Essential skills for making the best use of your most valuable resource

What is time management? Quite simply, it’s finding the most effective way to use the finite resource of time to maximise your impact on the business. As an entrepreneur involved in all aspects of your company, it’s critical that you use each minute as wisely as possible.

Implement these key time management skills to boost your productivity.

1. Set priorities at the start of the day

We all know people who rush hither-and-thither, talking on their cellphone, shouting instructions to staff, and trying to serve customers at the same time. It looks impressive, but at the end of the day they frequently find that they’ve achieved very little – except exhaustion. The reason is that they’ve channelled their time and energy into ‘doing stuff’ rather than things that really matter. Take time each morning to allocate and prioritise tasks for the day – ‘A’ for ‘must do’; ‘B’ for ‘should do’ and ‘C’ for ‘nice to do if I have a moment’.

2. Review priorities at the end of the day

Take a few minutes at the end of the day to review which tasks have been accomplished and which need to be rolled over to the next day or some other future date in your diary. If you’ve done all the ‘C’ priorities and none of the ‘A’ priorities it indicates something’s amiss with your time management skills.

3. Don’t get sidetracked

Priorities’ mean just that – so once you’ve set them try not to be distracted. When unexpected issues come up (as they will) enter them into your diary with the appropriate level of priority, and then deal with them accordingly on the day you have allocated in your diary. Remember, the issue that’s accompanied by the loudest noise isn’t necessarily the most important one to deal with.

4. Allocate blocks of time for admin

If you allow it to, checking e-mails, returning calls and other general administration will consume your entire working day. Practice good time management by allocating, say, an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon to deal with these tasks. When that time is up, be ruthless and roll the tasks over to the next day, unless they are of critical importance.

5. Delegate and outsource

The words ‘entrepreneur’ and ‘delegate’ seldom appear in the same sentence, for the very good reason that most hard-charging entrepreneurs don’t believe that anyone else can do the job as well as they can! If you fall into this category, an essential part of good time management is to accept that you can’t do everything effectively – so learn to delegate or outsource where necessary. Some advice though: be sure that those you’ve delegated to, are sufficiently skilled and empowered to handle the task effectively. If you feel the need to continually check on everything they’re doing – or you have to re-do the task yourself because it’s badly done – then the whole strategy of delegating is futile.

6. Have a routine

While an entrepreneur can never expect to have a life of strict routine, a completely unstructured day makes for chaos and poor time management. Try to schedule regular activities like admin tasks, staff meetings, sales discussions etc at the same times each day (or week) and then slot in everything else around them.

7. Be organised

Do you spend too much time and energy looking for things? A dysfunctional filing system, whether in hard copy or on computer, can be an enormous drain on your already limited time. Allocate a few hours to re-organising your systems and then use them properly – no files left lying around your office (or the offices of others), simply because people are ‘too busy’ to put them where they should be!

8. Use down time effectively

Large chunks of our day are wasted on things like driving to meetings or waiting to see customers. Try to use this time effectively by making routine calls while you’re on the road, for example, or read the monthly sales reports while you’re waiting at a client’s premises.

9. Follow the 80-20 principle

Remember that 20% of your activities will probably be responsible for generating 80% of your business. So focus ruthlessly on the 20% that is most vital and productive for the organisation as a whole. The other 80% of activities can be slotted into your schedule when you have the time. Or, better still, delegate them to someone else.

10. Make appointments with yourself

When you have key tasks to accomplish, it’s not enough to just enter them into you daily diary with an ‘A’ priority. Rather, make an appointment ‘with yourself’ and then treat it just the same as you would if you were meeting with a customer – in other words, a non-negotiable timeslot with all other tasks for the day fitting in around it.

11. Just do it!

It works for Nike and it can work for you! Don’t procrastinate over tasks that are unpleasant or intimidating – and don’t spend time thinking up and rationalising excuses for putting it off until another time. If it’s in your diary, do it now and then move on. After all, you’ve got plenty of other tasks waiting in the queue!

One last thing: For some reason a great many busy people seem to get satisfaction from telling others how ‘busy’ they are; how many business trip they have lined up, how many clients they have to call on this week, etc. The fact is that nobody cares and it doesn’t elevate your status in their eyes. Plus, if you really have that much to do then you don’t have time to waste talking about it!