Running a business is difficult. Starting one with little support can be nearly impossible. Add to that family commitments and personal commitments, and you'll quickly start to feel overwhelmed. But there is a two-word solution that most successful business owners will tell you is key to their success: time management.
As a busy entrepreneur and mother of six, here are some tips on how to stay afloat:
1. 'Calendarize' everything. Schedule everything you do in the day including driving, shopping, studying, reviewing documents – and include the time when you will finish the day. Having a clear idea of your downtime is just as important because no one can be effective if every minute of the day is busy. While it may take time up front to schedule your day, doing this will allow you to make the most of every hour of your day and make efficient use of your limited time.
2. Face difficult tasks at your peak. Generally, it's best to face the most challenging, tedious tasks in the morning. Why? Because counter to what you may think, the morning is generally when you are at your optimum performance level. Any follow up or repercussions can be managed during the same day, and you can breathe easier by putting the task behind you.
3. Organize. Don't start a 'file pile.' File everything as soon as it is completed. This will save you from wasting time looking for documents later. The same goes for contact names. Scan them into Outlook along with specific notes about people you meet. For example, where you met them, what relevance they are to your business or people you may have in common, etc. This helps down the road when you want to quickly revisit that person's profile to remind yourself of key details that they may have shared with you.
4. Delegate. Whether at the office or at home, when you have the right people working with you, you worry less. If your response to this statement is "I can't trust them", you have a problem. If fixing the problem isn't an option, then choose the simplest of the time-consuming tasks – those with a clear process, outcome and deadline – that you could assign comfortably to someone else. For example: compiling research for a document you need to write, filing, running errands, etc. This will clear some of the tasks off your plate and allow you to focus on those which require your personal attention.
5. Take advantage of technology. They call them smartphones, but are we smart enough to use them to their full capacity? Helpful apps and tools such as Skype, synching, calendar reminders, etc. are available at your fingertips – use them.
6. Prepare the night before. Take time in the evening to plan for the following day. Avoid a last minute scramble or risk forgetting something critical.
7. Every minute counts. If you are travelling or going somewhere where you will need to kill some time, download documents to a USB key and to your laptop. Long waits can be best filled by responding to e-mails or working through documents. Make sure your laptop is fully charged.
8. Reduce distractions. You can shut your door, turn down music or forward your phone messages, but this does not stop people from knocking on your door. Reducing distractions means training people around you to respect the time you have scheduled to focus on a task at hand.
9. Ask for an agenda or just say 'no.' The busier you are, the more people will demand your time. If you are invited to a meeting, ask for an agenda. If you learn that the meeting is about something that you are not suited for or is not in line with your business goals, then politely decline and suggest a person or company that may better suit their needs. You don't want to waste your time or theirs. If you are not prepared for what will be addressed in the meeting, ask for a later date. When time is limited, you need to prioritize how to best use those valuable hours. By organizing your meetings ahead of time you will find them to be more effective and efficient.
10. Focus. If you choose to do something, then be prepared and focus. Give your undivided attention to the task at hand whether it is a meeting or an event. If you do not stay in the moment, you'll miss something important and all of your preparedness will be for naught when you overlook a relevant detail.
Any small business owner will agree that time is money. Personal and financial success relies heavily on ability to manage your time effectively.
Ann Kaplan is the president and CEO of iFinance Canada. Established in 1996, it is the largest private non-bank consumer lender in the country. The company's largest business unit recently hit $200-million in consumer loans funded. A published author and the recipient of several entrepreneurship awards nationally and internationally, Kaplan was recently named as a finalist in the 2013 EY Canadian Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.