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Q & A

Managing your time: Q&A with Clare Evans

Being a small business owner can mean juggling several roles - marketing, sales, finances and HR can all come under your job description. This makes long working hours a common problem. Clare Evans explains what you can do to work smarter and even cut your working day with some time management tips

Clare Evans is a time management and productivity coach and author of Time Management for Dummies. She frequently works with business owners to help them with time management.

Is time pressure a common issue for small business owners?

Clare Evans (CE): “Yes, definitely, small business owners are often trying to wear many different hats because they don’t have anyone else to delegate to or have limited numbers of people.”

Why should I look at time management?

CE: “People waste between one and two hours a day on distractions and interruptions. If you are working long hours, look at how much time you are working and what you are working on to see how and where you can reduce wasted time.

“When people feel overwhelmed I get them to write down everything they need to do. That can initially make it seem worse, but you can then prioritise - what needs to be done now and what is not important, what shouldn’t be done at all or could be done by someone else?”

How can I tell if I am accidently wasting time?

“A time log is a good place to start. Write down what you are doing in each 30-minute time frame and be really honest. Use one of the apps like RescueTime or Time Doctor, which monitor what you are doing on your computer. They show you where you are spending time so you can be more productive.”

How can I manage my time better?

CE: “Sometimes you can end up in analysis paralysis or feel overwhelmed. Often people are busy all day but are busy working on the wrong tasks, or those which could be done by someone else. Take some time for daily planning at the beginning of the day, or the end of each day, working out what do you plan to get done and when are you going to do it, and use a to-do list app. Take stock at the end of the day. What can you move over to another day and do you need to be more realistic about what you can actually get done?”

What’s the most common way of accidently wasting time?

CE: “Email is a big one. Many people feel ruled by their inbox but you decide when you are going to check it, how often you need to check it and what you are going to do with emails that are there. I suggest only checking your inbox two or three times a day. It does depend on the role and industry you are in, but the majority of emails don’t need to be dealt with immediately, just within an appropriate time frame.”

Should I plan my time on a monthly, weekly or daily basis?

CE: “Day-to-day works best. One of the key reasons people waste time is because they are not planning what they need to do and end up working on the wrong things. Having an up-to-date business plan is a good starting point so you are really clear about the goals and objectives for the business. By working back from your business plan you can see what you need to be doing and want to achieve this year, in six months, in three months and that filters down into ‘this is what I need to do this week’ and ‘this is what I need to do today’.”

What can I do about interruptions?

CE: “Look at the sources of distractions and interruptions to your day. If you want to work smarter you need to reduce those distractions. It is about not responding and reacting to everything that is coming in - those outside demands on your time - email, phone calls, other people interrupting us.

“It is also about setting expectations. Whilst some customers might expect an instant response, is that realistic? You might set an expectation that we will respond to all emails within 24 hours, or the day of receipt, for example. It depends on the nature of the business and the needs of the customer and clients.”

How can I stop getting distracted?

CE: “Know how you work and when you do your best work. People tend to get more tired at the end of the day, so do the important things in the morning. Work in short periods of time by following the Pomodoro Technique to help stay focused. The Pomodoro involves working in blocks of 25 minutes followed by a five-minute break. You do up to four of those, so two hours’ worth of work, and then take a longer break.”

I feel I am effectively managing my time but I am still too busy - what can I do?

CE: “People with too much to do have probably been saying yes too often. Don’t be afraid to say no, even to clients, if necessary. Prioritise your tasks, recognise when you need to delegate or when it might be time to get additional staff in.”

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