Multi-tasking, wearing too many hats, juggling a number of balls up in the air…whatever your analogy, there’s no denying that time management and productivity are two of the biggest challenges that small business owners face on a daily basis. Our emails follow us everywhere we go, and our social media networks are constantly in need of a check-in or tweet. So how can you manage all these demands on your time and still focus on getting the important things done for your business?
To help you sort through it all, we’ve reached out to a panel of small business experts and asked them all a single question: “What are some tips that can help small business owners better manage time and improve productivity? ”
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Below is a collection of their thoughts and perspectives:
To me, a small business has to break its priorities into three buckets: prospecting, executing, and service. I think that most small businesses do well on 2 and 3 , but don’t spend enough time on the first one. With the latest online tools to help them, I would love to see more small businesses spend time learning how to take advantage of the leverage that a good listing in Google Places can bring, to take advantage of a great website that helps serve a customer, and to take advantage of the various social web platforms, so that they can be the ultimate shopkeeper online as they might be offline.
Chris Brogan consults and speaks professionally, is a New York Times bestselling co-author of “Trust Agents
“ and is a featured monthly columnist at Entrepreneur Magazine. Chris blogs at chrisbrogan.com
First and foremost, you need to occasionally block out some “personal time” so you can regroup and recharge. Research shows that time away actually helps you get more done in the long run, and let’s face it: we get pulled in so many directions, it will only get done if it’s on the calendar.
It’s also important that small business owners take the time to define and document their operations processes, so you aren’t constantly reinventing the wheel. It’s easy when we’re strapped for time to neglect this step, but it’s key to staying efficient long-term.
There are so many great tools out there. From using Tripit.com to consolidate travel plans and use the mobile app to stay on top of flight reservations, hotel confirmation numbers and the like, to using something like Evernote to dictate notes to yourself, pound out some emails or letters while you’re in the back of a cab and so on … if you have a technology need, there’s probably an app for that.
The best advice I can give small businesses is to think about what pain points they have, then go to Google and search for a solution. With a little bit of browsing, and perhaps some smart keyword searches, you’re probably going to find something.
Jason Falls is one of the most in-demand speakers in the social media, public relations and marketing fields. Jason co-author’s and edits Social Media Explorer
and recently completed his first book, “No Bullshit Social Media
1 – Do. Not. Multitask. Sounds easy, but the more you’re in charge of, the more challenging it is. Do one thing at a time, even if it means batching into 10-15 minute windows of intense focus.
2 – Turn off all push notifications on everything mobile, then schedule times to check and respond during the day and be religious about honoring those limitations.
3 – Step away. Work in pulses of no more than 45-90 minutes, then give your brain a break or watch your creativity and productivity plummet.
For my coaching clients, there have been two pieces of advice that have
helped the most right away:
1) Everyone knows to remove distractions, but do you know WHY you are
allowing yourself to be distracted? What is it you are avoiding? Why
did you not turn off your phone, email, social media, etc?
2) Make incremental progress rather than seek perfection. Too many
people slow down, stop or don’t attempt things because they fear their
efforts not being good enough, when in most cases your efforts are
more than good enough when you focus on the right things.
Chris Garrett is an internet marketing and online business consultant, blogging and social media coach, new media industry commentator, writer, speaker, trainer and all-round web geek. Chris blogs at Chrisg.com
Focus is the most underrated skill that you MUST master. 90% of the time, what is on your computer screen is not resulting in a positive ROI. Learn to focus on what truly matters in your business. Then, do it consistently.
Stick with what you’re great at and [outsource | partner | hire | stop doing] the rest. You reach your potential only when you’re using your time to work on the issues that leverage your talent to the fullest.
First off, you have to put down the social media! It’s killing your productivity, and you know it, but you’ve been convinced you need to be there to “engage” people. You know what the real definition of engagement is in social media? It’s “death of getting real work done.” To manage your time better, work on deadlines. Everyone works better when they know something needs to be done. Build lists of what needs done and set times/days on them and watch as your productivity increases.
1. Spend time on building the core identity of the business—something going deeper than a brand position or a strategic plan.
2. Make sure everything in the business either expresses that core identity, or gets cut.
3. Run 3-5 small experiments with new markets, products, or services, to say tightly in line with the changing desires of customers.
4. For every new thing you decide to do, find something you were doing and delegate it, or simply stop doing it.
Dave Logan is a #1 New York Times
bestselling author, is an expert in cultural transformation in the workplace, serving as senior partner at CultureSync
and on the faculty of the Marshall School of Business
It is time to modify that old task list! Writing down all the things you need to do, and then assigning a due date just piles on the work. By simply prioritizing your task list for revenue and clients, you will get all the important stuff done and your bottom line will grow. Here’s how you do it. Maintain your task list as normal, but add a new column. For each task ask yourself 1. Will this bring in revenue in the next 60 days? 2. Will this serve an existing customer? If you say yes to the revenue put a dollar sign in the new column. If you say yes to serving a customer, put a smiley face in the column. If you say yes to both, then put both symbols in the column. Now go do only the task with both smiley’s and dollars signs. Then do smiley’s. Then do dollar signs. These items are always priority. Only once these are off the list do you continue with the other tasks. With this simple change to the list you will be instantly taking care of what matters… And will see a bottom line benefit in 60 days or so!
This question comes up a lot, and the problem is that we always try to solve it with tools rather than changing the behaviors. My answer is always “know your priorities”. If you know what has to get done most urgently, your time management takes care of itself (though procrastination isn’t something any tool can help!). Spend time every morning reviewing your notes, your inbox, whatever. Pick the 3-5 things that MUST get done or make progress that day, either in terms of deadlines or in terms of things that will actually move your business forward. Ignore the rest until they’re done. Rinse, repeat. Simple, but definitely not easy!
Small business owners can manager productivity better when they delegate tasks that don’t involve strategic brand development. The more you delegate, the more you can focus on where the company is going, not where it is currently. That is the best way to move your company forward, while remaining sane and organized.
Only allow important stuff to get to your email inbox. I’ve written hundreds of Gmail filters which automatically remove commercial emails, newsletters, mailing lists, notifications, and emails from people who just send jokes and don’t bring value. Everyday these filters remove 200 to 300 emails from my view. This alone is the most productive thing I’ve done in the past year.
Robert Scoble is the Chief Learning Officer at Rackspace
, blogs at Scobleizer
, and his twitter feed, @Scobleizer
was named one of TIME’s 140 Best Twitter Feeds.
David Meerman Scott
Stop watching television completely. It is a huge time suck. Instead use that time to do productive things that will help grow your business, like creating some great content for your web site.
Managing time is really creating discipline and working only on those items that will make a difference. In short, working on your business rather than in your business.
Small business owners have a tendency to want to be busy and DO. The basic question is do you DO what really is important and needs to be done. Almost everyone has a to do list. The key to being effective is to identify those items on your to do list and only work on three or four, that are the most important, until they are accomplished and then moving to the next most important. The items on your list to accomplish should be toward accomplishing the goals you have created.
I facilitate and run peer advisory boards for business owners. One owner stated he dates items when he puts them on his to do and if he doesn’t get them done in thirty days he delegates them to someone else to accomplish. The concept, even if someone isn’t able to do it as well as you they will do it better, because it gets done.
All of the organizational tips and tools in the world will not help you if you are not first very clear on you and your team’s core competencies. The best way to be more efficient is to ensure that skills are properly deployed and that your time is allocated to the things that really matter. With a clear foundation of what needs to be done and can or must be done internally, and ensuring that you are maximizing your internal talents and skill sets you have a solid base for eliminating waste and improving productivity.
To better manage their time and improve their productivity, small business owners need to do a lot more delegating and outsourcing than most of them do. As a group, we tend to want to not only run the show but personally be involved in every aspect of it, so we waste time doing things we shouldn’t be doing and things we’re not good at. A good tip is to pretend you’re a lawyer. You don’t see lawyers wasting billable time doing things like doing their own taxes, designing and printing off their own business cards or cleaning their offices.
Do you have some time management tips and tricks? Share them in the comments!