The more technology automates our lives, the less time we seem to have each day. Any available second is filled with responding to e-mail, managing social media sites, and dealing with billing and payroll. Aside from sacrificing sleep, many business owners aren’t sure how to squeeze an extra fifteen minutes out of a day, let alone an hour or two.
“The small business owners we work with know that their most valuable – and limited resource – is their time,” Brett Owens, CEO and co-founder of automatic time-tracking software Chrometa, says. “And they also realize that the biggest predator on their time is interruptions…with emails and phone calls consistently being reported as the biggest offenders.”
1) Overhaul Your E-Mail Habits
It’s probably no surprise to find that e-mail decreases productivity. We’ve become attached to our inboxes, checking e-mail almost obsessively to see if some urgent message has arrived. Outlook’s notification feature doesn’t help–we can barely complete a single task on our PCs without an e-mail notification popping up to distract us.
One efficiency-booster recommended by experts is to limit the number of times a day you check your e-mail. Once or twice an hour should be sufficient to catch any emergency that comes your way. If you’re still reluctant, try putting off e-mail for an hour and see how much you accomplish. Or, better yet, use automated software to analyze just how much of your day is consumed by checking and responding to e-mail.
Chrometa’s Outlook, Gmail, and Mac Mail plug-in help with billing by tracking how much time you spend on each e-mail. But this valuable tool can help even those businesses that don’t bill by the hour determine just how much time is spent answering e-mails.
2) Keep a Schedule
Whether your schedule resides on your smartphone, your Outlook account, or in a paper daily planner, set up a system that works for you. Keep all notes, thoughts, and meetings in the same place and whenever you have an idea, jot it down for later reference. This can help keep you focused on the task at hand, with the added benefit of ensuring you remember important meetings and upcoming events.
3) Learn to Say, “No”
It may be one of the hardest things for an overachieving business owner to do, but when you agree to everything, you won’t have enough time to satisfy all of your obligations. When you begin to feel as though you are too busy to keep up, delegate some tasks and turn down those that aren’t essential to your business’s overall goals.
4) Automate Billing
Today’s technology tools go beyond simply allowing you to complete, track, and process invoices and payments. Chrometa’s invoicing tool captures billable time automatically and cuts invoices based on that time. No more manually tracking every hour spent working on a client’s project. The invoices also make it easy for clients to pay online, which helps maintain cash flow.
Chrometa also enables SMBs to separate tracked time by employee. This allows separate team members to work on projects without compromising the billing for the main employee assigned to that project.
“Despite what many time management gurus may preach, there’s not really a practical way to stop these interruptions in the year 2013,” Owens says. “Clients are going to email you, and they are going to call you – and they don’t want to read an autoresponder about how you check email twice a day. So, it’s important that interruptions are: 1) Managed, so as to reduce their frequency while still being responsive to clients and customers, and 2) Recorded, so that you have an accurate record of where your time is going.”
Chances are, you’ll likely never completely rid yourself of that “always too busy” feeling. But by utilizing some of these time-tested time management techniques, you’ll improve your own productivity and maybe even free up some time to enjoy a few minutes of relaxation every day.