"Time is money." It's an old cliché, but every small business owner knows how valuable it is to make the most efficient use of the hours in the day.
In a survey of small business operators, business-management software firm Mavenlink found that 25 percent say that one extra hour in the working day would be worth more than $500 to them; 60 percent say that that an extra hour would be worth $200 or more. (See this infographic for more research from Mavenlink.)
A small business owner has to wear many hats. In fact, Mavenlink found that 76 percent of owners are filling from three to six employee roles in their businesses themselves.
No wonder, then, that owners are always looking for ways to manage their time better. What are some strategies that businesspeople are employing to help them get more out of their time - and stay sane in the process?
Computer solutions, online tools and mobile applications can offer many benefits for business owners looking for ways to be more productive. But the basic time-management arsenal has remained the same since the long-ago days when everything was done on paper:
Beyond those basic tools, effective entrepreneurs look for individual tools and practices that work well for their particular businesses and management styles.
Becky McCray of Hopeton, Okla., runs four highly diverse businesses, including a consulting service, a training service for tourism professionals, a liquor store and a cattle ranch. She tells Entrepreneur magazine that she sets a weekly goal for each business, then organizes her activities that week to meet those goals.
Drew Sharma, who manages 80 web sites through the two holding companies he owns, uses cloud-based services to manage his task list. Crucial to his management style is making sure that list is synchronized and available 24/7 on all of his electronic devices. "There's nowhere I go in the world where I don't have my iPhone, iPad or laptop. The task list is always with me," he tells Entrepreneur. Sharma even uses cloud services to share the list with his employees so they know his priorities.
Many small business owners subscribe to the adage, "If you want something done right, do it yourself." That can become a trap, though, says Eric Glering, vice president at BMO Financial Group of Chicago. Don't be afraid to delegate, he advises. Focus on the responsibilities and activities where you can provide the highest-value impact in your business. Hire good people, train them, treat them well and let them handle their responsibilities. Where necessary and possible, hire outside specialists.
David Allen, creator of the Getting Things Done system of work-life management, thinks the term "time management" is oversimplified. Allen explains that, "Time management is really agreement management. At the end of the day, how good you feel about what you did (and what you didn't do) is proportional to how well you think you kept agreements with yourself. Did you do what you told yourself to do? Did you accomplish what you think should have been accomplished?"
The task of managing our agreements, Allen believes, is complex. It requires a sophisticated and thorough personal system for "capturing and clarifying of all commitments - little, big, personal and professional - into a seamless system." Sometimes it also means making an agreement with yourself to say "no": "The degree to which you feel good about what you're doing is equal to the degree that you know what you're not doing, and have made that okay."
- The Calendar - Your grandfather might have carried a pocket calendar such as those manufactured by the venerable Day-Timer company. A paper calendar is as reliable a tool as ever, but one advantage of an electronic calendar is that you can program it to give you reminders about appointments, project due dates and regular tasks that must be done weekly, monthly and yearly.
- The To-Do List - Many effective businesspeople start their day by making a to-do list and prioritizing their tasks. The trick here is to give priority not to the tasks that seem most urgent or attractive, but those that will provide the most value to your business.
- The Idea-Collection System - Often neglected by businesspeople, one of the greatest productivity tools is simply a small pocket notebook where you can write down ideas immediately as they occur to you. Emphasis on "immediately" - if you wait until later to write down that innovative product idea, powerful sales pitch or brilliant new marketing tactic, chances are you will forget it. An electronic idea-collection tool can work as well. The important thing is to make it as easy as possible to capture new ideas and then institute a regular system for acting on them.
Infographic Credit: Mavenlink