As a small business owner, you can always hire more employees or purchase more equipment. But there’s one resource that you’ll always have a limited amount of–you’re time.
Learning how to stop wasting time is simple if you are willing to do things like time-tracking, list weekly priorities, get rid of distractions like your phone, and reduce the number of meetings you have to attend.
The problem is that time-wasters can come disguised as meetings, emails, and all kinds of things that look like work. But in order to grow your business, you’ll want to spend more time on high-value tasks and less time on things that don’t really impact your bottom line.
If you feel like time management is something that you’re struggling with as a business owner, here are seven tips for how to stop wasting time.
1. Track How You’re Spending Your Time
If you have suspicions that you’re wasting time, there’s one easy way to find out. Spend a week tracking all your activities during your workday.
I’ve done this multiple times throughout my career. At times, my bosses have asked their staff members to do this and other times I decided to do it on my own.
And I can tell you that every time I’ve tracked my time, it’s been an eye-opening experience. It’s incredible how little actual work we get done sometimes when you take into account all the interruptions and distractions divert our attention away from our goals and priorities.
If you’re willing to face the music, time tracking can be your first step towards higher productivity. To get started, you can simply grab a yellow pad and write down your activities throughout the day. Or if you’d like something a little more advanced, there are several great online time trackers out there.
If you currently use a small business accounting software, there’s a good chance they may have a built-in time tracker. But you could use an independent tool as well, like Clockify, Toggl, or Avaza.
Related: How To Be Productive: 5 Tips For Increasing Productivity In Your Business
2. Schedule Your Week In Advance
At the end of every workweek, spend about 30 minutes thinking through your priorities for the next week. And then get those priorities added to your calendar.
If you don’t plan out your week, other people will gladly steal your time. Even if you don’t work in a setting where you have a lot of meetings throughout the week, maintaining a work calendar will be key to your success.
And once you get accustomed to scheduling things on a weekly basis, you may even want to add some monthly priorities to your calendar as well. Priorities that stay in our heads are ideas. Once they get on paper (or on our digital calendars) is when they become actual goals.
By scheduling your week (and to some extent your month) in advance, you’ll ensure that your goals and priorities are being addressed each week.
For more ideas on time management and how to avoid becoming a “slave to the urgent,” check out this Ted Talk from Rory Vaden.
3. Write Down Your Day’s Top Three–Seven Priorities
When you’re doing your weekly planning, you’ll be dealing in large blocks of time. For instance, if you own a real estate agency, the following goals may be on your weekly calendar in between your scheduled meetings:
- Hire a new agent
- Follow-up phone calls to new client leads
- Research advertising options
- Strength relationships with area businessmen and women (mortgage brokers, title companies, etc.)
- Create a customer appreciation campaign for our former clients.
These are great goals to have on the calendar. But most of them are actually processes that will require several steps in order to complete.
Break Things Down
That’s why if you want to keep from wasting time, you need to break your processes down into actionable steps. Take either the first 10 minutes of your workday or the last 10 minutes of your previous workday to come up with three-seven action steps that are your priorities for the day.
For example, when it comes to hiring a new agent goal, here a few examples of action steps you may want to take.
- Create a job listing on ZipRecruiter
- Review submitted job applications and resumes
- Call the top five candidates to schedule interviews
- Create an onboarding/training document for new hires
These tasks are better they’re actionable goals that you could accomplish within a two to four-hour block of time.
Breaking your long-term goals into smaller pieces like this can make it easier to experience daily “wins” and avoid feeling overwhelmed. And the less you feel overwhelmed, the less you’ll turn to YouTube or Facebook to waste time.
Once you’ve broken down your big priorities into smaller tasks, you may identify tasks that could be better delegated or outsourced. For instance, if you’re not skilled (or interested) in accounting, that may be a good task to delegate.
Learn why accounting is important for your business.
Administrative tasks, accounting, and social media management are all tasks that you may want to consider outsourcing. And when you use a company like Cloud Friday to handle these tasks, it could cost you a lot less than hiring a full-time employee.
Learn more about the services that Cloud Friday offers business owners.
Related: How To Hire An Assistant
4. Set Specific Times To Respond To Emails And Voicemails
Ok, so you have your goals for the week all set up and you even have your day’s priorities laid out.
And then you continually get distracted by emails and phone calls. Emails and voicemails can kill your productivity. That’s why it’s a great idea to schedule certain times to respond to them.
Some people have a habit of waiting to check their email until noon. But in certain industries, this may not be realistic. Instead, you may want to plan to check emails and voicemail at the beginning of the day, mid-day, and then end-of-day.
A study from the University of British Columbia found that the average person checks their email 15 times a day. But they also found that their stress level reduced significantly when they limited checking their emails to just three times a day.
Learn more about the negative effects that checking email too often can have on productivity.
5. Put Your Phone On “Do Not Disturb”
There’s nothing like being in the flow of a job when your phone “dings” with a Facebook or Instagram notification. And then all of a sudden, you realize you’ve wasted 15 minutes looking at your friend’s dog photos.
That’s why if you really want to know how to stop wasting time, limiting phone distractions will probably be important. In fact, if you need certain blocks of uninterrupted time, you may want to put your phone on “Do Not Disturb” mode.
I do this all the time. I have my phone’s “Do Not Disturb Mode” set up where phone calls and texts from key family members still come through. So I don’t have to worry about missing an emergency…just my friend’s Taco Tuesday photos.
For more ideas on how to limit distractions from our tech, check out this Ted Talk from Chris Bailey.
6. Limit “Drive-By” Meetings
If you’re a manager, you may find that your assistants are knocking on your door all throughout the day to ask you questions.
While there are times that your workers will need to get an answer from you on a question immediately, many times the conversations can wait. And if you want to know how to stop wasting time, they may need to wait.
Encourage those who you manage to keep a list throughout the week of questions that they think of and then you can cover them all at one time during a weekly meeting. By limiting drive-by meetings and replacing them with scheduled meetings, you’ll be able to stay on task more often throughout the week and avoid wasting time.
Another idea for cutting down on meeting times would be to put “No Meetings Days” on the calendar and enforcing the policy.
Also, keep in mind that, as a business owner or top-level manager, you don’t shouldn’t feel obligated to be present at every single meeting. If you need to capture more time throughout the workweek, you may need to get more comfortable with declining invitations to meetings that can be handled without your presence.
For more ideas on how to have productive meetings in the workplace, check out this Ted Talk from David Grady.
7. Plan Out Your “Idea” Times
One of the things that can scare people like me who have a creative bent is that if our weeks get uber-scheduled we won’t have opportunities to think, dream, and create.
We resist scheduling because we think it will cause the creative side of us to shrivel up and die. But actually the opposite can be the case.
Personally, I’ve scheduled big blocks of “idea time” on my monthly calendar for years.
I give myself two to three hours to research what other competitors are doing well, dream about what I could do better in my business, and think about ideas for growth.
And then whatever I come up with during these brainstorming sessions gets added to my goals for the next month. Scheduled creativity may sound like an oxymoron, but it actually works. You should totally give it a shot.
Related: 5 Tips For Achieving A Better Work-Life Balance
If you’re wanting to know how to stop wasting time at work, there is no simple fix. Focusing on priorities and limiting distractions are daily challenges for all of us. But by using the seven strategies found in this guide, you’ll hopefully find it easier to spend time on the priorities that really move your business.