A guide to being smart with your time

Time waits for no one. But when you run a small business, time puts on a tracksuit and starts sprint training.

When the average work day sees you wearing 12 hats and running 7 different departments, it’s easy to feel there isn’t enough time in the day. We understand the importance of time management for our business community, so to help you boost productivity we’ve put together 5 top tips for a smooth working day.

1) Stay in control with a to-do list

Whether you prefer to write one at the beginning of the week, the night before or each morning, a handy to do list will help free your mind to concentrate on the task at hand. And, there’s no better feeling than crossing a completed task off a list!

To help focus your mind it’s important to write down achievable tasks, as according to a LinkedIn study, 63% of us create to do lists but only 11% admitted to completing all the tasks on their list in a given day. We’re all guilty of re-writing the name of a larger project on every new to do list, but writing manageable goals will help you make progress and ultimately finish the project more quickly.

For example, if you’re looking to implement a new email marketing system, you could break down this task into manageable chunks: do research one day and aim to ring your two favourite providers another.

Top tip: Wunderlist is a free to do list planner which works across iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android, Windows, Kindle Fire and the Web, helping you to sync your personal and professional to do lists online.

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What are your goals? Break them down into manageable chunks

2) Become more effective by considering the impact of each task

You’ve got your to do list and you’re ready to get cracking, but it’s important to take a moment to think about the impact of each task. Before getting started, we’d suggest prioritising your list by looking at:

  • whether the task will drive growth for your business
  • approximately how long it might take
  • is it urgent or could it wait if necessary

It’s always tempting to do the easy, quick or more enjoyable tasks first, but prioritising your list by looking at the impact it’s likely to have will help you use your time more effectively. It will also help manage expectations should a colleague have an urgent or last minute request, as you’ll be able to say which items you are prioritising and reorder if necessary.

3) Make time to get things done

You now know approximately how long tasks will take, and which you want to prioritise, so why not block out time in your diary. It could be half an hour each morning to plan out your day, a couple of hours to focus on those accounts you never seem to get to, or 5 minutes before or after a meeting to type up your notes or prepare.

Scheduling time, as you would a meeting, will help you understand what’s achievable and minimise interruptions.

4) Beware the exploding inbox

Research by Warwick Business School found that office workers deal with 10,000 emails a year, and that figure is only rising as we’re becoming more and more connected. Whether it’s colleagues, clients, marketing emails or family and friends, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of emails in your inbox. However, having a succinct email filing system or tagging urgent emails can help you take back control.

Emails can also be extremely distracting when you’re trying to focus on a particular task or project. Don’t be afraid to minimise your email window and focus your attention completely on the task at hand!

5) You’ll be more productive if you take a break (kit kat optional)

Whether it’s a cup of tea, a walk round the block or just doing something else for a few minutes, regular breaks which take you away from work can be revitalising. Research by app DeskTime found the most productive people work for 52 minutes, then break for 17 minutes.

It’s impossible to be productive constantly for many hours without taking little chunks of time to re-energise. You’ll find yourself much more effective as a result, and the time can often help you become more creative, or even solve that difficult problem.

Similarly if you have a daunting task, for example updating lines of a spreadsheet that will take a long time, intersperse these larger projects with short and easily achievable tasks to help keep you focused and boost morale.

Good luck!