As a small business owner, you're probably intimately familiar with the feeling of always juggling endless tasks. Between client deadlines, payments to keep track of and customers to please, it can feel like your to-do list never gets any smaller.
You could say that effective time management is one of the most important skills for a small business owner. The good news is it's a skill you can learn – and since it's not an exact science, you can find the tricks and habits that work best for you.
If you feel like there are never enough hours in the day, these five tips can help you stay on track and manage your time smartly and effectively.
1. Plan ahead.
Clutter, both literal and figurative, can slow down your work and bog you down. If your workspace or workload is chaotic, you may find yourself too overwhelmed to tackle your tasks. You can get organized by starting small and working your way up. Setting goals, both small and large, is a great way to keep you and your business on track.
Begin by creating a list of five realistically attainable goals for the week. Make them detailed and thorough, then start accomplishing one a day. This helps you make measurable progress toward large initiatives.
Pay attention to when you're most productive, whether it's a specific time of day or simply after your morning jog. Consider using a time-tracking app such as Toggl to log how much time you spend on each project, tuning you in to when you get the most done. If you find you have a most productive hour, use that time each day to focus on the highest-priority tasks and the rest of the day on the easier, more manageable to-dos.
2. Embrace apps.
If you have a smartphone, it's time to turn it into your ultimate small business tool. There are endless apps out there designed to help you take charge of your schedule and workflow. If traditional paper to-do lists aren't cutting it, Wunderlist is an app that allows you to prioritize tasks, set reminders and share your to-do list with others. It's accessible from smartphones, laptops and Apple Watches, so you can stay on top of your tasks no matter where you are.
If you're a small business owner who charges by the hour, an app such as Harvest can easily keep track of the time you spend on each task, making invoicing easy. Even if you don't charge by time spent, Harvest allows you to track how much time every project takes, making you more aware and attuned to your day.
When it comes to managing overall workflow, Trello is a great resource. You can create boards for each project and set up step-by-step pipelines to send them through, allowing you to track tasks from beginning to completion. It's also a great tool for collaboration, as you can track your team's progress and efficiency as well.
3. Learn when to delegate.
When you're just starting out, it's natural to take on anything and everything to do with your business. By now, you're accustomed to learning on the job and picking up skills you didn't even know existed, but as your time becomes more and more precious, it's important to learn to delegate. Whether this means outsourcing some of your tasks or handing off projects to your employees, giving yourself the freedom to not do it all is essential.
First, decide what tasks you'd rather not do. This seems simple enough, but if you can pinpoint those things you procrastinate on because you simply don't like doing them, you can figure out whether someone else is better equipped to take them on. If you don't have a staff ready to pitch in, find contractors or freelancers who specialize in that skill and can work on an as-needed basis to give you your time back.
Reach out to your professional network, get referrals, and find people who are trustworthy and can get the job done. A delegated task is only successful if it gets done, so hire carefully, and make sure to implement and enforce deadlines.
4. Keep track of your finances.
Finances have the potential to be a large stressor and therefore take up an unnecessary amount of time to handle. Creating and adapting a bookkeeping system early on will help you stay organized, thus saving you time down the road.
If you don't already have one in place, there's a handful of services to help you stick to a bookkeeping system. MineralTree allows you to keep track of accounts payable, helping you monitor it from the invoice approval to the final payment. QuickBooks, which is compatible with MineralTree, offers a ton of functions to simplify your accounting. It takes the spreadsheet of MineralTree to the next level, acting as more than just a way of tracking accounts payable.
Xero, another accounting tool, works through the cloud. It graphs your payment schedule and debts, helping you see when to pay what and manage your cash flow. It's extremely user-friendly and a definite timesaver. If you have any small business financing or other owed debt, keeping track of all the money coming in and going out can be difficult, but software can help make it manageable.
5. Avoid distractions (when possible).
If you're a soloprenuer, the biggest struggle you may face is staying productive without a team breathing down your neck. As your own boss, you're going to have to work diligently to stay motivated and avoid distraction. It's important to keep your work life separate from your business life. Turn your phone on silent, use an app such as SelfControl to block those websites you mindlessly browse, and make sure you are mentally and physically present during work hours.
That also means keeping business matters out of family time. Learning to truly segment your day will help you manage your time and make the most out of each precious hour.
If you're getting bogged down with endless tasks or find yourself feeling burnt out before the day even starts, it could be a sign that something is wrong with your current routine. There may be little you can to do make that to-do list go away, but the more efficiently you use every hour you have, the more successful you'll be at managing those hectic days.