One of the coolest things I know is this – every one of us, while we’re alive, has 24 hours in a day. Not 26. Not 30. No one is blessed with more time. We all have 24 hours in a day. Now granted, each of us has different abilities, talents, and gifts. Some are able to achieve more in 24 hours than others. Yet truthfully, we control our time. To me, Zig Ziglar explained this concept best when he said, “A lack of direction, not a lack of time, is the problem. We all get 24 hours in a day.” That’s why time management for the startup business owner is so vital. To help you, I’m going to give you a list of 7 ways small business owners can manage time.
Let me paint a picture of a day in the life of Justin Goodbread. Maybe your life isn’t exactly like this, but I’d say you’ve had a day or two like this at some point or another. So imagine this.
It’s Sunday night. I get ready for bed, look at my calendar, and think, “Okay, I have this, this, this, this, and this to do tomorrow.” You know your day’s going to be busy, so you try to get enough rest to prepare for it. On Monday morning, my alarm clock goes off early. I kiss the wife, grab a cup of coffee, and drive to the gym. On the way, I listen to some soft music, jazz or classical, that gets me ready to have an awesome workout. After the workout, I take a hot shower, throw on clothes, get to the office, and say, “Here we go! Let’s start this day.”
Then, something happens. It’s like a bomb goes off. We call it life, and life happens. The phone rings. Maybe an email comes in or a team member walks into your office. Whatever the trigger, something happens, and suddenly this picture-perfect day you had planned to the tee is in shambles. Everything’s just upside down, and before you know it, Saturday’s here. As you’re sliding into your bed, you’re wondering, “Man, what in the world did I accomplish this week?”
Friends, I dare say that if you’re in business for any length of time, you’re going to experience a day or a week like that. Life happens to all business owners, and time management for the startup business owner is vital.
Author and theologian Tony Morgan once made a powerful point about time management that I think applies to all entrepreneurs, especially those starting a business. He said, “You get to decide where your time goes. You can either spend it moving forward, or you can spend it putting out fires. You decide. And if you don’t decide, others will decide for you.” Essentially, Morgan’s telling us to be intentional about how we “spend” our time. And if we can “spend” time, then it’s an asset. Yet, are we spending our time wisely and investing in ourselves and in our businesses? Or, are we wasting our valuable asset?
I’ll talk about how to organize your week so that fires don’t control your life. I’ll get to that in points 2 – 7. But first, I want to give you the single most important time management advice I’ve learned as a business owner… you need time for you.
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, businessman Stephen Covey wrote, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but rather to schedule your priorities.” Similarly, U.S. statesman Henry Kissinger once said, “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” You see, Covey and Kissinger had it right. As a business owner, you must schedule free time for yourself.
If you’re like me, you’re driven. You know your goals, and you know the race you’re running. You know what you want to accomplish and the time period you have to accomplish it. Most likely, you’re putting in many, many, many hours in and away from the office.
But are you living?!?!
Friends, it doesn’t do you any good to build up a major business if you don’t live. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote, “Vanity, vanity. Everything’s vanity,” and he was talking specifically about living life solely trying to gain assets. What happens if you gain the whole world? You’re eventually going to die, and the assets will go to people who don’t understand the sacrifice you gave to gain those assets. So to me, the most important thing I’ve learned in business over the past 25 years is that you have to schedule time away.
Now that we’ve talked about the most important way to manage your time, let’s move on to actual techniques you can utilize to save and manage time.
You know, in every business, you can have some control over your week, especially if you use a calendar. Yes, unexpected events will occur. Things will come up. However, you can control your week.
If you’re in a business setting like I am, use an electronic calendar. Schedule weeks in advance. If you’re in the medical field, you may have the opportunity to book your schedule 6 months or 8 months in advance. Schedule your work activities AND your personal activities. Let your staff and clients know when you’ll be in or out of the office.
If you don’t have the ability to use an electronic calendar, use a hand-held written one. I’ve even seen clients write out a weekly to-do list on a yellow pad of paper each Monday morning. That’s a type of calendar. Regardless of what method you use, use a calendar to plan your work time and your free time.
Next, you want to identify the big time wasters. For me, office chit-chat sucks me away from work. If I want to get home and be with my family, I’ve got to get work done. Thus, I have to be cognizant of the chit-chat in the office.
For you, emails, phone calls, or texts may distract you. Maybe the lure of FaceBook keeps you from working diligently or efficiently. It doesn’t matter what causes you to lose focus. However, to re-direct your focus, you must be aware of what causes you to waste time. Knowing how you’re wasting time can help you avoid specific distractions and get down to business.
As you’re looking at the things you have to do that appear on your calendar and after you’ve identified time wasters so you can avoid them, go ahead and prioritize your schedule. Can you focus on 20% of the work at hand and delegate the other 80%? Should you place a numerical priority on tasks so that you know which are most important? Do you need to break your tasks into categories of urgency?
President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.” With that motto in mind, Eisenhower often broke his work into four categories:
Oftentimes, if you categorize your priorities, you can also delegate tasks. That leads us to time management for the startup business owner tip number 5.
If you’re going to delegate tasks to manage your own time better, you’ll need to train team members as much as possible. Sure, you’ll want to delegate some of your busy work, but you also want to delegate some of the difficult tasks as well. If your team members don’t know how to perform the tasks you give them, they may do them wrong or avoid doing them. Then, you’ll end up with more work. That’s pointless. So if you need help from others, make sure they know what they’re doing. Put in the time to train them so they can help you save time later.
Technically, this time management tip goes hand-in-hand with tip #3 – Avoid time wasters. You can’t just avoid time wasters, though. You must also actively focus on the task at hand. I like to say, “Avoid the squirrel.” Don’t get “squirreled” away when you’re working hard. Focus. Stay focused. Control your calendar. Take charge of your time. Make the decision to finish your tasks so you can leave early or participate in more fun activities. Set your boundaries and stay focused.
Finally, you can cluster your tasks to save time. If you drive to work sites all week, schedule to work at job sites near each other on certain days or during certain time periods. If you see patients, schedule similar types of procedures on certain days of each week. Perhaps you’re in manufacturing and can cluster a group of similar tasks together, back-to-back, so that your mind is already set on a specific methodology.
You see, these 7 tips can help you manage your time. But here’s the thing. Your business will bring its own unique challenges. It will. Your schedule will present its own challenges and adjustments, and you may want to hire a good business advisor to help you manage your time.
So think about it. How’s your time management? Do you feel like your business is controlling you more than you’re controlling it? Do you feel like you’re wasting a lot of time? Are you optimally productive, or is there room for improvement? Don’t let others decide how you spend your time. You decide. You choose what you do. Tap into your most unaddressed asset – time.
Be sure to join me in my next article about developing quality control processes in your startup business!