers that you only check at specific times, such as 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Attend workshops and conferences
Sometimes, it’s a lack of inspiration that causes one to be unproductive. Trade groups or industry associations often host expos that can expose an entrepreneur to new ideas, innovative products and potential partners or service providers. Attend an event and “come back with great ideas,” Kassel says.
(“Balancing Work & Life,” a weekly column written by Colleen DeBaise for smSmallBiz.com, advises entrepreneurs on how to better balance their lives. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org .)
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