Managing your time
The biggest challenge with running your own business is managing your time. Unlike many job roles, your role as a business owner is usually to manage many different things, and it is your responsibility to not drop the ball on any of them. You probably have other people who need things from you on a daily basis, and anything you forget to do can cause bottlenecks and issues that quickly spiral into larger problems. Essentially you must find a way to become good at ‘spinning plates’.
There are many tricks to managing your time, these are just some that I have learned over the years, either by trial and error, or from others in a similar position.
1. There are lists, and there are lists
Time management 101 is to have lists. However just having a list doesn’t really help. In fact sometimes as a business owner that list gets so big that it feels impossible to ever make any headway, leading to procrastination. Worse, if your lists are that big, it’s easy to miss things that are time sensitive, how do you prioritise?
The key to list management that has solved this for me is simple:
1. Treat it like a sprint backlog.
2. Add everything (I mean every little thing possible) to your list as you think of it.
So you have a big list of things that need doing. At the start of each week, pull maximum 3 items from that list into a separate list for each day of the week. Put the most urgent or the quick morning tasks at the top, and work through the list in order. Check things off as you go during the day. At the end of the day, if something hasn’t been finished, move it to the next day, and shuffle everything else accordingly for the rest of the week. As urgent things come up on a daily basis, they get added straight to the day that they need to be done. If you complete all your tasks and still have time left, pull something from the next day into the current day, and get ahead of your tasks.
Why does this work? Because by only have 3 things to do in a day, and by knowing you don’t need to worry about the other things on your list, you can focus and get things done. You also avoid putting off those tasks you really don’t want to do!
The list will often get added to or changed on a daily basis, meaning you often won’t get everything you originally planned to do done. That’s fine, but you must shift things accordingly.
I use Trello for lists, which means I can add and amend it wherever I am, on my phone or laptop. I can have multiple lists making it easy to move tasks between them. Small tasks can be grouped into one task with checklist. I can even add deadline dates and label priority tasks. You can also add weightings, as you do to sprint tasks, to indicate time and risk, although I find I can keep that information in my head.
2. Get good at blocking out distractions
This can be really hard, as when you run a business, there are always people needing things – clients, your team, your accountant and so on, but you have to find a way to focus and block this out.
Open plan offices, although popular with proven benefits, can also be a factor in making it hard to block out distractions. If you struggle to focus and block out distractions when in your office, maybe consider working from elsewhere for part of the day, or at least making it clear that there are times when you can talk, and times when you can’t. Whatever works for you is fine, but without a way of dealing with it you will feel continually busy but will somehow find you never get anything done.
The other distraction is often emails. People deal with this in different ways. Some have specific times of day where they check emails, however I’ve found that doesn’t work for me, as I like to ensure I’m on top of things as quickly as possible. The risk however is that you get distracted and don’t get tasks done. I manage this by having an organisation system to my emails. When an email comes through it is either:
1. Urgent and/or quick response – which I deal with straight away
2. Creates a new task for me – which I add to my list (depending how urgent depends where I add it)
3. Requires an action but not a full task – leave in my inbox, or set as a reminder for a later day
4. Needs keeping for reference but no action – file into relevant email folder
I recently discovered Mail Pilot, which has helped my email management significantly. It treats emails as tasks, and therefore works much better for anyone dealing with a lot of emails on a regular basis. With Mail Pilot you can ‘complete’ an email once you’ve deal with it, ‘set aside’ for future reference, ‘set a reminder’ for a specific day, add to a list or leave in your inbox to be dealt with later.
3. Keep your eye on the bigger picture
This relates to delegation, and to your style of management. It’s very easy to focus in on things and try to get involved in everything. It’s natural to want to do so, as ultimately it’s your responsibility. However you have to learn to focus on the bigger picture, otherwise whilst you’re worrying about the little tasks, you don’t have time to step back and assess the bigger picture.
There are several ways I’ve learned to do this:
1. Delegation, no matter how many times people say it, many people don’t actually ‘delegate’, rather they instruct and keep themselves involved in the task. Delegation is about empowering people and trusting people to be responsible enough to deliver the task. You as the person who delegated are still accountable, but not responsible for delivery – and that is the bit people often seem to miss. The most common error, which is so tempting to do, is to give someone a task, take the time to brief them at the start, hopefully take time answer questions as they go along, but then they hand the work to you…. At which point what you should do is review, feedback (with constructive criticism) and get them to make amends and resubmit. However what so often happens is you review and just think ‘it’s easier/quicker to just make the amends myself’. Poor delegation can have significant negative effects on your team, it’s demotivating, they won’t learn, and it also means that you won’t be reducing your workload so is pointless. Not letting them make amends is possibly the most common way to mess up delegation – so make sure that if you do delegate, you do it properly, or do not do it at all.
2. Know when not to delegate. Some things just aren’t suitable for delegation. These are the tasks that you should be focusing on, and knowing what can and can’t be delegated is key to ensuring you get as much work done as possible, as efficiently as possible.
3. Have a yearly review of your business plan, and set yearly tangible targets. These are then the things that you must focus on. Reviewing these regularly, and working out what needs to be done to move them forward is key. From your lists you should be able to see what most of your time is being spent on. If you aren’t doing mostly tasks that contribute towards these goals, you may want to look at your processes, and either refocus your tasks, or delegate them to allow you to focus on the bigger picture.
Everyone has their own way of managing time, but there are tips and tricks that you learn from others and as you go along. There are many books and online resources, which have good, detailed advice. The key though is to recognise that as a business owner your main challenge is to continually spin plates – this won’t go away and you must find a way to manage that, and ensure that you create a process that enables the people you work with to be the best they can be, and be happy and motivated with their work.
This article was first published on the Develop-online.net website on 11th May 2015.