1. Categorize your days. Ann Dugan, director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh's Katz Graduate School of Business, understands how days seem to just slip away. She also knows how small obstacles can obscure the path of a successful, thriving business. So she advises that you set them all aside.
"Name some days `strategy days' and others `detail days,' and don't let one get mixed in with the other," Dugan says. "You can't put off doing detail work forever, but you can at least say this is not the day for details but for `big picture' items, things that move the business forward." Color-code your calendar or daily planner accordingly.
2. Go sideways. Rather than letting incoming correspondence, files and other to-do items pile up, devise a system for laying them out side-by-side. "When you pile papers up horizontally, you've created a paper graveyard," says Elaine Bloom, a professional organizer and owner of Maplewood, New Jersey-based A Place For Everything. "You can never find anything, and the one thing you want is inevitably at the bottom. You thumb through the pile looking for it, and the whole stack falls over."
Bloom recommends a change of direction. Get a wire rack, a cardboard accordion file or a wooden box with slots--anything that makes it possible to line up the papers. That way, you can see everything and pick out what you need when you need it, she explains. An additional advantage: no more forgetting about the items that are perpetually trapped in the middle of the pile. With everything visible, nothing can be forgotten for long.
3. Write a book. Remember that phone number you wrote down six weeks ago? Now you need it. Any chance you'll find it within the hour? If not, try keeping all your random notes in one place. Bloom's recommendation: Get a spiral notebook to use as a scrapbook. Put those phone numbers, dimensions and preferred typefaces in there for safekeeping. Novelists and other creative writers often use this method for storing observations, descriptions and other spontaneous material they want to retrieve later.
And if your work keeps you near the computer all day, don't plaster it with Post-it notes. Start an on-screen junk file where you can keep track of all those loose ends. "When everything is in one place, you know where to start looking," Bloom says.
4. The one-person meeting. If there are things you have to do but aren't finding time for, move them from the perpetual to-do list into their own reserved block of time on the calendar. "Somehow, putting those things on the calendar makes you think you have to do them at those times," Bloom says. And don't ignore the importance of these one-person meetings. Just because you're not meeting with anyone else, that's no reason to ignore or postpone these scheduled tasks.
5. Take on multiple identities. It took just a few years for e-mail, that great time-saving innovation, to create a whole new list of irritations for entrepreneurs. "Just scrolling through all the unwanted messages that come in [can consume so much time]," Bloom notes. She advises setting up several screen names--for example, one for queries from clients, another for messages from employees and a third for e-mail to and from outside contractors or suppliers.