Time is the only one true fixed resource. Having a finite amount of time to complete any task makes time management an integral part of an organization. Entrepreneurs often have difficulty balancing their planning and organizing while simultaneously entertaining potential customers. What most don’t realize is that the time they have is very limited, and not all responsibilities carry the same weight. The good news is that time management skills can be acquired and sharpened.
What is Your Goal?
The reason your business exists is probably the same reason most for-profit businesses exist, to make money. As strange as it may sound, people often lose sight of this simple truth and exhaust themselves on matters that don’t bring in the profits they need. Small businesses and entrepreneurs cannot afford to not make money, so be sure you spend your time on items that are closely tied to your bottom line. As your business grows, you will be afforded the ability to invest into matters that are indirectly tied to your success, such as community events and fundraisers, but initially non-money-making events can push you closer to closing your doors.
Invest Into Your Competitive Advantage
As a small business and entrepreneur you have a clearly defined competitive advantage, right? I have discussed previously the factors of competitive advantage, but it is worth addressing again. The value you bring to your customers is directly tied to the money you will make. As you conduct business, it is wise to spend time identifying your customer’s needs. Continually refining and building your competitive advantage is time well-spent. Markets change, which causes the needs of your customers to fluctuate, and a wise business owner will know where the trends are headed and position themselves to take full advantage of future developments.
Small business is often in the business of quick turnarounds, which may even be the bulk of your competitive advantage. If this is the case, I don’t need to tell you why time management will help your company succeed.
Have You Exceeded Your Capacity?
Sole proprietors can often find themselves at the end of their rope because they are the entirety of their business and they can’t justify bringing in some help. The truth is that growth will be much faster when capacity is not maxed out. Having a growth strategy and increasing your capacity can be the first step towards a well-managed organization and additional time to do what you want. In project management, buffers are introduced to account for variability, and the same principle applies to individuals. If you don’t have a buffer of down time in your schedule, your overall productivity will decline. As a resource reaches 70% of its capacity, its throughput begins to decline. Use this metric to determine if you need help, and increase the capacity of your organization each time it reaches the 70% mark.
Are You Multitasking? STOP IT!!!
Few things are as detrimental to completing a project as multitasking. We have been conditioned to believe that multitasking is a good skill that should be practiced and admired. The truth is that multitasking is the culprit behind more unfinished projects than anything else. The specifics of this can be explored in the article “Successful Habits.” The short of it is that multitasking pushes every task out to be completed at the end of your allotted schedule as opposed to finishing single tasks early.
There is a cognitive lag that occurs when you switch your thinking from one focus to another. This means that time is lost as you stop thinking about one issue and begin thinking about the next. Your brain operates much like a fly wheel that starts off slow, picks up speed, and then requires time to slow down. Jumping from task to task requires you to get up to speed, complete the task, and then slam on the brakes for the next transition. You can see how this can become exhausting as well as time consuming. If you stick to one task until it is complete you will finish faster and probably do a better job.
Follow the Pareto Principle
The Pareto Principle is most commonly referred to as the 80/20 rule. 80% of the spoils come from 20% of the effort. By leveraging this principle you can be sure that your time is spent working towards your goal of making money and not spent treading water. Prioritizing according to Pareto can be tricky because 80% of the things that you could spend your time on won’t help your bottom line. Learning how to sift through the noise to get to what really matters is a skill that must be actively practiced.
A tool that can help you with applying the Pareto principle is Stephen Covey’s time-management matrix, explored in the article “Small Business Resource Management.” The matrix identifies the relation of urgency to importance and establishes four quadrants of time consumption. This offers a great starting point for identifying which tasks you may want to off-load to an employee and which ones you should invest in a little more.
There is no wrong way to approach how you manage your time, but there are most certainly better ways to go about your business. It should be noted that individual work habits and personalities will respond differently to the techniques shared above. Keep your mind open to new approaches, adopt what works, and ignore what doesn’t.
Personally, I have found that I am my biggest roadblock, and breaking through my own predispositions had afforded me more time than anything else. This is especially true for you perfectionists out there. Perfection is the enemy of completion. A good job done on time is better than a perfect job completed late.