What Are You Wasting Your Business Time On? Disorganization and distraction are the enemies of any business, especially startups and sole proprietorships. Here are the things that can steal your time, and some tools to help you build a plan to organize efficiently.

By Jim Conroy

Key Takeaways

  • Entrepreneurs frequently lose time on non-revenue-producing tasks, with email being a major time-sink.
  • Inadequate planning and poor organizational systems lead to an inefficient workflow and procrastination, impeding success.
  • Leveraging digital tools like Document Management Systems (DMS) and accounting platforms can vastly improve time management and organizational efficiency.
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You're probably wasting time. But you're not alone. About one-third of entrepreneurs spend their time on activities that don't directly affect their bottom line. Some of this time is spent on things like ordering supplies, but it also includes important tasks such as invoicing.

One of the business world's biggest time thieves is email. Do you start your day with email, reading and responding to what looks important, then get distracted? Then new email arrives and you just keep going, maybe multiple times all day. According to Microsoft, heavy users of email can spend 8.8 hours a week lost in email land.

Then you may find yourself batting at a flurry of tasks, from producing a replacement 1099 form for an independent contractor who showed up at your doorstep unexpectedly to finding the invoice for a payment to a vendor due yesterday.

The reasons the business day can seem like a kindergarten field trip gone wrong include inadequate planning and a lack of systems to organize time and tasks. Not planning ahead can lead to an inefficient workflow.

Related: 11 Ways You're Wasting Time Instead of Doing What You Need to be Successful

Some examples?

You can't keep your bank account full if you don't invoice clients and collect on those invoices.

If a home contracting job requires a government inspector's approval before you can start, don't wait to call the morning you want to start. If that job requires your license and bonding information, it should be easy to produce.

If you can't find the right version of a document — whether it's the latest living room plan for an interior designer, or the payments made against a large job — can lead to squandered time most businesses can't afford to lose.

Procrastination is the ultimate waste of time. This can be a problem in two ways. You can proactively put things off until later (when you can "concentrate better" or your "schedule is clear"), or you can find yourself fighting to stay ahead of your work, in which case it's easy to neglect these tasks.

The power of organization

Businesses use multiple methods of organization. Any method will be better than none. See which one of these makes most sense for you, then investigate further:

  • Process-oriented structure. Note what you do and document your process for doing it, then review periodically. Provides efficiency.
  • Quality management. Measure what you do. The best-known process for quality management is called Six Sigma, which is composed of defining, measuring, analyzing, improving and controlling (DMAIC).
  • Customer-centric organization. Build your processes to support your customer.

In The E-Myth – Why Most Businesses Don't Work And What To Do About It, Michael E. Gerber argued that businesses are started by people who know the technical aspects of the business, but not necessarily how to operate a business. For them, he argued that manuals describing processes are the best tools. Systematizing what you do makes the process smoother. And, when you grow, you can actually hand your manual to someone else who can do things the way you want them done.

Related: 6 Essential Time Savers for Overworked Young Entrepreneurs

Successful organizational practices

Since the beginning of commerce, businesses have organized their documentation by segregating, categorizing and sub-dividing necessary documents. This provided an easy-to-remember way to access and share them. Scrolls and ledgers were the first ways to store needed information. Old-school methods like file folders and file cabinets were so successful that they form the basis for how we interact with computers today.

As the digital world has evolved, it has provided new tools that are faster and more accurate. Document management systems (DMS) capture key data and store it in the cloud to work with later, wherever you are. Similarly, accounting platforms exist that invoice customers, pay bills, generate reports and prepare taxes. There are tax preparation suites that use the data you enter to file your taxes electronically.

The IRS now accepts digital documentation, so you can keep your business-related invoices, receipts and the like in a specific file folder on your computer hard drive, external physical storage such as a thumb drive, or a cloud drive. The most helpful way to organize your data is probably to store expenses based on the items on IRS Schedule C — but any method that makes it easy to find what you need when you need it should be fine.

Getting started

Just like starting any other enterprise, the way to get started is to get started.

  • Identify your problems. Make note of the behavior that needs to change.
  • Make the commitment. Accept that your business will benefit when you waste less time and organize your records. You're reading this article; that's a start.
  • Make it a regular thing. New habits or routines don't take immediately. If email is a problem, block out when you're going to tackle it. Maybe it's the last half-hour before lunch and the last half-hour before quitting. Stick to that schedule.
  • Overcome inertia. Whatever tricks you use, just get started. Do it today, then do it tomorrow. It's often good to link a new habit to a pleasurable one.

Related: 8 Tips for Finding Focus and Nixing Distractions

Don't waste your time — manage it effectively

Bad things can happen if you waste time. Smaller profit or no profit, for one. Missing deadlines can mean lost clients and bad word of mouth. In extreme cases, it may mean fines or penalties for not delivering on time.

The benefits of effective time management range from enhanced customer loyalty to improved brand reputation to increased revenue.

The good news is that being organized is easier than ever with digital help. Digital assistants, AI, cloud-based tools and document management systems are your friends. You can complete tasks more quickly and efficiently, freeing time to accomplish new tasks. Avail yourself of these opportunities and success will follow.

Jim Conroy

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO

Jim Conroy has spent his career helping small businesses. At The Neat Company, he held accounting and finance roles, most recently as CFO and now CEO. In the last 12 years at Neat, Jim has served the needs of the small business community as a backend business management tool and partner for growth.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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