Running your own business can be a difficult balancing act. A recent survey by Pitney Bowes found that small business owners are taking multi-tasking to the extreme. On average, business owners juggle seven roles on a daily basis, including tasks such as office repairs and buying stationery as well as core business activities.
On top of that, most business owners are struggling with information overload and chronic levels of interruption. According to research by Varonis, 78% of us receive up to 100 emails a day and nearly a quarter of us receive 100-500 emails every day. Not surprisingly, email overload is often cited as one of the biggest causes of workplace stress.
In our “always on” world, our work life has extended beyond the 9-5 and the intrusion of technology has brought new distractions as well as opportunities. But the fact is that constantly checking email and social media and flitting between tasks is bad for productivity.
So how can you manage your time? Can you control the influx of messages rather than being controlled by them? Is multi-tasking the answer? Or is there a better way?
“Managing our time is harder than ever because of technology,” says Anna Davis (right). Anna runs Achieve Balance, helping business owners get more done in the working day. “Some people are addicted to technology — they hyperventilate when I ask them to turn off their iPhone.”
But turning things off — your email, your phone, your web browser — is the only way to get things done, says Anna.
“Carving out focus hours is critical. The brain is like a computer and different tasks require different amounts of RAM. When you get distracted, it takes a few minutes to get back to the task afterwards. When you need to concentrate, you should switch everything off — including email and other ‘pingers’— and let others know not to disturb you.”
But it’s easy to let these intrusions call the shots. They can even be welcome distractions when you’ve got a daunting task ahead of you.
“Procrastination is a problem for everyone,” says Anna. “But whatever you are avoiding is often the very thing you should be doing. The hardest part is getting started. Scheduling focus hours in your diary is imperative to ensure they happen.”
One way to get the most difficult tasks out of the way is to tackle them first thing — before you’ve even looked at the morning emails.
Another approach is to break up daunting tasks into bite-sized pieces. “The key is to take small steps and set realistic targets,” says Anna. “If you give yourself just 20 minutes to do something, it’s amazing what you can achieve. Break each hour into three 20-minute chunks for three different tasks and use a timer to keep you focused.”
Many people find they lose track of time during the working day. Anna says: “Being busy is very different from being productive. With my clients I identify ‘time sinks’ — activities that eat up time, such as web surfing and social media. Two hours a day on social media is too much. It’s better to allow 20 minutes twice a day and do what you can in that time.”
Another challenge for small business owners can be letting go — they have got used to doing everything themselves and the idea of delegating doesn’t appeal. But spending your valuable time on activities that aren’t your main area of expertise is a false economy.
“Find others to do tasks you hate or which you are not very good at and which are taking you away from your core business,” advises Anna. “There are so many options for delegating today, including virtual assistants you can pay by the hour. And if you are really short of cash, do swaps — give your expertise to someone in exchange for their help.
Ten ways to free up more time
Finally, says Anna, it’s vital to look after number one. “You are your business,” she says. “If you break so does the business.”
How full is your inbox? According to Varonis, 10% of workers now have more than 10,000 emails in their inbox. But what’s the best way to manage emails? And how can you clear your inbox?
Time spent on social media
Research conducted by Vertical Response in 2012 found:
You can see more results in this infographic.
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