Top 10 tips for better time management

Human Resources Nov 14, 2010

Another top 10. It's not because I can only count to that! But I feel that summarizing and ranking issues on a given subject makes it easier for a blog reader to glance at and decide if it's worth going into the details.

Today's top 10 is on a subject that is only remotely connected to tax or accounts but that is so critical when you start up your own business that I thought it deserved some attention. It's about time management and because entrepreneurs are known to have way more daily work than a day can fit in, it's critical that they do everything they can to optimize their day.

So here is the list:

  1. Plan. If you fail to plan, then it usually means that you plan to fail! You have a business plan. How often do you review it? Have you set long term goals, short term deliverables, how do you measure your progress against those? Everyone is different, every business has specificities, but it is critical to setup goals and measure yourself against them, readjusting along the way. Your long-term objectives need to be split into short-term deliverables, all the way to the daily todo list. And you need to make sure that the objectives are specific and measurable, realistic and yet challenging.
  2. Use time boxing. Divide your day into chunks: phone calls, email, social media, writing, strategy planning... Don't let one task interrupt another: use an assistant (real or virtual) to pick up the phone for example when working on another task. And be disciplined. Beware of email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube... While they are great tools for your business, they can also be time sinks. Time boxing is the best way to prevent those tasks from cannibalizing your day!
  3. Don't leave unread email in your inbox. Email being such a critical part of our day now, it requires a special mention. When you do email, you need to zip through your inbox and either action the email if you can do it in less than 3 minutes or flag it for later action. Use 3 types of flags: to-do, to-read, get-back. In that last case, it means the task requires some kind of follow-up (e.g. response required) and you should put a date on the flag to make sure you will get back to it in time. Microsoft Outlook and Gmail do a rather good job with flags, but Outlook still has the upper hand out of box when it comes to adding dates to flags.
  4. Prioritize. Not all tasks have equal value. Don't confuse important and urgent. If you are reactive, you will only work on urgent things and have no time to work on important tasks like those required to grow your business. Also consider the law of diminishing returns. The last 20% of any tasks usually take 80% of your time. Consider whether you need that extra 20%. Time boxing will help here as it forces you to spend time on the important tasks. If you're a lumberjack, you know you need to take time off cutting the trees to sharpen your axe. It's true of every business...
  5. Delegate. Bookkeeping and administration are good examples of what can and should be delegated. It's easy to think you can do it better. It's wrong. The only way to grow your business is to learn how to delegate. That's how you will be able to work on your business rather than in your business as Michael Gerber recommends.
  6. Setup work boundaries. Beware of the tyranny of the blackberry. Nine-to-Five does not work for everybody, but some boundaries need to be erected if you want to prevent burnout. If you need to work evenings or weekends, make sure to keep some days off-limits. Or only accept out of hour appointments if booked 2 weeks in advance. Whatever works. You should also set physical boundaries, especially if you work from home to prevent interruptions for kids or family. Setting boundaries also helps set expectations of staff and clients.
  7. Learn how to say no. It can be done nicely and should be done. It does not come naturally especially in some cultures who tend to be less confrontational (like the English or Japanese). The useful word to add with no is "because". For example: I can't do that because I'm currently working on this, but I will get back to you tomorrow. Or learn from Dogbert below!
  8. Use computer tools. Have a consolidated diary: personal, work, social all should be in the same place. Make sure it's synchronized to your phone so that you always have your calendar at your fingertips. Make use of all the wonderful tech tools available today that allow you to manage email, contacts, schedules, and tasks both at the office or on the go.
  9. Beware of meetings. That is one of greatest time wasters of all. Use simple rules to cut waste to the minimum. It's better to invite less than more. Have an agenda. Always start on time and finish on time: if the meeting is a short 10' daily meeting make it start at 7:50 rather than 8:00. Require that people stand during the meeting. Whatever works...
  10. Keep healthy. Take 5' breaks every hour. Brains can only concentrate for 20' at a time. Go to the gym or for a walk regularly. Keep some time for friends and family. Being overworked and stressed is not sustainable in the long run, neither for your nor your staff. Keep that in mind!

Obviously, there are a lot of other things you can do but stick to those initially and you'll be on the right track.


Franck Sidon

With over 15 years of experience as a Managing Director at TaxAssist Accountants, I have helped thousands of businesses and individuals achieve their financial goals and optimize their tax efficiency.