Smart Time Management:
How To Make Better Use Of Your Time

by Tom Egelhoff

We've all heard the term "growing pains" from time to time. Sometimes this refers to an adolescent teenager who thinks they are wise beyond their years. But in this case I am referring to your business. As it grows you must become more efficient with your time to make sure all jobs and responsibilities are taken care of so your business runs smoothly.

The hardest growing pain in small business is reaching that point where you must give some of the responsibility to someone else. You are going to have to delegate some authority to someone who will not be as dedicated to your goals and business ideals as you are. No employee can approach a business with the same emotion as the owner. This isn't really a bad thing, it's just a fact of life. Even your most loyal employee have their own goals and dreams which may not include your business. See: "How To Lead & Motivate: Yourself and Your Employees" and "How To Get Employee Participation In Your Marketing Plan."

Where Do I Start?

When I started my first business I make the same mistakes many of you are probably making. I managed by reacting to what happened that day. Some one would come in with the problem and I made the reactive decision. Later on that same problem might require another decision because I had merely reacted instead of really studying the problem and forming a plan of action.

I know exactly what you're thinking, "I don't have time to study each problem that comes up." I know, I felt the same way. But I found as my business grew I had to plan my time better because decisions I was making affected other parts of the business that required even more decisions. I had to find a better way of managing my time so I could have the time to manage my business.

Effective Time Management Starts With Good Planning

I finally had to break down and get myself a daily planner. I knew there were certain things that I had to do each day. Return phone calls, write letters, answer email and make personal contacts and meetings. I found that setting aside some uninterrupted time in the mornings I was able to accomplish these tasks relatively quickly because I knew the time was there. Everyone knew not to disturb me during this time unless it was a major emergency. What ever it was could usually wait a couple of hours.

I also had to schedule time to consider and evaluate company projects. I have a vision for my company and where I would like it to go. I need time during the day to make decisions that may affect my company five or even ten years from now. I also need to meet with people who work with me (notice I didn't say FOR ME) and delegate tasks to them. I need to know my employees very well for this to work. Some are creative others are analytical. Different jobs may require different personalities. I also know that I'm not a morning person or a night person. I'm one of those people who is typing at 1:00 am and at a breakfast meeting the following morning at 6:00 am. I do some things better in the morning than I do at night and vice versa.

Are you a morning person or an evening person? You need to know this in order to schedule your decision making time for when you are at your best and thinking clearly.

Can It Be Done? Should It Be Done?

Before I decide if I'm going to put a project in my day timer I must decide whether or not it is important to the company, and if so, can it be accomplished in the time allotted. It may be a wonderful project for the company but we may be too busy to take it on at the current time. If may have to be put off while waiting for a more convenient time.

Setting Priorities

I usually prefer to get the jobs I don't like out of the way first. Otherwise, they are always in the back of my mind affecting my focus. It's also a weight off my shoulders and I can concentrate on the more pleasant aspects of my business. I also like to get the shorter easier tasks out of the way also. If I move to the longer harder projects and don't get them done then I not only have to push the big project to the following day but the smaller ones as well. In addition, getting the smaller projects out of the way make me feel like I'm accomplishing more each day.

The Last Thing I Do Each Day Is Plan For Tomorrow

Before I leave my office each evening and make that long 25 foot walk to the dinner table I make sure that I'm prepared for tomorrow. Are there research materials I'm going to need? I must assemble anything and everything so it doesn't infringe on my time tomorrow. There's nothing worse than wanting to tackle a project early and suddenly it's mid-morning by the time I have everything I need. If you were a Boy Scout as a kid then you know their motto is: Be Prepared.

Handling Interruptions And Emergencies

There are always going to be forces that move you off track. A plan must be flexible. You know you are going to get interruptions like phone calls, salespeople and deliveries. Develop a plan of attack to hold these at a minimum. Ask people who call if you can call them back at a set time and schedule that time and keep your word.. call them back. Train salespeople who call on you to show up at times of the day that you schedule. UPS and FedEx usually have a schedule and should be at your business about the same time each day. Schedule time to deal with them if you are the only one who can. Otherwise, delegate this to someone else.

Group Similar Projects Together

I answer a lot of email. Most of it is questions about business issues that require the same information. I try and group similar email questions together and I can cut and paste things like web site url's that will help the same people. I can answer email quicker and in more detail. This also lets me think about a question with many specifics that may require a more involved answer while I deal with one's that are more simple or generic.

Write Them Down

Each day there are specific things I want to accomplish. I will create headlines of those projects and write them on a board to keep them in my mind. Sometimes I get so involved with one project that I may forget about another equally important one. Writing them down reminds me of them and keeps me focused.

Reflect on your accomplishments

At the end of each day, before doing the next day planning described above, I reflect on what I've accomplished and what I wasn't able to get to. I also use this time to evaluate the day and what I could have done or not done to make it run more smoothly and learn from my mistakes.

The Last Word On Managing Your Time

If you were driving from California to Florida and were not allowed to use a map or look at any road signs, how long do you think it would take you to get there? Probably longer than if you had the luxury of a map and some directions.

I always have a better day when I plan it out. I'm going here, here and here. I have this project and that one. I'll do the one at this time the other at that time.

Time is limited, time is valuable.. don't waste it.

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