When you're running a small business, time management can be a huge challenge. With so much to do every day, it can seem like your to-do list always grows and never shrinks. If only the answer could be to find an eighth day of the week to help you get everything done!
Since there's no mythical eighth day of the week, it's critical that small business owners develop good time management skills.
To learn more about this challenge, The Alternative Board (TAB) surveyed small business owners to learn what the biggest time management challenges were.
(How does your day match up with the average business owner? Read the results of our time management survey on the TAB website.)
The tyranny of the urgent
What we learned echoes the challenges I hear from many business owners — they feel they aren’t spending enough time on activities that are truly critical to their businesses. In fact, our survey found that the average owner spends 34% of their time on tasks that are both important and urgent.
Looking at the survey, it's clear that many are too distracted by working in their business to be working on their business. Yet those tasks — like marketing, developing new products and services, forming strategic partnerships, and strategic planning — are what have the biggest impact on business growth. Plus, they’re the activities for which the business owner is most uniquely suited.
When asked how they could free up more time, some form of delegation was a common theme — delegate administrative tasks (56%), stop working below my pay grade (44%), and prevent employees from “upward delegating” tasks to me (41%).
Many small business owners have trouble delegating — both out of a desire to retain control, and because they don't feel they have the proper people to take the tasks. Budgeting concerns can be another issue. But trying to wear every hat in the business not only will burn you on the right long run, it will dilute your attention from the activities that will be most critical for business growth.
It’s clear that delegation is important, but it’s still a struggle for many business owners. Are you one of them?
Delegating lower-level tasks
Step 1: Pull a sheet of paper right now and write down everything you did today or this week — everything from driving to the store to pick up supplies to preparing for an important client meeting.
Step 2: Take a look at your list, and circle the items that only you can do. This might include things like nurturing an important client or seeking out new partnerships within the community. Be ruthless in this assessment, and you may be surprised at how few of the items on the list get circled.
Step 3: Decide which of the remaining items can you delegate to other members of your staff, or even to a virtual assistant if you're running a solo business. Write these on a separate list, titled “Tasks to Delegate”.
Step 4: Use this second list to make a plan. Choose a handful of items on the list that you can delegate out today, then come up with a strategy to take these items off your plate. Some tasks — like run to the office supply store — may be easy to delegate, but others may require extensive training, or even require hiring a new staff member. Maybe you can’t delegate them today, but set yourself a timeline, such as hire a virtual assistant by the end of the month, or train a staff member to take over invoicing duties this week.
To motivate yourself to follow through on your delegation plan, choose one or two high-level activities you don't currently have time for, but you know what would increase your business' profitability. Write these goals down and post them somewhere where you see them every day.
As a business owner, you should be spending as much time as possible on the tasks that only you can accomplish. Consider how much your own time is worth, versus the cost of hiring these out. If you choose to pay for bookkeeping services, can you commit to taking that time that is freed up to take a concrete action toward growing your business?
If you do, your business will certainly be better off for it.
To learn more about the challenges small business owners just like you face in managing their time — and what they do about it — go read the study on our website.