Don't let it slip away ... key wasters of time are the telephone, visitors and paperwork.

Don't let it slip away ... key wasters of time are the telephone, visitors and paperwork. Photo: istock

For small business owners it can seem like there’s never enough time in the day.

Countless little tasks and interruptions eat away at the day and stop the business owner spending time trying to grow their business or spending time with their families.

Tim Mazzarol, Winthrop Professor specialising in entrepreneurship, innovation, small business management, marketing and strategy at the University of Western Australia, says business owners should keep track of how they spend their time by dividing the day into 15 or 30 minute chunks and keeping a log. After two weeks they’ll have an idea of how much time they’re wasting.

“How much of that time was spent achieving the strategic goals of the business and how much was spent doing things that probably could have been put off or not at all?” he says. “Business owners often don’t realise how much time they’re spending on things that are unnecessary.”

TO DO LIST

The first thing to do is to draw up a to-do list with a list of tasks, ranked according to their importance and when they need to be done by. This will ensure tasks get done by deadline and none get forgotten. Check the list as you go through the day.

A to do list with all – or even most – of the items ticked off at the end of the day can be very satisfying.

BE CLEAR ABOUT YOUR OUTCOMES

Anthony Idle of Balance Business Coaching says too many business owners don’t have clear objectives about what they want to achieve and so end up wasting a lot of time.

“If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve you might start taking action and never arrive anywhere,” he says. “You might get down a particular track and you’re further away than when you started.”

In a similar way to having a business plan, business owners should keep a list of the projects they have underway to allow them to reach their goals rather than just undertaking tasks on an ad hoc basis. “If you don’t have a business plan you’re bumbling along dealing with whatever shows up on that day or week or month,” he says.

BUNCH SIMILAR TASKS TOGETHER

Idle also recommends keeping lists of similar tasks, such as phone calls to make, reading to be done, errands and computer tasks.

This has a couple of advantages.

“You can get all those small, awkward bits of time used,” says Idle. For instance, if you have a list of all the phone calls you need to make, you could use a spare 10 minutes between appointments to get a couple out of the way.

The second advantage is that it helps with prioritising tasks. A business owner might have a dozen things they need to read and seeing them all laid out in a list would allow them to decide which is the most important and has to be read immediately.

BREAK WORK INTO CHUNKS AND STOP PROCASTINATING

One of the key reasons people procrastinate is that they have a large or complex project to undertake and don’t know how to begin. Executive coach Linda McDonald of Corporate Learning recommends breaking the task into small chunks that can be more easily undertaken.

“If you don’t see it as a great big whole, but break it down into parts then you can do step one and then you’ve started on it and you get a little bit of satisfaction from having started,” she says.

USE DOWNTIME

McDonald also recommends using what would otherwise be wasted time – such as in a doctor’s waiting room or on an aeroplane – to catch up on tasks like business reading.

MAKE APPOINTMENTS WITH YOUSELF

Mazzarol says businesses owners should make appointments with themselves to concentrate on important tasks that need to be done without interruption. That way the time is blocked out and won’t be subject to other demands.

“One of the most important things you can do is seize control of your time and make appointments with yourself,” he says. “You’ve got to say to yourself, what are the sort of things that are A-level tasks that I really need a bit of time on my own to do.”

Key wasters of time are the telephone, visitors and paperwork. He recommends setting aside specific times for telephone calls and trying to limit them to three minutes.

Shut your office door to send a message to would be visitors that you are not available and set aside specific times to take visitors. Another tip is not to invite visitors to sit down – they’ll leave more quickly if they’re standing.