If you run your own small business, it can feel as though there just aren't enough hours in the day. But time management is not just about working harder, it's about working smarter. Here are ten ways to beat the clock
1 Assess your average working day
When do you get the most done? For some, it's first thing in the morning but others end up working late to finish off tasks. Is your day one long series of interruptions? If you don't get much work done until "after hours", you could have serious issues with distractions and time management. Think about why you get more done at certain times and try and recreate those conditions at other times.
2 Get the to-do list habit
Productive people know what they need to achieve each day and they systematically work through tasks. If you don't have a daily to-do list, there's a danger that you won't tackle important tasks when you need to. At the beginning of each day, itemise everything you need to do and note down any deadlines. It's a good idea to batch together smaller administrative tasks and ensure that bigger tasks that require concentration take priority. Above all, make the list achievable and put it somewhere you can see it. Cross out each item when completed and move on.
3 Use a diary to stay organised
This could be paper or computer-based, but scheduling important tasks and setting up effective prompts will help you to ensure you get everything done. Don't try to cram too much into too little time. Create shared online diaries for the business so that all team members can stay up to speed with other people's commitments and whereabouts.
4 Don't avoid the hard or boring stuff
We all hate some tasks, let's face it, but avoiding or delaying them is usually counter-productive. It's better to get them done and dusted. Once you've completed them, you may find you'll fly through your other jobs. It's usually a good idea to get harder daily tasks out of the way as early as possible. Break bigger, more difficult or less pleasant tasks into smaller chunks and build them into your regular routine.
5 Get your timing right
Before you start a task, decide how much time you can or should devote to it and stick to that. By setting time limits on tasks, especially social media, you can manage your time much more effectively. However, don't over-estimate what you can achieve in a day; it's better to give yourself a contingency time to complete jobs. Otherwise, you'll always feel as though you are running behind.
6 Coordinate your activities
Make sure jobs and/or meetings in similar locations are scheduled for the same day. It will cut costs and save you time. Agree meeting finishing times in advance (to prevent unnecessary run-over) and think about things you can do on the way to and from appointments - you can often get a lot done during a train journey, for instance. Where possible, get people to come to you. Try holding standing meetings at work so that time doesn't drift.
7 Avoid unnecessary distractions
There are so many these days. Don't be tempted to listen to your iPod or radio unless you work better as a result. In addition, don't reply to personal phone calls, emails and texts during working hours unless there's an emergency. By the same token, don't be tempted to check out your personal social media accounts; you can do this after work. Work-related social media activity can also be very time-consuming so schedule this and allocate a set amount of time rather than letting it interrupt your entire day. Keep on top of your work email - ask colleagues not to copy you in on unnecessary emails. Similarly, add NNTR (no need to reply) to the bottom of your emails if there's NNTR. Where possible, delegate tasks to others.
8 Limit your availability
Let those you work with know when you are available and when you shouldn't be disturbed (unless absolutely necessary). To get more admin work done, you might occasionally work from home, where you'll be free from the usual workplace distractions. If possible, tactfully discourage contacts and customers from dropping by on spec. And avoid networking events and exhibitions unless there's a solid business reason for attending.
9 Get your work area right
Tidy up. It will make you feel better, the happier you are, the more productive you'll be. Get rid of all clutter (OK, maybe leave a family or holiday snap shot, because this can help energise you). Put the things you need in a logical place, and make sure you have everything you need. A more pleasant and orderly workspace makes for a more productive day.
10 Take regular breaks
Yep, the good news is, working too hard or too long can be counter-productive – not to mention bad for your health. Take a full hour for lunch (OK, 30 minutes if you're really pushed) and eat some healthy food. Take a couple of 15-minute breaks throughout the day and remove yourself from where you work. Go and speak to people, too. Make yourself a cuppa and take time to refocus.
Following these steps can help you return to your to-do list with added vigour and a clearer mind.