Time Management for your Small Business

Excerpted from FDIC Money Smart for Small BusinessesThe first step is to create a plan that prioritizes tasks (daily, weekly, monthly) for achieving your goals. Use the time management plan to help you prioritize work, maximize what can be accomplished in a day and maximize limited resources, identify critical areas for special attention and tasks that can be delegated, and track progress toward your goals.

An effective time management plan has five key elements:

  1. Clearly Defined Written Goals - What do you want to do? What do you want to be? What do you want to have? Your time management plan will be derived from these stated goals. When writing your goals, identify each of them as a short-term (quarterly), mid-term (12 months), or long-term (two to five years) goal.
  2. Break each Goal into Clearly Defined Tasks - To see and understand what actions are required to accomplish the goal and what resources are needed.
  3. Prioritization - Complete the most important tasks first as these generally have the greatest impact on your goals and, by extension, your bottom line.
  4. List of Important Ongoing Business Functions - Important business functions are not always directly related to a goal and are not listed as steps or tasks. However, these functions absolutely must be completed to continue business operations. Include them in your time management plan.
    • Daily:  check and reply to email; return phone calls; read and reply to mail
    • Weekly:  manage and maintain inventory; deposit funds; file all documents
    • Monthly: pay bills; attend a networking function
  5. Built in Flexibility - Estimate the time to complete each prioritized task so your daily plan allows for the timely completion of the most most important tasks. When scheduling, leave unscheduled time for flexibility.

Need help identifying what you want to accomplish?  Write, identify, test, and fine-tune your goals using the following SMART Goals format:

  • Specific—state the goal precisely.
  • Measurable—good measures allow you know when a goal is completed.
  • Attainable—resources needed to complete the goal are within your reach.
  • Relevant—the goal is applicable to your business.
  • Time Bound—the goal has a completion date or timeframe for being achieved.

Examples of SMART Goals:

  • I will move my business from my home into office space in less than four months from today.
  • This month I will research the benefits of leasing a copier versus buying a copier in time for when the current lease is up in 52 days.

Examples of goals that do not follow the SMART format:

  • I will get some new clients.
  • I’m going to write a marketing plan.

The next action is to identify the “who, what, when, where, and why” steps and tasks to complete your SMART goals.

Prioritization Processes:

Your tasks range in importance from extremely critical to success, to nice to have done, to truly would not matter much even if never done.  This is generally true for everyone.  The way you prioritize depends on your personal style and one of these processes should match:

  • Pareto Analysis:  The Pareto principle, upon which Pareto Analysis is based, is often referred to as the “80/20 rule”(20 percent of your effort produces 80 percent of the result.) For example, if your goal is $100,000 in sales, 20 percent of your effort toward this goal will result in $80,000 in sales. The remaining 80 percent of what you do will only result in the remaining $20,000. Use Pareto analysis to prioritize your time on tasks that produce the best overall result.
  • ABC method: Rank each task with the letter A, B, or C. The most important tasks are given the letter A, less important tasks the letter B, and the least important tasks the letter C. Once each task is assigned a letter, the subtasks for each task (A, B, and C) are further prioritized by number (1, 2, and 3). A task identified as A-1 is completed before task A-2, which is completed before task B-1, and so on through all the tasks. The ABC method can be combined with Pareto analysis. Do not confuse the ABC method of prioritizing with the process of breaking goals into steps and tasks, the essential step in developing your plan.
  • Eisenhower method: The Eisenhower method is named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” Take the tasks created from your goals, along with your ongoing business operational needs, and sort them into four categories:
  1. Urgent and important—do these tasks immediately.
  2. Important but not urgent—put these tasks on your calendar for at a later time.
  3. Urgent but not important—delegate these tasks to someone or assign the tasks to the lowest priority.
  4. Not important and not urgent—these tasks may never get done because tasks in the other three categories will take priority.
The Eisenhower method may work well for small business owners who are already highly organized planners because the method does not prioritize tasks to the level of detail as Pareto analysis or the ABC Method.
  • Prioritize by Organizing, Streamlining, Economizing, and Contributing (POSEC) Method:  The POSEC method assumes that to accomplish a goal, attention must be focused on daily responsibilities. Starting with “prioritize,” you move through each component of the POSEC method. The details of the POSEC method of time management are:
    • Prioritize—arrange your tasks in order of importance based on your goals and available amount of time.
    • Organize—provide a structure for your most basic tasks, especially those that are performed on a daily basis.
    • Streamline—simplify “nuisance” tasks, such as those tasks that are required for operations but are your least preferred tasks.
    • Economize—achieve those things you would like to do but fall low on your list of priorities.
    • Contribute—occurs when tasks are completed and you are able to “give back” to society or to those who are in need of your help. 

You’ve Chosen a Style, Now, Manage your Time 

After prioritizing your tasks for each day, estimate the time needed to complete each task on each day but do not fill up every minute. Allocate about 75 percent of your work day to tasks listed in your weekly time management plan. The remaining 25 percent provides time for breaks and for any unexpected issues. On days that go according plan, use the extra 25 percent of your time for additional networking, business development, handling lower priority tasks, organizing your work area, or research.

Working Your Plan

Goals do not get achieved by wishful thinking nor does your business succeed with just hopes and dreams. Your time management plan must work. To make your plan work, you must work your plan. Do not put your time management plan on a shelf to gather dust. Action is what moves items from being thoughts, ideas, and goals into reality.

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