Small business are great in the sense of the amount of freedom they bring and their agility when it comes to changing direction or seizing on new opportunities. One of the downsides is that it's common in small businesses to find everyone, from the owner down, having to take on more than one responsibility (I always smile when I talk to friends in big web development firms when they talk about the design department, the design, department, back-end developers, client managers and of sales).
One of the biggest challenges for a every small business owner is managing their time efficiently. By efficiently I probably mean productively! Because confusing being busy with being productive is a real business problem here are some ideas to keep your activity productive and profitable.
Keep track of what you are doing.
If you are to have any chance of working efficiently you need to know exactly how you are using your time. Doing a 'time-audit' is a great way for you to understand your work-flow practices now and to help you plan for the future. A time-audit can be as simple or as complicated as you like and there is a lot of help online to help you with the structure. I use a simple three step process.
Understand the importance of routine.
I always use my teaching days as the perfect example of routine and time-tabling. I would arrive at work at a set time and then a series of bells directed me and the children for the rest of the day. At any moment in the working day I would know what I was supposed to do, where I was supposed to do it and how long it was supposed to take. The only latitude was what I chose to focus on during each lesson. Even then in the early days this meant working to a tightly scripted lesson plan. The whole thing reminds me of Russian dolls in the sense that the the school year provided one skeleton, the daily timetable provided another and the lesson plan provided another. Now just take a moment to compare that with the freedom and flexibility of a small business. The trick is not to let the freedom beat you.
One of the biggest problems I find with people working in small businesses, especially with owners and bosses is the temptation to be 'on-call' 24/7. They never turn off. This list not sustainable for the individual or the business. Breaks must be included in any timetable. Remember the Russian doll principle? Define a working day, define social time, take a long break as in a holiday, take regular medium daily breaks as lunch, and micro breaks to clear the mind and refocus (making a cup of coffee does it for me).
Work very rarely comes in unbroken blocks. Often we find ourselves with 10-15 minutes to fill. I tend to overcome this by dividing my 'to-do-list' into three distinct clusters. Firstly there is the work of the day that has to be done. Secondly there is the ongoing 'housekeeping' that never ends and finally there is the bits-and-pieces that in themselves are so trivial that they never seem to get done. A recent example of that for me was a pile of receipts that had to be sorted. A 10 minute chore that normally gets done only when the bookkeeper shouts.
Accept that productive multi-tasking is a myth.
Focus on one thing at a time. That's not to say that you can't work on more than one thing, just don't do it simultaneously. These days I work on something exclusively until my concentration starts to fade at which point, I finish off at a place that will make it easy for me to pick it up later. Then I turn my attention to something else. I really do find that 'a change is as good as a rest'.
Consider using management software and apps.
The digital tools available to day have come too late for me. I am still in the mindset of managing my time with handwritten notes on my tablet and alarms on my phone. But it's not lost on me that there are many amazing tools that can help you structure your life. Apps like 'Toggl' and 'Rescue Time' seem to be highly thought of, but I have no first hand experience of either.
Time management has always been one of the biggest challenges people face. It's just harder now in the 24/7 technological world we live in. The great news is that it only takes a small shift in focus to bring big rewards in terms of productivity.
Hopefully this blog provide some insight into what we offer, provide inspiration for you to build the website you have always wanted and help with developing your business generally.