“Time is money,” said U.S inventor Benjamin Franklin in 1748. Over 250 years later the statement still rings true, particularly for small businesses.
Almost 40 per cent of small business owners feel that time is their business’ most valuable asset, which could explain why 57 per cent of small business owners work six days a week. 14 per cent don’t take a holiday, and of those that do, 39 per cent carry out work related activities during that time. Widespread Wi-Fi, 4G, cloud-based applications, high speed broadband access and extensive device take-up means we can stay connected work from anywhere, at any time.
It has never been more important for small business owners to manage their time effectively, yet many still spend it on manual administrative tasks. This comes at the expense of business growth, as 55 per cent of small business owners say their organisation’s growth is held back by the time they spend on business administration according to an FSB survey.
We’ve all read tips from famous business entrepreneurs on how to improve time management – some are achievable, some not so. Richard Branson gets up at 5am to complete a workout to boost his productivity. Arianna Huffington has regular breaks to stay refreshed and focused. Mark Zuckerberg swears by creating blocks of meetings to leave hours of uninterrupted time. Whilst most of us don’t own multi-billion dollar business empires or – unfortunately – the bank balances to match, we can all benefit from reassessing how we’re spending our time. We can all learn to integrate new techniques into our daily lives.
Here are my top ten hacks for owners of small businesses to make better use of their time – and not one involves waking at 5am to drink green juice and head to the gym:
You say tomato
Just as high-intensity training is a way of achieving fast fitness results, high-intensity work for short periods of time – interspersed with short breaks – can be a great way for teams to improve focus and productivity. This is known as the Pomodoro technique – the Italian word for tomato, named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer behind the theory. After deciding on tasks, the timer is set to 25 minutes. Once the timer goes off, take a 3-5 minute break, and reset the timer.
Whatever you want to achieve, you can pretty much guarantee there’s an app for it. Time management is no exception, and there are some great applications for creating digital to-do lists for example. The Guardian recommends Wunderlist, GoogleKeep, Todoist, Any.do and Remember The Milk, amongst others.
Opening a folder on your desktop and forgetting what you’re looking for is the digital equivalent of going into a room and forgetting what you went in to get. We all do it. Often it’s the result of multitasking – flitting from one task to another, interrupting ourselves to read emails, answer calls, hold a conversation. Studies show that multi-tasking, or ‘task switching’ can lose you up to 40% of your productivity. Focus on one thing at a time.
Improve your email management
Psychologists at the Future Work Centre found a link between stress and emails: specifically, leaving email alerts on all day, and checking emails first thing in the morning or late at night. Be timewise with your emails, and designate a short space of time twice a day to read and respond to emails. Switch off alerts, and ignore those which come in outside your designated times. If this is too big a step, you can always create an auto-response to tell senders when you’ll be checking your messages. You can also create the digital equivalent of the ‘one touch rule’: this was a thing a few years ago, when efficient business people shared a secret of their success – touch a document once, action it, and move on. Remove all digital distractions. Stay focused. Step away from the iPhone – unless it’s to talk. A quick conversation can replace never-ending email chains.
Prioritise but be realistic
Prioritisation is a learning in itself. Prioritising tasks isn’t just about appreciating their urgency, but includes factors such as assessing how long tasks will take, what resources they’ll need, identifying variables and incorporating flexibility.
Eliminate unnecessary manual tasks
67 per cent of businesses feel their administrative burden prevents them from focusing on their organisation’s main purpose. Identify the tasks you can automate, digitalise or even outsource, and assess your options: it needn’t be expensive to replace some manual tasks with automated methods
This isn’t easy in a very small organisation, but delegation frees up time and empowers employees. If no-one is available to delegate to within your organisation, go back to a suggestion in point six: consider outsourcing. From social media management to bookkeeping and payroll, many business functions can be effectively outsourced. Outsourcing has a number of benefits, extending the skills available to your business without the need for the costs associated with a permanent team-member.
Lateness is far removed from greatness
I’ve been in many organisations in which meetings start, and finish, late. It’s frustrating and inefficient. Attending a meeting on time shows respect and commitment. Diarise meetings for 45 minutes rather than an hour – it allows time to get to and from meeting locations and allows a buffer for meetings which overrun. Test the tech beforehand. Who hasn’t been on a video conference in which you spend 10 minutes trying to make sure everyone can see and hear each other? Or a conference call in which people cut out mid-sentence and have to dial back in again? We live in a digital age – there is no excuse for ineffective communications technology. Trial the technologies which work best for you and your clients, and use them.
Look to the cloud
Updating a document and sending it on to your colleague by email is a thing of the past. Simple cloud-based tools are great for version management and for collaboration, removing the need to update, save and email documents.
Learning is great use of your time. Even just dedicating an hour every Friday morning with your coffee to pore over posts on LinkedIn, to see what’s trending on Twitter, to skim through the latest industry reports: all this will help boost your knowledge and keep you a step ahead of your competitors. As Mahatma Gandi once said, “Live as you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever”.
Ryan Higginson, Vice President Global SMB Solutions, Pitney Bowes.