We hear a lot about the need to encourage the creation of small, entrepreneurial businesses in order to generate jobs and grow the economy, but less is said about just how difficult it is to turn that great idea into a sustainable business. Many small businesses never achieve their true potential because the entrepreneur who started them is swamped by the need to handle business admin – running the business – and to service clients. Clearly, both are important, and the neglect of one will ultimately affect the other.
The same challenges face individuals working for more established companies, except they have colleagues and existing systems to call upon. While the pressure might be as great, there is maybe a little more leeway.
For both, learning how to manage one’s time effectively is the key to success. Use these simple techniques to get the most of the hours you have at your disposal.
Set a basic time schedule, and prioritise tasks
The first thing is to understand exactly what needs to be done – sometimes this is harder than it sounds – and then work out when you will do each thing. Part of the exercise will involve prioritising tasks, and many commentators advise doing the most important ones first.
This approach also gives one a sense of accomplishment that can provide the motivation to get through less vital, but still essential tasks. In this way, you will use the time you have wisely and establish a sense of control.
It is also wise to set time limits for tasks – only spend as much time as the task warrants.
Create optimal work conditions
Having established what needs to be done when, make sure you get through the work. Focus is essential, and you can help create it by reducing distractions. Basic techniques would be to put your cell phone on silent, close down unnecessary tabs on the PC, close the office door. It’s not possible to eliminate interruptions entirely, but unnecessary ones are very destructive. Similarly, keep your workspace clutter free: The appearance of order is soothing and conducive to orderly thinking.
Work smarter, not harder
As part of prioritising tasks, spend some time regularly looking at what you do and eliminate processes that are unnecessary, or streamline others. A related technique is to learn how to say no – entrepreneurs are by their nature people who see opportunities, and these can be distracting.
Remember what is important and keep focused on that. Another technique for working smarter is to group similar tasks together. Get all the work related to figures done at once, and then make the shift to another mode of thinking, rather than trying to switch between unrelated types of tasks.
Make the most of time
Focus is critical, as noted above, but take a leaf out of many top achievers’ books and start your day early, when your mind is fresh and there are fewer distractions. And why not use some precious weekend time sensibly.
While weekends are important for recharging, it’s surprising how just an hour or two of work on a weekend can reduce the pressure for the following week.
Turn good behaviours into habits
Habits can be great tools, or great hindrances. Consciously identify things you need to do regularly, and turn them into habits. There are techniques for doing this. Once something has become a habit, it seems easy and quick to do. More difficult, identify bad habits that waste time, and set out to change them.
Look after yourself
If you are not physically and mentally at the top of your game, all the time management in the world will be in vain. Get enough sleep (seven to eight hours is needed), exercise regularly and eat healthily.
It is also important to find activities that recharge your mental and spiritual batteries through periods of quietness. For many, this can be combined with exercise in a pleasant, natural setting – but finding time to be still within oneself is very important.
The final – and perhaps best – piece of time-management advice would be to remember to have fun. We can become too focused on getting things done, but life is to be enjoyed. Think of how to do the things you need to do in a way that is fun. In the words of the singer Marc Anthony: “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”