28 May 2024

When you’re running your own business, it’s common to feel like there are never enough hours in the day. No matter how many lists you make, blocks of time you reserve and schedules you agree to, some key tasks always end up dropping off the list.

With an ever-growing to-do list, as well as the demands of balancing your team, family and personal time, making the most of the time available is an essential skill to reach your goals and avoid burnout. Here we look at the opportunities and pitfalls when it comes to time management and how you can make the most of the hours available.


Don’t fall into the efficiency trap

The first thing to accept is that effective time management is tough and most of us aren’t wired for it – humans regularly underestimate the time and work involved in completing tasks.  Many time management ‘hacks’ miss this point; instead trying to make every task as quick as possible, then fill gaps with –you guessed it – more tasks.

This kind of strategy doesn’t reduce stress. In fact. it is more likely to increase the pressure we feel, since as we become more efficient, we take on more and more work. The best time management strategies, therefore, focus not on doing as much as possible, but on finding what is most important and doing that well. That comes from creating structures that set you up for success.


Identifying impact areas

When everything is urgent, prioritisation is essential. Choosing between tasks as you go is a prime source of procrastination and risks trying to do multiple things at once – one study found that just 2.5% of people are able to multitask effectively.

So start with trying to reduce the amount of choices you have to make.

A good place to start is the Covey Time Management Matrix. Created by Steven Covey — author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it categorises tasks into four four basic headings:

  1. Urgent and important tasks.
  2. Not urgent but important tasks.
  3. Urgent but not important tasks.
  4. Not urgent and not important tasks.

Make this your lens to analyse your week and day – a shield against last minute requests and indecision. Start by sorting tasks into these four quadrants, then tackle the first quadrant first, followed by the rest.

If something new comes your way, work out where it goes on the matrix. If it’s below the one you’re currently working on, it can wait.


Creating more time

The arc of running your business usually starts with the founder doing everything, transitioning to distributed responsibility as the organisation grows. Even then, however, there may be some tasks you find hard to let go because you enjoy them, or because you worry someone else won’t do them quite how you would.

The harsh reality is that, as the owner, your time is valuable and these sentimental attachments can cause issues elsewhere, taking time away from genuine, mission-critical responsibilities.

It’s your responsibility to save space on your plate for what matters.


1.   The power of delegation

A long-term view of your business requires creating systems that can function without your direct input. Not only does this free up your time, it also adds motivation and development for those around you.

Spot team members who are ready for more responsibility or those whose talents are under-used. Match tasks to their skills and let them shine, providing support and guidance as they take on new challenges. 

It also takes bravery to step back and let them learn. Encourage a culture of trust by allowing team members to own their tasks fully. This not only develops their skills but also reduces the burden on you and your precious time


2.   Know when to turn to experts

For specialised functions like finance, marketing, or IT where you lack the skills internally, consider outsourcing to external experts. They can bring in-depth knowledge and an outside perspective that might be difficult to cultivate in-house. Utilising third-party providers allows you to tap into niche skills that keep your business performing at a high level without the overhead of full-time teams internally.


3.   Automating for efficiency

As your business grows, simple processes that once only took a few minutes can quickly add up, taking up valuable time. The challenge is to notice where this is happening and take a holistic view of where needs improvement.

There is a wide range of software available today aimed at small businesses that can automate routine tasks, such as customer relationship management, payroll, or scheduling. This can dramatically reduce the time spent on these activities while also giving you more visibility and control over key areas.

As you scale, this should be a regular activity within your businesses – working on a quarterly basis, assess and refine automated processes to ensure they stay aligned with your business objectives and continue to deliver results.


Creating accountability and responsibility

As an owner, lack of supervision can be a blessing and a curse. While you have the autonomy to focus on what you choose, there’s no one looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re delivering. This leaves room for other tasks to sneak onto your to-do list or distractions to divert your attention, while depriving others of the context they need to understand your responsibilities.

Bringing at least a portion of your planning and goals into public view creates accountability for you to deliver on your key responsibilities while creating a barrier to intrusions on your time.

  • Share high level goals with your team at the start of each work to prioritise key deliverables and ensure that each member is focused on the right projects.
  • Block out time in your calendar for projects – in an appropriate level of visibility – and set out specific times where you can be available for ad hoc queries.
  • For projects where your work is dependent on others, or vice versa, agree SLAs for delivery times to keep you on track.

Find the time you need to succeed

At Haines Watts, we understand that your time as a business owner is precious. While your to-do list may never be empty, you can count on us to handle your financials, providing you with the data and control you need to make informed decisions.

With our team of experts taking the weight of financial management off your shoulders, you can focus on what truly matters – growing your business and achieving your goals.

Contact us today to explore how a Haines Watts advisor in your corner can give you back the time you need to succeed.