time management hacks for small business owners for ybkbs magazine
Time is what we want most, but use the worst
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By Jess Dixon

Why do most small business owners decide they want to work for themselves in the first place? I’ll give you a clue: it’s not for the money.

For a large majority of self-employed people, their time is their most valuable commodity. One of the most appealing things about working for yourself is control over your own time. No more asking permission to take a holiday, no more compulsory nine-to-five, no more having to justify that you’re sick enough to spend a day in bed.

But do you want to know another secret? Most of us work far more hours, as self-employed people or business owners, than we ever did in our former corporate lives.

“It’s different when it’s for yourself,” people say. And yes, it is. It does feel different when the work you’re doing is on your own terms. But even so, time is valuable, and working 70-hour weeks again and again and again is not sustainable for most of us.

Read on to learn some of my favourite time-management hacks to help you reclaim your hours without sacrificing business growth.

Find a planning tool that works for you

Everyone is different in this regard and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. I run my life through a complex mix of a paper planner (the Ink & Volt Goal Planner,) a synced household Google Calendar, and various Trello boards. And, let’s face it, copious sticky notes. It’s a weird mix, but it works.

I know some people who think paper diaries are an ancient relic, while others swear by them. Some people hate Trello (and Asana, and all the various alternatives,) while others love it. It doesn’t matter what system or systems you use, just make sure it works for you.

Plan your day first thing in the morning (or better yet, the night before)

The last thing I do before I switch off my computer at the end of each working day is make a to-do list for the next day. Other people like to make theirs while they have their morning coffee. Which method you prefer is up to you, but you’ll only be able to plan your day appropriately if you can see at a glance what you have to accomplish.

Outsource where you can

You cannot do everything yourself! Fortunately, there are tonnes of aspects of your business that you can outsource. If you’re a bit of a control freak around your business, it can be hard to let go and let someone else take over aspects of it. But I promise, strategic outsourcing will free up so much space in your head and time in your life.

So if you hate social media, hand it over to a professional. If admin is taking over your life, hire a virtual assistant to get you organised. And if there’s consistently far too much work for you to handle, consider bringing in a more permanent new team member.

Protect your off-time

We all go through those periods where we’re still working at 10pm, lying in bed at midnight answering emails, or realise we haven’t taken a day off in a month. But doing this long term is not sustainable.

It’s essential to protect your off-hours. Whether you decide to shut down the laptop at 6pm, not work on Sundays, or never answer emails after dinner, decide on the rules that work for you and stick to them.

Yes, emergencies will happen. But an email that could easily wait until tomorrow is not an emergency. If you don’t hold strict boundaries around your time, no-one else will, so start protecting your non-work hours right now.

Stop task-switching

Task-switching is where you move quickly between one task and another, trying to do several things at once. The problem is that it takes your brain time to shift focus, so this is actually a really inefficient way to work.

Instead, focus deeply on one thing at a time. If that report needs writing, close your internet browser and work on it without distractions. Don’t pause to check your email or update your social media accounts, because then you’ve broken your focus and it will take you longer to get your head back in the game.

The end result of task-switching is that everything takes longer and your whole business becomes less efficient.

Understand and minimise your distractions

What are your distractions? For many people, it’s mindless social media scrolling or internet browsing. Perhaps you find yourself chatting with your housemate or experiencing a sudden urge to clean the kitchen instead of working.

Whatever your distractions are, identify and minimise them. Is social media your problem? Log out of all your accounts on your desktop and put your smartphone in the other room. Others in your home wanting your attention? Talk to them and agree certain core hours of the day that are “leave me alone unless the house is literally on fire” hours.

Separate productive work from busy work

“Productive work” is everything you actually need to do, such as client work and business growth activities. “Busy work” is everything that, if you worked in an office, you’d do so your boss didn’t think you were goofing off on Facebook.

Separate your tasks into two lists. What actually needs doing, and what tasks are time-fillers that you can either outsource or stop doing entirely? You might be surprised how much time you spend in an average day on things that aren’t productive, business-boosting work.

Use the 80% rule

Tempting though it might be, don’t try to work at 100% of your capacity. If you try to work every single minute of the day all week, you’ll fall behind or feel overwhelmed the moment anything unexpected comes up, whether it’s a sick child or a client emergency.

Instead, aim to schedule your work to put you at about 80% of your full capacity. That way, you’ve got the space to handle it if life happens… or if someone offers you a project you can’t refuse!

How do you manage your time as a small business owner?

We’d love to know your time-management hacks and top tips!

Share on facebook Facebook Share on twitter Twitter Share on linkedin LinkedIn Jess Amy Dixon is a freelance writer, editor, and social media manager based in the East Midlands. She helps clients grow their businesses via the written word, whether that's through marketing copy, blog content, or social media posts. She's also working on her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester, and has won prizes for short fiction. email LinkedIn Facebook Instagram Twitter Website

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