A key factor that separates the good from the great in the realm of small business is how successfully business owners and managers use their time. If you have more tasks to accomplish than hours in the day, or if looming deadlines feel like a noose around your neck, learning to prioritize could be just the solution your business needs to achieve corporate greatness.
Time management is one of the greatest skills to master as a small business owner. By learning to rank your most and least important tasks, and identify those tasks which bring you closer to your goals, your time will be spent more wisely, efficiently and productively. Experienced business owners also recognize that they don’t have to do everything themselves. Know where your strengths lie and tackle those tasks with a laser-like focus. Delegate other matters to capable staff.
The importance of prioritizing is emphasized by author Stephen Covey in his best-selling book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey points out that many people get caught up in ‘urgent’ daily matters at the expense of truly ‘important’ matters, which are in keeping with their long-term vision. To work smarter and better, begin by making a detailed to-do list so you can see what needs to get done, what has already been accomplished, and determine how you want to use to prioritize your workload.
Some of the methods by which small enterprises and entrepreneurs organize their to-do lists are:
• Order of importance
• Obligatory Daily/Weekly/Monthly/Annual Tasks
According to Jason Womack, workplace performance coach and author of Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More, how you think about your workload is as critical as how you manage your time: “The first step to changing the way you get things done is to accept that you’re never going to get it all done. You’ll always be updating your to-do list by crossing off completed tasks and adding new ones…and that’s okay. When you improve the way you approach the things you need to get done, both on the job and off, you’ll stop wishing things were different and start really making new things possible.”
Womack also recommends “time blocking” – establishing 15-30 minute chunks of time during which you commit to staying focused with minimal interruptions on the task at hand.
However, prioritizing isn’t just about making checklists and deciding which jobs to do when. It also entails changing the way you perform established, familiar routines, which often eat up valuable time and therefore money.
Here are some tips on how to ‘shake up’ common work habits and substitute them for more productive practices to take your company to the next level:
- Take Advantage of Technology Shortcuts: With all the amazing apps and business software available, technology can manage a chunk of your administrative/manual tasks, leaving you free to concentrate on the more creative aspects of running your business. For example, options include automating payroll, using a project management platform, conducting virtual meetings, using a central dashboard to manage social media accounts, storing notes and ideas in a virtual notebook, etc.
- Better Email Habits: Checking email is one of the biggest time-gobblers of the 21st century. To make sure you don’t spend all day opening, deleting, responding to, and forwarding items in your inbox, prioritize your email by devoting a specific and limited time for it each day
- Schedule Time for Social Media: Leaving Facebook or Twitter open all day is a recipe for unfinished business; schedule one or two daily blocks of time to manage your social media, making it one more “to-do” item you can successfully check off your priority list.
- Reward System: A little bit of incentive goes a long way in small business and in life. For extra motivation, offer yourself a reward for completing difficult projects.
- Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: It’s easy to get lost in a sea of unimportant details; keep your eye on the big picture and don’t let the small stuff sabotage your business.
- Be Accountable: Schedule your own debriefing session where you assess how you have spent your time, what decisions you have made and what you have accomplished.
Finally, when it comes to setting priorities, don’t forget to schedule in breaks! Whether you pause for some R&R or hit the gym for a workout, breaks are an effective use of time and an important time-management strategy for small business success.