As a small business owner or freelancer the way you manage your time can be a decisive success factor. Setting realistic goals, prioritising, eliminating distractions – these are all important skills that can help you establish a smart and structured approach to your work and time.
There are many tools and strategies that you can apply to schedule and execute your business activities more effectively. Below you can find four useful methods that will help you maximise the use of your time when your days seem to be shorter and less predictable:
- Use the urgent/important principle
Try to list everything you think you have to do and categorise your tasks in four groups:
- important and urgent
- important but not urgent
- not important but urgent
- not important and not urgent.
In this way you’ll be able to determine activities that really require your attention and eliminate distractions. How to determine what is important? According to Dwight D. Eisenhower, former U.S. President who also served as a general in the US Army, important activities are the ones that help you achieve your goal. Urgent activities, on the other hand, require your immediate attention and are sometimes related to someone else’s goals.
Once you assign your tasks to each category, focus first on the important and urgent items. Then you can move on to the second category. You can schedule these activities for a particular time or day and then approach them with the right level of attention. After all, these are the tasks that will help you achieve your own goals, so you should give them some extra care.
Tasks form the third category, so not important but urgent, usually prevent you from achieving your goals. That’s why you can easily delegate or reschedule them for another time.
Finally, feel free to totally remove all the activities from the last category – these are only distractions, so you can cancel or ignore them with no remorse.
2. Try not to multitask
To make the best use of your time and brain power try to focus only on one task. It might seem counterintuitive, but multitasking really makes you less productive and is usually more time-consuming. Many studies have shown that our brain is not designed for heavy-duty multitasking. Switching from one activity to another actually costs more time and energy that we think we can save. The “switching costs” might be as low as a few tenths of second, but when you multitask constantly this time quickly adds up. What’s more, switching between the tasks regularly makes you more prone to errors.
Multitasking takes a toll on your time, productivity and energy, so do your best to get rid of this habit. Alternatively, you can find a golden middle and practise only “a less harmful form” of multitasking. This means pairing mindless tasks with focus-dependent tasks, for example walking a dog and taking a business or private call. However, even with this mild form of multitasking you can fail to register many important details.
You won’t waste any time if you choose to focus on a single activity only, quite the contrary – you’ll benefit from it much more. Try this approach for one day, and see how your mood and quality of your work changes.
3. Forget about perfection
Another approach that can prevent you from making the best use of your time is the constant strive for perfection. Sometimes perfectionism will help you achieve better results, but in most cases it will become your obstacle to move forward. As a freelancer you probably have a lot on your plate – administration, marketing, customer service, working on your customer’s projects, enhancing your skills… The list is long and there’s simply not enough time in a day to perfect every single detail. Perfectionism can also stop you from trying out new things and make you procrastinate with your work and ideas.
Remember that good enough is sometimes good enough. So instead of working hard to make everything 100% perfect, set your priorities and decide when to stop polishing your copy, prototype, project proposal, book, social media campaign – or anything else that you’re struggling to complete.
In most cases, done is better than perfect and being overly obsessed with the details won’t bring you closer to your goal.
4. Automate where possible
When you feel like running your business is a 24/7 activity, you might need effective strategies to save time and gain some breathing space. This is when automation comes in. Analyse your daily tasks to check which processes can be automated or grouped in one slot. For example, look at the tools you use at work – what can be done quicker and easier? Is your computer fast enough? Are your tools powerful enough to complete your work on time? Is there anything else you can do to speed up your administration, accounting or marketing? Automate tasks that are too time-consuming, such as issuing invoices manually or delegate tasks that aren’t your strong points. If you struggle with accounting or marketing, hire a professional to do it for you. It will save you a lot of time and energy that you can invest in your core activities.
With little tweaks here and there and with a couple of useful tools you can boost your productivity and learn to work more effectively. You don’t have to race against the clock, trying to juggle so many different activities essential for running your business. All you need is a good preparation and a reasonable approach to your daily tasks.
Over to you
Now it’s your turn. What do you think you can do today to better manager your time? Is there something you can eliminate, delegate or reschedule to fully focus on achieving your goals?