When you’re a new business leader, everyone loves to tell you about the myriad of challenges ahead — making difficult decisions, analyzing market trends, and staying innovative — but few tell you how difficult time management becomes as your business evolves and your role changes.
Before you know it, you no longer have the freedom to participate in shipping, advertising, social media, product development, and budgeting. It can be tempting to get overly involved in one project or initiative, but if you’re careless with your time, you risk getting too caught up in one area of your business and letting other areas fall behind.
Good time management skills help you keep your sanity and allow your business to grow faster than it would with you trying to do everything yourself. The people around you will appreciate it, too; nothing sours relationships with clients and co-workers faster than making them feel like you don’t prioritize them.
Thankfully, the key to good time management isn’t a secret. You need discipline, but by following some basic tips, you can make the most of your time and put your business in the best position to succeed.
1. Stop Multitasking
Every business owner has days when 10 things require attention at the same time. Rather than try and fail to tackle all of them simultaneously, give your undivided attention to the most immediate task first.
Despite the misdirected idea that the best business owners handle several demands at once, multitasking doesn’t make for a more efficient worker. In fact, multitasking makes you do things worse and more slowly than you would if you focused on one thing at a time.
One of the best philosophies for effective single-task time management comes from Leo Babauta’s Zen To Done system. This system focuses on changing habits to make the most of your time. But rather than forcing you into an instant turnaround, Zen To Done encourages focusing on changing individual habits. This mindset helps you get more done in a smaller timeframe without the frazzled feeling that comes with multitasking.
2. Track Everything
You can’t make the most of your time without knowing how you spend it. Carry a notebook, and log everything you do — including conversations, appointments, meetings, planning time, and labor. Do this for as long as necessary until you have a feel for what areas of your business put the biggest demands on your schedule.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Delegate
New business owners should do as many jobs as possible in the beginning to learn how every facet of the business operates. Doing so teaches you how your business runs, allows you to notice opportunities for improvement, and tells you what skills to look for in future employees. However, when your business gets big enough, the time will come when you simply can’t do it alone.
Delegating tasks can mean huge changes, like outsourcing shipping, or smaller ones, like hiring an administrative assistant. Once you track your time, look at which areas don’t necessarily need your personal attention, and delegate those tasks to free you up for more pressing matters. For me, that meant putting my time into other tasks instead of packing and shipping 7,500 bicycle wheels.
4. Hire Dependable People
You can’t delegate if you aren’t surrounded by an efficient, dependable team. There’s nothing worse than counting on someone to meet a deadline only to find out the project is only partially finished when the deadline hits. So vet your partners and employees thoroughly. Talent, intelligence, and drive are important, but unless someone is reliable, you’ll spend too much time worrying about whether something will get done and find yourself constantly making up for lost time.
5. Set Specific Goals
It’s easy to make a list of things you want to accomplish, but unless you attach that list to a timeline, you’ll never know whether you’re making real progress. Figure out what timeline works best for your business, determine the scale of the goals you want to achieve, and put them in writing.
Create multilayer goal timelines to make your goals more achievable. If your annual goal is to increase your market share by 5 percent, create monthly goals detailing the sales numbers you need to hit to accomplish that goal.
When you set out to accomplish personal goals, make appointments instead of lists. Even if the appointment is with yourself to brainstorm ideas for a new product, set a time and keep it. When a goal is just sitting on a list, it’s much easier to put it off than it is to break a scheduled appointment.
Getting into good time management habits takes time — just like any other new habit. Learn as much as you can about your current time demands, identify areas for improvement, and take the necessary steps to see results. You’ll get more done, waste less time and money, and be able to create a more effective customer experience.