16 tips for working smarter not harder

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” ― H. Jackson Brown Jr.

There’s a whole industry built around the topic of time management but actually it’s a flawed notion because you can’t manage time. It’s just ‘there’ – it happens and we have no control over it.

In helping business owners with planning I spend a great deal of this so-called ‘limited resource’ plotting out what should be done when, but I’m not helping them with time management but rather as raft of other things – task management, efficiency, productivity, pricing, improving marketing, better sales techniques. Optimising everything in your business is effectively the only way to claw back time.

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We frequently talk about the two limited resources of time and money but in fact if you run out of money there’s always more (borrow it, raise your prices, sell more, work longer…you get the drift.) But you can’t do that with time. The only way to gain it back it is to look at your whole operation and work smarter not harder.

Getting started with Resource Management

For a small business owner with the responsibility of the whole business you’ll have an instinctive feel for where time is wasted – maybe you spend too long in meetings, too much time on social media, you go to networking because it’s fun rather than profitable, your diary is on the back of an envelope and bookkeeping is something you squeeze into a Sunday afternoon just before the quarter end deadline.

So, here are 16 ideas for making better use of that elusive time:

  1. Tidy your workspace

Even if you work from your dining room table, knowing where everything is kept is a must. Order printer paper, ink, stationery and any other office products in batches once a quarter.

  1. Keep all your paperwork in one place

Once a week gather all your paperwork and create one pile. Sort into Urgent, non-Urgent, Shredding, Recycling and Filing.

  1. Keep a record of everything you do for one whole week

For one week only, keep a record of everything you do. And I mean everything including personal and professional. Note start time and end time and what it is. Mark it income Generating, Time Sapping

  1. Divide and conquer

Divide your list from 3 above into:

  • Tasks you are the expert in and love doing
  • Tasks you can get someone else to do economically
  • Unprofitable/irrelevant activities
  1. Bin all the unprofitable or irrelevant activities

Learn to say NO to those things that a low on your list of priorities at the moment. If the PTA, the church choir or the chairing of a local group has to go for now then so be it. These groups will survive without you! It’s not forever after all.

  1. Consolidate similar activities

I have to write a lot so I have writing morning where is to create content for my own business and my clients. Monday is social media day where I hop in and out of various Hootsuite accounts. Consolidating similar task means the brain is well warmed and the activities flow much more easily.

  1. Investigate productivity tools

Some planning tools are great for productivity such as Hootsuite for social media scheduling, Asana and Trello for collaborative working, Evernote for compiling research. Your industry will probably have their own specific apps. Xero for instance is a really great quick affordable accounting package

  1. Book time for admin and reporting

I use Friday afternoons for personal finances and routine admin. It’s all too easy to leave it to the weekend when you’ll miss out on family time.

  1. Delegate

For tasks which can be systematised and delegated get a VA or part-time assistant. It doesn’t have to be forever but it might get you on track

  1. Review your systems and operations

Take a long hard look at your processes. If you are in manufacturing this will be a high priority for reducing your cost of sales. In a service industry, such as photography evaluate the post-production phase – how can it be optimised? If you run events look as your bookings and payment processes.

  1. Get enough sleep

Skimping on sleep is a false economy. Very few people naturally sleep less than 7 hours a night. Being over-tired doesn’t make you effective and it affects your health.

  1. Work on difficult tasks when you’re at your best

Some people are up with the lark, others are night owls. Work within your own rhythm in order to be efficient and effective

  1. Take breaks between tasks

A break between tasks for 5 minutes allows the brain to reset. Open the back door and take a deep breath or do twenty squats – whatever floats your boat. Use the Pomodoro technique.

  1. Review your goals regularly

We all start the year with our big Hairy Audacious Goals (HAGS) but actually it’s worth breaking it down into manageable chunks.

I choose 21 days as a time-scale to make progress with goals. In a year that works out at 17 21-day projects.

  1. Make one day a Get Over Yourself Day

For me Mondays are head down days. No meetings, no phone calls, emails are kept to a minimum. I work on regular clients’ activities and get as much done on that day as possible. Print out a daily planner and fill in each hour with your Get Over Yourself tasks.

  1. Enjoy what you do

Finally, if you enjoy what you do then there isn’t such a thing as work-life balance. Work takes up about a third of our lives so why not enjoy it.

What are your top tips for using your time effectively?

Add them in the comments below.