Most challenges SMBs face stem from a single issue: there just isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. This leaves paperwork not filed, follow-up emails never sent, and an ever-growing to-do list that rolls over into the next day, every day.
Dealing with a lack of time and the stress that comes along with it is not sustainable and will turn your business into a constant reminder of what is keeping you from enjoying a few minutes of free time. You started your own business for the freedom it provides, not to add more burden on yourself.
Rest assured, this is not the way it has to be! By taking a few deliberate steps you can begin to wrangle in your ever-growing to-do lists and recapture some of those elusive minutes that everyone in a Kit-Kat commercial seems to have. Managing your business more efficiently will be an ongoing process as it grows and evolves, but by focusing on four core steps you can do so in a manner that gets you your weekends back.
First things first. Organize everything that needs to be done and get it all on one master list. If there are to-dos written down on a post-it or on page two of your inbox, they will haunt you at the most inopportune times. Now is a great time to be honest with yourself on everything that needs to be done, no matter how much you don’t want to do it.
As you organize your projects and any to-dos that you have, try and categorize similar tasks. This will help you identify any duplication or overlap and begin to consolidate a few.
Right now order of this list doesn’t matter. Just get it all in one spot!
With a nice list of everything you have to do, the next step is to prioritize these to-dos so you have a place to start. Prioritizing will also help you place value on specific tasks which will help later on.
When prioritizing, you’ll want to look at a few variables: Time to completion, value of output, and additional resources needed are a good place to start.
Time to completion: Think about how long this to-do will take you. If it helps, break it down into smaller pieces and don’t be afraid to be liberal with your time. Optimism is a great personality trait to have, but if it means constantly over-promising deadlines, you’ll get behind.
Value of Output: What value will completing each specific task provide to your business? While sorting through the overflowing file cabinet may be a simple task, spending your time sending out invoices will provide a better return for your business. The file cabinet restructure can wait.
Additional Resources: Will the to-do require you to use a tool or another person to get it done? If so, consider the effect this has on the time it takes to complete something and its value. Again, teaming up with an employee to rearrange the office might seem important, but in reality it’s taking away the time they could be using to follow-up with a potential new customer.
With value and time assigned to each item, you can begin to structure your list and put everything in the order it needs to get done. You’ll want to focus on the high value projects first. If some take longer than others, see if you can break them apart into smaller, more manageable pieces. If not, block time off on your schedule and knock it out.
As you work through major chunks of your list, you’ll want to constantly re-prioritize it. While some items may get rolled over each time, that’s ok. You’re trying to focus on things that move your business forward, and if something won’t, it can wait.
Now that you know where to start, it’s really time to make some cuts and get your list down. The best way to shrink that list? Delegate.
If a to-do doesn’t require your eyes to have it done, pass it along.
If you are a one-man operation you can hire contractors and freelancers on a project basis to handle work as it comes in. This is great if you don’t need them consistently and they can handle one-offs. This is also perfect for administrative tasks like accounting. Have someone work part time, or come tax season have an accountant handle it.
If you already have employees, or your budget allows for someone to be hired, the time that they free up will provide more value than the salary you pay them. They’ll be able to handle the administrative tasks while you steer your organization and continue to work on growth opportunities.
Delegating the more mundane work will get you out of the quicksand that is the to-do treadmill. You can focus on value added activities that keep your business growing.
The final step to getting your sanity back is to automate. This step will run in parallel to delegate and helps to take even more off of your list.
While most tasks need a human element, there are a surprising number of them that won’t or can be minimized. This is where automation comes into play. By using a tool or creating an internal process, you can make repetitive or straightforward tasks automatic—and instantly get your time back.
For example, when it comes to billing your clients you can use a payment processing platform with invoicing capabilities to automatically have invoices sent. This process typically involves you adding the customer, inputting the fee, and clicking submit. Never again will you need to fire up the word doc and recreate an invoice. Even better, if you have clients that you see on a recurring schedule you only have to create the invoice once. From then on it will be automatically sent.
It even works for scheduling. Rather than having customers call or email you, and playing phone tag all afternoon, you can use a scheduling tool like BookSimple. Your availability will be up to date and in a few clicks your customers can schedule their appointments. Reminders and follow-ups are handled automatically.
Now that you’ve combed through your list, prioritized what needs to be done first, and passed on those tasks that are best done by someone else (or let’s be honest, stuff you don’t want to do), you can revel in the glory that is free time.