Time management tips from successful small business owners

Time management is an essential skill when you’re a small business owner. When you’re in control of where and how you’re spending your time, you’re able to focus on the bigger picture. Here, five successful small business owners share their tips for managing a busy workload.

1. Get ‘appy’

A pen and paper to-do list is still the choice of many, but for the tech-inclined there’s a great range of apps you can use to plan everything from your daily schedule to managing projects and tasks.

Annette Golkidis juggles her role as founder of organic baby skincare brand Little Innoscents with being a mum to two boys. When she's not doing the school run or ferrying the kids to their various sporting commitments, she can be found overseeing a team of four at the business' warehouse in Thornbury, Melbourne. With so many responsibilities in her day-to-day, Golkidis is a huge fan of productivity app Trello.

“Trello allows you to make boards for various tasks, so I have a marketing one, one for the warehouse, the website, and an international one," she explains. "I put the things I need under different headings and assign reminders and due dates. The whole team can collaborate using Trello and I can work out what needs to be done in an instant – otherwise my to-do list is too large."

Evernote is another popular app among small business owners. It allows users to capture, review and share ideas when inspiration strikes. Ross Maher from Sydney-based wine startup Goblet and Gobble has Evernote synced across all of his devices and says it helps manage his time, which is divided between Sydney and the Hunter Valley.

“I use Evernote to create a monthly to-do list, then a weekly/daily to-do list. I also have a follow-ups list and a phone call list of people I need to get back to. So if I find myself in the car, for example, I have my list and can use the time wisely.”

2. Curb your inbox

That familiar ping when a new message lands often tempts you to check right in. But if you can resist the urge and stay focused on the task at hand, your day has the potential to run a lot smoother and you remain in control of your time.

“Email chews up a lot of my time,” says Rosie McCaughey, who owns and runs Rise Yoga studio. She also works as a wellness consultant for corporate wellness startup Benny Button. “I now have set boundaries around email, so I’ll spend 30 minutes on it at the start and end of the day, unless it’s something really urgent that needs my attention in between. You can literally reply to all your messages and by the time you’ve sent them, more arrive. Without setting time limits or some kind of structure around email, it can be a very unproductive cycle.”

3. Create the ideal environment for work

It's easy to be distracted in the workplace, especially if you're a small business owner expected to be across everything. It’s important to identify what kind of environment you need to work efficiently. Is it a space where you’re locked away from other team members for a period of time, or a quiet room at home?

Jane Morrell, founder of Carer Solutions Australia, is currently experiencing unprecedented growth within her business, which sees a network of carers spread throughout Victoria and Tasmania. It's a booming industry but with a small core team of eight, Morrell has to wear many hats, from CEO to social media guru. She regularly spends the morning working from home – rather than the team’s office – to maximise efficiency. “Working from home allows me to focus on a task or project without interruptions from employees," she says. "When I work in this way, I don’t open a browser or an email and it’s really productive.”

If you already work from home, trying finding a different setting to find your flow. Your local library might be ideal – it's a pre-determined quiet zone, often with free Wi-Fi. Working from a cafe will suit those with a taste for lattes and long blacks, and you can even do as Maher does, and not use Wi-Fi at all. “Sometimes I’ll deliberately work at a cafe where I’m not connected to the internet. Either they don’t have Wi-Fi or I just don’t log on. I sit with my computer and get a lot done because the potential for distraction is lessened,” he says.

Working remotely in a cafe can help you to avoid distractions in the office or at home


4. Know your strengths

The time of day can also have an impact on your efficiency. Award-winning sports photographer Delly Carr is an early riser and regularly finds himself in far-flung locations for a shoot. But when he's back at home in Sydney, he religiously uses the first hour or two of his day to either prepare, review or catch-up on tasks. “As soon as the sun goes down, my energy levels seem to go with it," he says. "I’d rather get up at an ungodly hour and go hell-for-leather on my work without interruptions like having to prepare the kids’ breakfast. I do all my emails at 6am because I have the energy to get through them and I can spend the day shooting or taking care of day-to-day stuff like calling people or getting images ready.”

5. Outsource for assistance

Outsourcing is critical to small business owners and works two-fold: it frees up time to focus on business priorities and helps lift the burden of less-desirable tasks. McCaughey learnt the value of outsourcing very early on. “I had to ask myself, 'What are the things I do as a business owner that someone else can do?' so I could free up my time to work on the business, rather than in it," she says. "One of the best things I did was hire an intern for social media and marketing. She was fully qualified, more qualified than I was, and I got her for a minimal cost.”

Outsourcing also helps beat procrastination. “I outsource all my accounting and invoicing because I hate bookkeeping,” says Carr. “On the days when I used to do my own invoicing, I would procrastinate all morning and go on social media or eBay and buy something. I’d do anything to avoid it.”

6. Stay accountable

Identifying what’s at the core of your business might seem obvious for prioritising tasks and preventing time blowouts, but at the end of the day a satisfied customer gives you reason to exist and helps focus where your time needs to be spent.

“In a normal day the first thing I do is customer orders,” say Golkidis. “For us, it’s really important that customers get their orders as quick as possible. I have a rule that all orders have to be organised by a certain time. After that’s done, I’ll allocate time for other tasks but the rule helps keeps me accountable.”