One of the things that makes most business owners proud is the chance to be their own boss. When you want a day off, you can just take it, right? The answer, alas, is usually a resounding ‘No’. We work all hours, answer emails at midnight and spend time juggling priorities and problems. If only we could magic some time out of nowhere. With the right approach and the right tools, we can: and both are surprisingly easy to obtain.
Clare Evans, author of ‘Time Management for Dummies’, says “Most business owners try to do everything themselves. Either everything becomes an emergency, or you take care of things as they come in, rather than stopping to ask ‘What do I need to focus on?’” Efficiency and time management expert, Cory Cook, agrees: “When you just take the day as it comes instead of planning ahead, you’re always putting out fires instead of strategically moving forward.”
Evans says the first step to organisational nirvana is the business plan. “Many businesses I speak to either have no plan; or they made one which now just gathers dust on a shelf. Your plan need only be one page long, but it has to be a living, breathing document which informs your priorities.” Cook adds, “The plan is a reminder of your ‘big picture’ goals – it stops you getting bogged down in the small stuff and allows you to see the real priorities and the value of what you do with your time.”
Next comes prioritisation – with the support of your plan. Says Evans, “Every day, work out what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it. Sure, that sounds obvious... but few of us do it. Split your ‘to-do’ list into items which are urgent, important or nice-to-have”. Cook notes, “Even your best planned day can go awry, so cover the urgent issues first to get ahead of the game.”
Cook also says that business owners must lose the ‘do everything’ mentality, fast. “There’s a great aphorism, ‘If you want something done right, be an excellent delegator’. Managers think they need to be good at everything in the business; and that’s simply not true. Recognise the parts you’re good at, and bring other people or tools in to pick up the slack – the accountant, the marketing help etc. As soon as it’s practical- and that will be sooner than you might think - outsource your lower priorities or weaker skills to other companies, employees or technologies.”
What about those technologies? Evans says, “Above all, tools for safe storage in the Cloud, and the fact that you can access and share documents from the office, home or out on the road without being a tech wizard, are a huge benefit.” Cook adds, “The Cloud also makes it easier to bring in team members in a flash: everyone can be on the same page without a flood of emails. The Cloud makes sharing in real-time an option for everyone.”
But these tools are means to an end, so they have to work. Says Evans, “You want technology which is reliable, takes little effort to set up, and syncs seamlessly. It’s also both a benefit and a drawback that we have so much information at our fingertips, and we can be contacted 24/7. There has to be a cut-off point, boundaries beyond which you can ignore calls or close the door and have a personal life.” Mobile phones which show names instead of numbers, or Instant Messenger and Unified Communications systems in which we can set our status to ‘Busy’ or ‘Away’, both go a long way to stemming the tide.
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