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Make time your servant not your master

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For many business owners, the current economic crisis has meant a lot of extra hard work.

Looking for new business, holding on to existing customers, coping with the finances, and dealing with employees who are feeling the stress as much as they are.

Even in the best of economic conditions, time is usually at a premium for most owners; all the more so when you have to keep a business going in the teeth of a recession.

It is easy and understandable to try to pour ever more hours into the week. But overwork can be counterproductive and inefficient: it leaves you feeling tired and less able to make decisions.

Nor is possible simply to conjure time from nowhere (there are only so many hours in the day). So it can pay to organise that most precious of resources – your time – as effectively and as rationally as possible.

The first step towards good time management is to allocate yourself periods of genuine, recuperative rest: time to eat properly and to sleep properly.

The next is to structure your working day sensibly. Draw up a list of things that need to be done that day: a realistically achievable list. Even if the tasks are relatively minor, add them to the list. But don’t set yourself inhuman targets.

More importantly, give the list a structure according to the urgency and the importance of the tasks. Tasks that are both, such as handling queries from a large customer, should get your priority. There is a temptation to treat every task as urgent, so review your list with a cold eye. Planning your marketing or your staff training may not have the immediacy of ordering new stock, say, but you should still allocate time to their consideration.

Once you have achieved your goals for the day, score them off the list of things to do. There is a psychological boost to ticking a list.

It may also be worthwhile logging the time you spend each week on varying tasks; this can help spot any imbalances in the way you are directing your energies. You may, for example, want to discipline the amount of time you devote to dealing with emails or to involving yourself in aspects of the business you have already employed someone else to take care of.

If you have employees, use them. Delegate work efficiently. Ensure everyone understands what is expected of them, allow people the latitude to commit the occasional error (it’s how they learn) and give them the relative freedom to make the job their own.