As a small business owner, you’re probably juggling about a million different tasks and projects, so your time is in short supply. Learning how to manage your time effectively when you start a business is crucial for increasing your productivity, getting through your miles-long to-do list every day, and generally maintaining your sanity. And who better to ask about time management tips for entrepreneurs than entrepreneurs themselves?
We reached out to a handful of small business owners, business coaches, and SMB experts for their best tips, tricks, and processes for tackling their schedules efficiently. From using various project management software to scheduling time for breaks, the following are the best 23 time management tips that will help you maximize your time, energy, and resources so you can get it all done.
23 Best Time Management Tips for Small Business Owners, From Small Business Owners
1. Create a schedule and stick to it.
“Look at your schedule critically and identify areas that are sucking time away from your work (Netflix-binging, perhaps?). Also, pinpoint holes in your calendar where you can accomplish other tasks. Give yourself triggers, like setting an alarm, so that you know when it’s time to move to your next task, and ensure that you adhere to your schedule. Be sure to reward yourself for small accomplishments and for staying on task, too; think mini-breaks or tokens of self-appreciation.”
—Charlene Walters, MBA, PhD, business and branding mentor
2. Break up big, time-consuming projects into smaller chunks.
“I like spending 15 minutes on a specific task, then taking a five-minute break. In doing so, I find that I’m able to get a lot more done, because I look at each task as a short sprint as opposed to a marathon.”
—Axel DeAngelis, owner of NameBounce
3. Use an expense management app or software.
“One of the smartest things I did was institute an expense management app for me and my staff. We use a product called Itemize that allows us to easily scan any business receipts from client-related expenses. It automatically gathers the information and is downloaded to accounts payable for reimbursement to staff and billing to clients. No more manual entry of receipts, no more saving random paper slips (we just scan with the phone). And best of all, no more filling out, turning in, approving, and entering expense reports. We estimate it saves us each at least five hours a week.”
—Rodger Roeser, CEO of The Eisen Agency
4. Track your productivity (or billable hours) with a time-tracking app.
“Keep a time-tracker to check your productivity. As a freelancer, it’s all too easy to gaze out of the window for three hours, getting very little done. I track the hours I work each day and what I spend them doing so that I can see if I’m slacking or where my productivity lapses lie, so that I can manage them.”
—Sally M. Fox, freelance copywriter
5. Dedicate time each day or week to tackle administrative tasks.
“Set aside weekly time slots for portfolio management, business admin, and scouting for new work. When I first started my business, I hit regular quiet periods because I failed to complete these tasks. Now that I’ve mastered this rhythm, my business levels have remained near-constant.”
—Sally M. Fox
6. Limit the number of new projects you start.
“The very best advice that I’ve learned in my own business and through coaching others is to manage your work-in-progress, also known as a WIP limit (which comes from the world of lean manufacturing). Essentially, this means putting a boundary in place around how many projects you’ve started, but not finished.
“For example, if you limit your work-in-progress to four projects, that means you have to start prioritizing which projects you take on next—which leads to a great exercise in evaluating which projects will have the greatest value for your business. Managing work-in-progress leads to more focus, less context switching, higher quality, and a drive towards outcome-driven work vs. just staying busy by focusing on output.”
—Brandi Olson, organizational designer and owner of The Olson Group
7. Don’t try to multitask.
“If you find yourself flustered and frantically moving from one thing to the next, but never feeling like you’re getting anything done, close some browser windows and put your phone in airplane mode for an hour. Studies show that multitasking can negatively affect your memory and leads to a drop in productivity, because you’re not allowing yourself time to recover from overstimulation. Multi-tasking can also lead to more mistakes, and mistakes take time to correct—time that you don’t have to waste.”
—Tiffany Napper, creative director and wellness blogger
8. Schedule specific times in your day to check your email.
“Although it may feel otherwise at times, most of our jobs don’t require being on standby 24/7. By constantly checking your email, you’re putting yourself in a reactionary mode versus a proactive mode. Try establishing two to three times a day when you check and respond to your emails. For example, if you’re at work by 8 a.m., consider checking your email at 9 a.m., then again at 2 p.m., and perhaps once more at the end of the day to tie up loose ends. That method will give you time to start and finish projects without distractions.”
9. Complete tasks as soon as they arise.
“It’s a lot more productive to handle tasks as they arise or respond to emails the first time you read them. Instead of flagging and marking emails as unread so you can come back to them later, try to touch a task once and respond immediately. This will also support the habit of only checking your email when you have time to handle it. Procrastination is a time-waster, and it trains your brain for more procrastination, and we certainly don’t have time to establish bad habits. So open it, handle it, and move on.”
10. Start early.
“I find that it’s helpful to do my most creative or challenging work during the early hours of the day, before 8 a.m. My brain is at its most refreshed during this time, and people haven’t started to send emails. (When your inbox is silent and you’re completely focused, it’s amazing what you can get done in an hour or two.) By maximizing this window of time, I can always feel confident that I’ve done something productive—even if the rest of the day turns out to be a total write-off.”
—Chloe Brittain, owner of Opal Transcription
11. Plan ahead.
“Try to work ahead as much as possible and plan for busy periods. When you know you have a heavy week coming up, perhaps one with a lot of travel and events, get in front of it by having presentations and other reports prepared well ahead of time. That way, you will have extra time if any emergencies or time-sensitive tasks get thrown on top of your already-busy week.”
12. Delegate small tasks to your staff or contractors.
“I felt like I needed to make every decision, be on every conference call, and voice my opinion in every company project. As you might imagine, these tiny details took up far too much of my time, when in reality, my employees were just as capable as I was. By delegating responsibility to some of my more trusted employees, I’ve been able to save myself a considerable amount of time on a daily basis to concentrate on bigger-picture projects.”
—Matthew Ross, co-founder and COO of The Slumber Yard
13. Organize your inbox.
“I use over 20 different folders to keep my emails organized and to make sure every email I receive doesn’t get overlooked. Not only does this help keep me organized, but it also helps me prioritize certain emails. You can even set rules for folders to automate the process, depending on which email platform you use.”
14. Use Google Calendar to its fullest extent.
“I always utilize Google Meet. Every time a new appointment is made in Google Calendar it will generate a unique room code for voice and video calls. If you head to meet.google.com, all of your appointments will be lined up for the day and you can simply click through to the next call when the time comes. This means you don’t have to fumble around adding people on Skype or making sure you’re in the right place at the right time. It saves tons of time in the long run.
“Additionally, I make sure every call has an actual agenda listed and shared in my calendar and the invitees. This means that everyone involved knows exactly what we’ll be talking about and they can bring their thoughts to the table in advance, without surprising people with unexpected questions that they’re not prepared for.”
—Mark Webster, co-founder of Authority Hacker
15. Reserve your most important tasks for when your mind is sharpest—and take breaks when you start to lose focus.
“I wake up early and use that time for my most productive work. I’m usually at my desk, with that first cup of coffee, by 6 a.m.—and I don’t waste that precious first hour checking Facebook and Instagram! As a morning person, I am most alert and productive in the morning, and I make sure to dive in headfirst and do the work that requires concentration. Later in the day, when I’m less alert, I allow myself short ‘mental breaks’ of checking my social media accounts or just surfing the web.
“When we look at our schedule for the day, it’s tempting to strike items off our to-do list by tackling the easy tasks first. But I make myself tackle the complex and difficult tasks first, then—as I progressively get more tired and my attention span shortens—I take care of simpler items. And do take those mental breaks! I make a point of going out for a brisk walk each day, and I always have my meals at the table, never in front of the computer.”
—Vered DeLeeuw, founder of HealthyRecipesBlog.com
16. Use the time-blocking method.
“I read the book ‘‘The One Thing‘ by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan last year, and the principles really stuck with me. What I took away from that book is that multitasking is a myth and prioritizing is key. Our brains can really only manage one task at a time, so I set aside blocks of time each day to work on one specific task. I try to be as specific as possible when it comes to the priority I focus on in each time block. I have found this strategy to be far more effective than trying to get through a never-ending to-do list.
“To set my time blocks, I write in a planner and plot out my week in advance as much as I can. I set my biggest five priorities for the week at the outset, and use that to guide what I do in my time blocks.”
—Robin Legat, co-owner of Rise Up Training and creator, producer, and host of Seasoned Athlete Podcast
17. Take your team on outings and activities.
“My team and I make time to do team-building activities. Whether it’s taking a walk, going to yoga, or a team lunch, I’ve found that all of these activities are effective for boosting my employees’ productivity when we return to work. We also do a team lunch at the end of each week so we can reflect on our week and start a great weekend. These things may seem small, but they’re a great way for the team to get to know each other.
“When we think of time management, we typically think of it as a way to get things done. However, we also need to utilize time management for our mental and physical health. Taking time out of the day for these activities is a great way to give yourself a mental break, as well as coming back to work feeling more productive.”
—John Rampton, founder and CEO of Calendar
18. Schedule time for the unexpected.
“One thing that people often forget when managing their time is to leave an open window available for the unexpected. When running a business, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll have a few unforeseen tasks that you’ll have to deal with before the end of each day. By planning for those tasks in advance, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress and time by not having to work extra hours.”
—Jason Power, owner and managing director of The Hearing Clinic
19. Plan your day the night before.
“Write down everything you want to accomplish in the day before it begins. Dedicate 20-30 minutes either the night before or first thing in the morning to organize your thoughts. Once you have it all written down, organize your list into the categories Urgent, Important, Not Urgent, and Unimportant. This way, you’ll be more clear on which tasks you need to tackle that day, and which can be left for the next day.”
20. Theme your days around certain tasks.
“One of the best ways I’ve found to manage my calendar is to work my days into themes. I used to work on projects, answer emails, and manage day-to-day tasks as they came. Because I wasn’t focused on one thing at a time, I wasn’t nearly as productive as I could have been.
“Now I block time on my calendar for specific projects and have a routine for my week. For example, Tuesdays and Thursdays are my podcast recording days. Monday and Friday are set aside for admin work I have to keep up with for the business. Wednesdays are blocked for content creation and creative thinking. I no longer keep my email inbox open. Instead, I have time scheduled on my computer to check email and even scroll through Facebook. I’ve found that when my time is hyper-focused, I’m able to boost my productivity.”
—Trivinia Barber, founder and CEO of Priority VA
21. Give yourself something to look forward to each day.
“I’ve found that having something to look forward to at the end of the day, whether that’s 30 minutes of TV time with my girlfriend or even something as simple as a doughnut, can help me stay focused and motivated to complete my daily to-dos. It sounds silly, but when I feel my attention span dwindling, I just think about that thing I’m looking forward to and it gives me a quick recharge to finish the task at hand.”
—Dylan Houlihan, owner of Swift Salary
22. Reserve time every day to dig into a big project.
“Every day, I have one ‘deep dive’ block scheduled into my Google Calendar. This is a two-hour time block in the afternoon where I choose one specific project to dive into and focus on without any distractions. I turn off all messaging apps and close my email windows during this time as well. The only tabs open on my laptop are those related to the project I’m working on. This has really helped improve my productivity, as well as make me feel like I’ve accomplished something important at the end of each day.”
—Vivian Chan, co-founder of East Meets Dress
23. Make time for yourself.
“Make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Hit the gym, go for a run, avoid skipping meals, and get your sleep. The happier and stronger you are as an individual, the more you will thrive in business and increase your positive interactions with others.”
The Bottom Line on Time Management Tips
By implementing just a few of the time management tips we touched on here, you’ll see a huge shift in your productivity. And getting your work done smarter and faster means having more free time to spend on the projects you truly care about, both at work and at home.