Ever get to 3 p.m. only to realize that you haven’t crossed off a single thing on your to-do list? Welcome to the life of a small business owner.
It's common to feel like you're playing defense. How can you switch things around to play offense? Try these five simple but effective ways to manage your time and make some forward progress for your business:
1. Fuel your passion early and often.
You probably started your business with a passion for your craft. But the very business of running a business can get in the way.
Bring the skip back into your step every day by reminding yourself first thing why you started your business. It will make getting through the to-do list easier.
2. Begin each day with a to-do list.
I used to love writing my to-do list each day before I left the office. It was my attempt to leave the office before I went home. I would schedule the most important items in my online calendar so I would complete them first.
One study showed that those who are morning people tend to be more effective working in the morning. Each day so many things can come up to derail productivity. I like to tackle the toughest chores first.
Another trick is to enter tasks into your online calendar so that it will push alerts to you. Each morning, pour yourself a cup of coffee and take 5 minutes to review the must-dos.
Don’t overload the to-do list. Make the list of tasks achievable. Remember that other things will come up. So create a list of things is practical. And give yourself a high five when you cross things off.
3. Find social-media shortcuts.
Like visiting the old office watercooler, engaging in social media activity can be a tempting vortex of distraction, stealing time and productivity. To stay on task, schedule all posts for the week at once.
Thanks to a number of social-media management tools, like HootSuite, SproutSocial or Social Oomph, it's possible to quickly upload and manage company posts, tweets, pins, likes and +1s -- all in one place.
Your social-media voice should never sound automated, though. Savvy users will notice this immediately. Schedule real-time comments on anything that’s suddenly trending or newsworthy to ensure genuine engagement with your audience.
4. Define a specific window to check email.
Checking email can become one of the biggest black holes of the workday. Don’t let this task totally sap your productivity. Set a specific time for reading and returning emails. After tackling your email communications, move on to the rest of your daily tasks and goals. Challenge yourself to check email only twice a day, say, early morning and the end of day.
You will be surprised by how much you can get done between email check-ins. And if phone calls are more cumbersome for you than email, try this: Designate a time to return calls. Encourage customers and colleagues to schedule their calls with you.
5. Run focused meetings that adhere to ground rules.
Meetings can be a major time sink. And for small businesses, they can be very expensive in terms of time and labor. Plan well for each meeting. Ensure that you have a purpose and a strong sense for what will make a meeting successful. Do you need feedback from your team or would an email better serve your needs? A meeting is a great way to foster two-way communication like brainstorming or problem solving.
Next, establish a clear structure for the meeting by creating an agenda. Designate a notetaker and a timekeeper to help that people stay on track. Finally, ensure that attendees arrive prepared by arranging for whatever background info or homework assignments are necessary.
While these suggestions may seem like very simple ideas, the hard part is executing them since so many things happen unexpectedly in the daily life of a small-business owner. It takes discipline to move from defense to offense. Some say it takes 21 days to create a habit. You owe it to yourself to get in front of the eight ball. It’ll help your business grow and ensure that you don’t burn out.