Where does all the time go? Long hours. Late nights. Snatched lunches. Some people boast about their overwhelming work schedule as if it’s a badge of honor: “I start work at 7 a.m. and work right through 8 p.m.” Often, their Herculean claims border on the absurd. “Last night, I went to bed at 3 a.m. and got up two hours later to finish a report.”
Entrepreneurs and small business owners often find themselves in a time crunch because they burden themselves with too many obligations. To find genuine success and job satisfaction, allocate your time to what matters most.
To be a successful entrepreneur with a positive work-life balance and less stress, create a schedule that works for you and your business.
Did you know? Burnout can lead to job dissatisfaction, inefficient decision-making, depression and even heart disease. Take steps to prevent burnout before it sets in.
Why entrepreneurs should prioritize tasks
Entrepreneurs are responsible for myriad aspects of starting a business, such as creating a business plan, writing a marketing plan, creating a successful hiring process, and managing finances. If you’re overwhelmed, you’re more likely to overlook critical tasks and miss deadlines.
“As an entrepreneur, more than any other role, you have limited time to accomplish a never-ending list of tasks and to-dos,” said Felipe Zambrano, vice president of Avatrade Marketplace. “As a result, it’s critical to organize your time in order to be the most effective and move your company faster.”
For the health of their business – and their personal well-being – entrepreneurs must get a handle on what needs to get done, when it needs to happen and to whom they can delegate.
“You only have so much time during your day to get things done,” said Forrest McCall, owner of entrepreneurship blog Don’t Work Another Day. “By wasting time on tasks that do not yield results in growth for your business, you might find your business stagnant. By prioritizing tasks with the highest return on investment, your business can see tremendous growth.”
How an entrepreneur should prioritize tasks
Take a systematic approach to organizing your tasks and managing your time. This ensures that critical business elements get addressed and that your time is well spent. Rank your responsibilities and plan your week accordingly.
1. Rank your responsibilities with the ABCD task-management method.
Improving productivity means spending your time on the right things, which starts with planning. Follow these four tips for success:
- Establish your “A” priorities first. Ask yourself what your main focus would be if you had nothing else to do tomorrow. No meetings, no calls, no reports – nothing. Start with a blank slate. What would affect your long-term results? The answers are your “A” priorities: important activities that move along your primary endeavors. “A” priorities might include hiring a new account manager, developing a major proposal or opening a new branch location. These top-priority items should take up 20% to 30% of your time.
- Take care of your “B” responsibilities. “B” activities are the activities in your job description that must get done today – the tasks that keep you busy. “B” responsibilities might include corresponding with clients, handling claims, supervising staff, inputting data, checking contracts, shipping materials or updating a database. For most people, “B” responsibilities represent another 30% to 40% of work time. Attend to them after you’ve worked on an “A” responsibility.
- Put “C” requirements in their proper place. “C” activities include the unplanned or unwritten aspects of your job that must be done. While you plan your “A” priorities, “C” requirements are often planned for you. They include department meetings, routine requests, expense reports, filing, sorting and reading updates. “C” tasks should take up 20% to 25% of your time. Within this framework, your paperwork alone can take up five hours per week. Traveling is also a “C” requirement. It has to be done, but it isn’t a key factor in your job’s success.
- Get rid of the “D” activities. Finally, there are “D” activities. “D” stands for delete, delay, delegate or drop. “D” activities include casual web surfing, handling tasks that should be delegated, and reading email newsletters. Some “D” tasks are technological time hogs – fixing a photocopier jam, waiting for software to load or accessing the help desk. Beware of “D” activities. Miscellaneous time can be as much as 5% of the week.
FYI: The ABCD method is just one task management method. Other productivity-boosting methods include the Pomodoro technique, the “eat the frog” method, and Kanban boards.
2. Plan your week based on your prioritized tasks.
To spend more time on your high priorities, plan for them. The sweet spot for general planning is about 2.5 hours per week, or 10 sessions of 15 minutes each. More time than that might not yield any extra impact on results.
Here’s how to plan your week:
- Create a list of activities each day. Make a list of things to do and indicate A, B and C priorities. Write your list in your time planner, on a mobile app or even on a Post-it note. At the end of the day, check off the items you’ve completed.
- Be specific about what you need to do. When you plan your day, don’t just say, “I’ll work on the budget,” or “I’ll work on my recruiting plan.” Be specific by listing activities you can complete today. You can’t do the entire budget in a day, but you can set up a spreadsheet for salaries. You can’t recruit a new employee today, but you can update the job profile.
- Block your time. Schedule time for your “A” priorities first. Plan to do them when you’re at your peak and when interruptions are least likely to occur. Set an appointment in your planner, and allocate that time for high-priority activities. Then, if someone asks you to meet during that time, say, “Sorry, I have an appointment.” No one will ask who you’re meeting. It’s an appointment with yourself.
- Delegate tasks. If you think you’re the only person who knows how to do a certain task, you’re probably mistaken and need to delegate more. If you’re worried that someone isn’t quite ready for a new task, let them prove you wrong. Delegate the objective and the standards to be met, and ask the person what they need to get started. If they need help, they’ll let you know.
- Put a value on your time. People say that time is money, but for many of them, it isn’t. They spend time to save money by driving across town to save a dollar on a tank of gas. On the other hand, successful people spend money to save time. They’ll hire others to do the things they don’t like doing or aren’t good at. They don’t worry about spending a dollar if it will save them an hour.
Task management tools for entrepreneurs
Digital and mobile task-management tools help entrepreneurs stay on track. Here are a few of our favorites.
McCall uses Notion to create a task list prioritized from the highest ROI to the lowest. “If I manage to complete all of the most important tasks, I move on to the lower-return tasks, making it easy to manage and keep up with.”
Notion is available for iOS, Android, Mac and Windows.
Task management doesn’t have to be complicated. Zambrano uses bullet points on a Google Doc and organizes them according to priority.
“You have to categorize each task as [to] how urgent it is and also the level of impact,” he said. “The idea is to focus on things that create a large impact and push aside those which aren’t urgent and don’t make a big improvement to your organization.”
You can use Google Docs via web browser, or download it as an iOS or Android mobile app.
Productboard helps big and small businesses figure out what clients want and establish market priorities. Kenny Kline, president and financial lead of BarBend, said it’s popular among product managers and roadmappers because it “provides a powerful prioritization matrix for displaying the value/effort trade-off across all objective features.”
Todoist is a popular to-do list app that’s been around for a while and continues to provide value. Mark Osborne, director of Prestige Roof Lanterns, said he appreciates functions such as organizing tasks by date and color-coding them. “Although the free edition has fewer capabilities, it is extremely well designed and user-friendly.”
Todoist is available as an iOS or Android app.
Mark Ellwood contributed to the writing and research in this article.