Time management is essential for running a successful business, but it can be difficult to know how to get started. Especially for founders and small business owners, it can already feel like there are barely enough hours in the day; time management can often fall to the backburner simply because time warrants a reactive response instead of proactive planning. With endless hours and unexpected roadblocks along the way, it’s no wonder that more and more people are experiencing burnout far before they ever reach productivity.
Knowing that you need to improve your time management skills is one thing, but determining exactly how to do that can be much more complicated. At MainStreet, we work with thousands of founders and SMB owners every day. Here are the top tips we’ve learned from our customers for improving time management and overall productivity for your growing company:
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1. Create next week’s schedule the Friday before
We’re all tempted to close our computers at the end of a long week and come back refreshed on Monday. However, before you log off for the weekend, try making a list of priorities to tackle in the week ahead.
The end of a productive week tends to be when you have the clearest view of what’s coming next. Taking some time to plan for the upcoming week on Fridays allows you to start the week with clear goals and expectations. This is also helpful in ensuring that incomplete tasks are carried over to the next week instead of falling through the cracks.
2. Adopt a scalable prioritization system
Your company’s priorities may change over time, especially as your business grows. Knowing how to adjust your priorities in order to align with your current workstream is an important time management skill. This step makes it easier to ensure that your company’s organization and prioritization strategies continue to work in tandem.
As your business grows, it’s essential to revisit this alignment and make sure that your system for prioritization works at scale.
3. Avoid the trap of multitasking
Multitasking may seem like the most reasonable way to get more done in less time, but it’s virtually impossible to give your full attention to two (or more) tasks at once. This method often forces you to compromise your skill level, giving a percentage of what you could to multiple priorities instead of 100% to each.
An inability to focus completely on one thing often eats up more time and causes more mistakes (and time to fix those mistakes) down the road.
4. Outsource cost-saving functions
Speaking of multitasking, you don’t need to handle every task yourself. Whether that means delegating in-house or outsourcing to an expert, you’re not alone. Outsourcing certain tasks to a trusted third party can be an easy way to delegate items on your to-do list.
Sure, many aspects of your business can be handled internally. But there are some benefits to working with experts. Consider services where you may not be well-versed, like contract negotiation or vendor management. Outsourcing these tasks can allow you to get back to building your business with added peace of mind.
5. Identify where you’re wasting the most time
Pinpointing the specific areas where you’re wasting the most time can be challenging, but it is an important step in determining where you need to make changes. This could mean eliminating online distractions, like social media or constant Slack messages, or setting up a workspace away from pets or kids.
Instead of lamenting these distractions, try to build new ways to avoid them. Set up calendar blocks for focus time and enforce them with your team and any incoming notifications. Move admin tasks to a time of day when you know you’ll be able to put your head down and focus without outside disturbances. Find what works best for you and watch your productivity improve.
6. Hire with intention
Trying to limit your staff in an effort to save money can actually limit your company’s productivity. A team can only be spread so thin before experiencing burnout. Consider which roles will contribute most to your roadmap and invest time in hiring the right people.
Creating coverage across teams and balancing workloads evenly will have a profound effect on overall productivity. This shift will allow workers to focus on their prescribed tasks instead of attempting to balance additional responsibilities outside their job descriptions.
7. Take breaks, and make them count
As much as it may feel counterproductive to stop working when you are in the middle of a task, breaks are essential to give yourself time to reflect, recover, and recharge. Continuing to work instead of taking a quick break will often cost you far more wasted time than stepping away from your screen for a few minutes. Take a short break at least once an hour to walk around your workspace. Eat a snack. Tackle a small personal task. Any of these breaks can actually help you be more productive when you get back to your desk.
Creating a cadence that includes both work and reasonable breaks will help you stay focused and attentive at the right times. Sometimes, taking a break from productivity is exactly what you need to actually be productive.
8. Host meetings with a purpose
There’s nothing worse than a meeting that could have been an email. Not every issue that comes up in your company requires a lengthy in-person (or Zoom) discussion. Instead, consider hosting meetings for subjects that require time and conversation to properly address. Reserving meetings for when they are absolutely needed saves time and signals to your team that a particular subject is truly important.
It’s also important to consider context and attendance. Not every meeting requires every team member. Be sure to include relevant stakeholders and give time back to those who can review the high-level details in a post-meeting brief. Showing respect for people’s time and workloads is an easy way to boost morale and show your peers that you recognize how valuable their time is.
9. Know when you do your best work
Assuming that we’re all productive in the same way is like saying that we’re all morning people. It simply isn’t true. Everyone has a time of day that works best for their best work. Identifying when you tend to have the easiest time staying focused plays an important role in creating your strategic schedule.
Whether you tend to be the most alert and motivated first thing in the morning, right after lunch, or in the evenings, plan to make the most of those working hours. By moving time- or labor-intensive tasks within your optimal productivity window, you’re setting yourself up for success.
10. Expect the unexpected
No matter how well you plan out your work schedule, chances are not everything will go according to plan. Unexpected distractions or emergencies will happen eventually, so creating an inflexible schedule with no room for error can derail you even further.
Build in more time for yourself to complete longer tasks and have a backup plan, just in case. It can help to keep diligent context notes, both for delegating last-minute tasks where needed and for keeping yourself accountable if a distraction pulls you away. This way, if you run into a problem it won’t set off a chain reaction that makes it impossible to finish on time.
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Time is a valuable resource. Don’t waste it.
At MainStreet, we help founders save both time and money by providing solutions for working smarter, not harder. From tax credits to contract negotiation and vendor management, we save startups thousands of dollars and countless hours every day.