As a small business owner—what’s your most valuable asset?
A survey of small business owners revealed that time is the most valued asset especially when compared to tangible items such as computers, website, mobile phones or their actual storefront. In fact, one in four small business owners say that getting an extra hour per day was worth more than $500!
In recent years, more and more small business owners are spreading themselves thin. Not only are they working harder than they were five years ago, they’re also working longer hours. Sound familiar?
As a small business owner, you wear a lot of different hats and there just isn’t enough time to get everything done. Because of this, you need to know how to manage your time well as there are both personal and financial costs at stake.
Ask Yourself How You Really Use Your Time
Before you start making grand habit changes, you need to ask yourself what you’re really doing with your time. Similar to how we underestimate how many calories we consume in a day, most of us are usually way off when it comes to estimating how we use our time.
Put an end to guessing about your time usage by following these 5 steps:
1. Pinpoint the Shortfall
What is it that you don’t think you have enough time for? What work seems to never quite get done?
- Write down how much time you’re devoting to each task in a day or week
- Then write down how you think the time should ideally be used
Make a note of which tasks are most important and how much time you think you should allot to them—working from the most important to the least. You can even describe what these tasks involve, and why they are important or not important.
Now keep that list handy somewhere near your work space. (i.e. on your wall next to your office table). You’re going to need it later.
2. Track your Time
Collecting data is key to making changes where they’re needed. Before we start properly allocating our time for better productivity, you need to track your time to see how you’re using it. Whether you’re jotting your data in your notebook or inserting it into a spreadsheet, you can log your time by:
- Creating time categories. You attend meetings, you’re busy writing, or you deal with bookkeeping and invoices. Whatever tasks you tend to be doing, start creating categories for them.
- Create your base tracking period. For this to work, you’ll want to track what you do for more than a day. Start at a week, then work your way up. See if you can turn it into a habit, depending on how regularly you participate in the categories you chose.
- Pay close attention. It will be hard at first to log your time because you’re not used to paying attention to every single thing you’re doing (like when you first use a fitness app and you’re having difficulty logging everything you eat). Often times, you probably go from one activity to another without being aware of it. This is exactly why you need to log your time—somewhere in your day, time is being wasted and you would never know otherwise!
3. Start Comparing
Let’s start by looking at your first list where you outlined which activities are most significant. Now compare this list to the data from your logged time—how do they match up? Are you dedicating your time to the most important tasks?
When comparing these you will probably find some discrepancies between the two. That could mean two things:
- Your first list is wrong, and you clearly don’t understand what tasks are key to keep your business running.
- Your first list is right, but you’re not managing your time well.
Although data is key, comparing data is where many truths are revealed. Be open-minded to the possibility that what you originally thought is the most important in your business might not actually be.
If you’re sure you have that first list right, then time management is where the problem is, and that is where you need to tackle first.
4. Purge and Adjust
Identify time-wasters in your schedule that take a lot of time with very little useful result, or that take away from more important tasks. You can tackle these extraneous or unbalanced time-wasters by doing the following:
- Delegate. Which of these tasks can you delegate to an employee, or is part of your problem that you micromanage?
- Hire. Do you need more staff to get everything done? Maybe it might be time to recruit more staff.
- Remove. Some of these tasks are items that you don’t need to be doing. Alternatively, you can consider changing how you do them.
5. Time Management Techniques
Embrace White Space
A jam-packed day with no breaks leaves you little time to deal with unexpected challenges—or opportunities.
“Every single person needs to leave white space on their calendar,” says Hackett (owner of Express Employment Professionals), who typically leaves one hour in the morning and one to two hours at the end of the day open on her calendar.
If you’ve over-structured your calendar, you’re always going to be behind. Constantly being on a hamster wheel is exhausting. It’s important to avoid over-scheduling to allow yourself time to catch up. Being physically and mentally refreshed will save you time in the long run!
Use the Pomodoro Technique
Developed in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique is a method used to force periodic breaks into your day—particularly in between tasks. It may seem cumbersome, but for those who are locked to a desk, it’s a mechanical way to stop that. Here’s how the technique works.
- Choose your task
- Set a timer (usually for 25 minutes)
- Work. When the timer rings, stop and jot a checkmark on a piece of paper.
- Fewer than four checkmarks? Take a short break (about 3-5 minutes), then go back to the second step.
- Once you hit four checkmarks take a longer break (about 15-30 minutes), then start over with no check marks.
These stages of planning, tracking, recording, processing, and visualizing are fundamental to the technique. It is framed to help you be more aware of your time and how you’re spending it.
Lists aren’t just for putting your to-do items from pen to paper. Writing something down so you don’t have to remember it can help clear your head without
worrying you’re forgetting important tasks.
Keep meetings short and sweet—aka on-task, and as few as necessary. Meetings easily waste a lot of time as they can go on longer than they need to, or nothing substantial can be achieved from it if there is no strict time limit.
Time Is Your Most Valuable Asset
Good time management tools can help you, but they won’t solve the root problem. Keep in mind there is no magic tool that will suddenly turn a procrastinator into someone who will use their time wisely the next day.
As small business owners, you’re likely juggling many roles, working hours beyond your 9-5, and serving many clients with varying demands—making time your most valuable asset.
Remember, there is a difference between time that produces results and time that produces nothing. As a small business owner, you must be mindful of how you are using your time and ready to make any adjustments. Don’t throw your most valuable asset away!