For those of us running small businesses, there never seems to be enough time; not enough time for working on our business, let alone time for our families, our friends and ourselves.
Having operated my own small business for the past 25 years, I have come to realise that even if I worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, there would still be things I could do to improve my business - its profitability and its value.
So management of time becomes less of a matter of finding enough time to do all the work and more a matter of finding enough time to do the important things.
The burning question then becomes: what are the important things?
On a day-to-day basis those activities that ensure that we have enough cash to operate our business and, that our staff are willing and able to work our business, have to be on top of the list, without cash and people (for those who have employees), it is impossible to carry out the tasks that earn our income.
Managing cash includes finding and retaining customers, ensuring customers are billed and that they pay on time, knowing how much cash is needed to find your business and how much cash you have are critical. You need to be on top of these things all of the time.
Ensuring our employees or contractors are willing and able to do the work required to satisfy customers is next on the list. Knowing what motivates our employees, ensuring they know what to do (and are able to do it) and having enough cash to pay wages are also critical activities to keep on top of. In my experience there is no quicker way to upset our valued employees than to ‘stuff up’ their wages.
Other areas that will require your time on a regular basis relate to keeping your suppliers and the tax office happy. The last thing you need is to run out of stock because you haven’t looked after your valued suppliers. This also relates to cash, but if you are usually a reliable payer, occasional lapses on your behalf can usually be managed. The same applies to the tax office, particularly with regard to Pay As You Go Income Tax and GST.
If we are able to find the time to manage cash, staff, suppliers and other creditors, then there should not be major bushfires to put out.
Being on top of these things usually means we can then find time to undertake less urgent, but equally important activities like planning, training, product/service development and profile building.
The best way to find time to undertake the less urgent tasks is to allocate time for them in your dairy and to schedule other activities around them. The temptation is to constantly put these activities off and replace them with the urgent tasks – usually because we have not been dealing with the urgent tasks as we should. The old saying “A stitch in time saves nine” is very relevant here.
Methods of scheduling critical tasks seem to occupy the centre of the time management literature. In my experience, ways of scheduling critical tasks are less important than determining which tasks are the most critical.
Techniques involving allocating priorities such as ABC (A - Top Priority, B - Next Important, C - Lowest Priority) are almost self-explanatory - once you know what the critical tasks are.
The most successful managers of time have a clear understanding of those factors that drive both the profitability and the generation of cash in their businesses. These people then allocate their time to ensure that the ‘drivers’ are looked after. Whilst the priorities may differ slightly between businesses, the drivers will almost certainly include customers, employees, suppliers and cash. Manage these well and you will be on the way to successfully managing your time, your business will work for you rather than you working for your business