How to Manage Your Time As a Small Business Owner

What’s your most valuable asset, as a small business owner?

A survey of small business owners revealed that more thought time was their most valuable asset, even ahead of tangible things like computers or their actual storefront. In fact, 25% of those surveyed said that getting just one extra hour was worth more than $500.

Why does time rank so high for small business owners?

Quite simply, as a small business owner, you wear a lot of hats. You’re doing multiple jobs and there isn’t enough time to get everything done. You need to know how to manage your time well because there are personal and financial costs at stake.

Discover How You Really Use Your Time

Before you start making grand habit changes, you need to figure out what you’re really doing with your time. Most of us are way off when we estimate how we use our time (sort of like how we underestimate how many calories we consume in a day).

Put an end to the guessing about your time usage by following these steps:

1. Find or Define Deficiencies

What do you think you don’t have enough time for? What work seems to never quite get done?

Write down how much time you devote to work each day/week, and then write down how you think your time ought to be ideally used. Make a note of the tasks and work that are most important, how much time you think should go towards them, and then work your way down to the least important. Describe what those tasks and work involve, and why they are important or not important.

Keep that list handy. You’ll come back to it.

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2. Track Your Time

Data is the foundation for making changes where they’re needed. You need to track your time to see how you’re using (or not using) it. Whether you simply jot it down in a notebook or use a spreadsheet, log your time by:

  • Creating time categories. What are the activities you tend to do? For example, you hold meetings, you’re on the sales floor, you handle invoices and bookwork…whatever typical things you do in a day, create categories.
  • Creating your base tracking period. You’ll want to track what you do for more than a day. A week is a good start. Two weeks might be better, depending on how regularly you participate in the categories you chose.
  • Pay attention. It’s hard to log time because you’re not used to paying attention to everything you’re doing. You probably tend to go from one activity to another without being fully aware of it. That is exactly why you need to log your time. Somewhere time is being wasted and you haven’t a clue.

Once you’ve tracked your time for a set period, gather the data from what you logged. Total up the time for each category. Look for patterns where one-time usage tends to lead to another. See which categories are taking up the most time, or if some categories seem to take up more time at certain parts of the day than others.

3. Compare What You Should Do with What You Really Do

Look at your first list, where you outlined what was most important. Compare it to the data from your logged time. How do they match up?

Are you dedicating the most time to the most important?

You will probably find some discrepancies between the two lists. That could mean two things:

  1. Your first list is wrong, and you don’t really understand what tasks are most important to keeping your business running.
  2. Your first list is right, but you’re not managing your time well.

Be open to the possibility that what you think is the most important in your business might not be. But if you’re sure you have that first list right, then you need to make changes to how you manage your time.

4. Purge or Adjust Tasks

Look for time wasters that take a lot of time with little useful result, or that take away from more important tasks. You can make some decisions about the extraneous or unbalanced time wasters.

  • Delegate. Which of those items can you delegate to an employee? Is part of your problem that you are micromanaging?
  • Hire. Do you need more help in getting everything done? It might be time to take on more staff.
  • Scrap. There are some things you don’t need to be doing, or you should consider changing how you do them. Make a note of the things you need to continue to do, but think could be done differently in order to take less time. We’ll be working on those next.

Consider the Pareto principle, which says that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. Are you using your time in the opposite manner, getting fewer results with more effort?

Time Management Techniques

For the tasks that you need to continue to do but that need to be better managed, there are several techniques that can help you.

1. Embrace white space in your schedule. This seems counterintuitive, but scheduling in breaks is vital to not wasting time. If you’re constantly on a rabbit wheel, you’ll be exhausted. Being physically and mentally refreshed will save you time in the long run.

2. Use the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro technique is simply a way to force periodic breaks into your day. It might seem unwieldy, but for people who are locked to their desk, it’s a mechanical way to stop that.

  • Decide on your task.
  • Set a timer (usually for 25 minutes).
  • Work. When the timer goes off, put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
  • Fewer than four checkmarks? Take a 3-5 minute break and go back to the second step.
  • More than four checkmarks? Take a longer break, then start over with no check marks.

3. Use lists. Lists are more than just for to-do items. Writing something down so you don’t have to remember it can help keep your head clearer without worrying you’re forgetting important tasks.

4. Reduce meetings. Keep meetings short, on task, and as few as necessary. Meetings easily waste huge amounts of time.

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Tools Can Help, But Some Are Shiny Objects

Periodically something pops up that distracts you. Some call this shiny object syndrome, which is when anything that’s new grabs your time and attention. Once you have hold of it, you look for something else.

When spending time on new tools, systems, or techniques, frequently ask yourself why you’re doing it. Is it because it’s new, and you’re simply bored? Or because it really is the best use of your time?

New tools are notorious for this. You often buy or start using them because you’re convinced you will save time and be more profitable in the long run. New just means new, it doesn’t always mean improved.

Good time management tools can help you, but they won’t solve root problems. There is no magic tool that will help a time waster or a procrastinator who has decided to stop procrastinating tomorrow.

There is a difference between time that produces results and time that produces nothing. Your bottom line knows that difference, even if you don’t. As a small business owner, you must be mindful of how you are using your time and ready to make adjustments.

Time is your most valuable asset. Don’t throw it away.

How to Manage Your Time As a Small Business Owner