There are few sayings as cliche as “time is money.” Yet when it comes to running your small business, every second of your day has a price tag attached to it.
Time management is an essential skill for any small business owner. A business culture that empowers employees to effectively manage their time saves money, is more innovative, and stays with you as you grow.
So how can you make sure both you and your team are getting the most out of the time you have each day? Here are six time management tips specifically designed for small businesses owners.
6 Time management tips for small businesses
- Overcome the mental roadblocks that derail your productivity
- Define your company priorities and connect them to your team’s goals
- Track time usage accurately (but not invasively)
- Identify your team’s most productive hours and optimize their schedules
- Don’t leave time management out of team performance reviews
- Use the right time management software
1. Overcome the mental roadblocks that derail your productivity
The best small businesses run like a well-oiled machine. They have workflows in place to make processes and decision-making go smoothly. They set clear priorities and keep everyone on the same page. And they have a company culture that allows for open communication and collaboration.
Unfortunately, not every small business ticks all those boxes.
Instead, there are two main mental roadblocks that stand in the way of effective time management for small businesses. Let’s look at both.
Curb individual distractions with smart tech policies
There are nearly endless possibilities for individual distraction throughout the day.
Bored or lonely? You might scroll through social media.
Worried about the bank account or the medical bills? You might be tempted to take an extended lunch to decompress.
Savvy developers look at your emotions and other subconscious associations to develop and reinforce advanced habit triggers.
Take something as simple as a Google Calendar notification. The goal is to simply remind you of an obligation. But in order to get your attention, it needs to (by necessity) be intrusive.
As your upcoming meeting approaches, a popup darts into your upper-right peripheral vision with its three-chime warcry, activating your subconscious defensive mechanisms.
Even worse, those little, seemingly innocuous interruptions have a lasting effect on your focus and productivity. In one study, UC Irvine’s Gloria Mark found it can take up to 25 minutes to return to your initial task after an interruption.
As a small business owner, you need to take ownership over the distractions impacting your team. Teach them how to manage notifications and create a focus-friendly work environment that avoids individual distraction.
Uncover what causes communication breakdowns
Of course, not all notifications are evil. Many serve an important function such as sharing information and helping employees prioritize their time.
But if these notifications can’t find a place in the sea of stimuli vying for your employees’ attention, then they’re simply adding to the noise.
This may not be as much of an issue when you’re literally rubbing shoulders with your employees in a cramped one-room office. But as your business grows, communication requests will start pulling people away from their desks instead of just pulling focus.
This is one of the biggest challenges of time management for small businesses. How do you set up a system that gives employees the autonomy they need to do focused work while keeping them accountable to coworkers who need their attention?
One method that has proven to work well is to communicate and collaborate in “bursts”.
What this means is that instead of leaving communication open to happen all day (and night), you set aside a specific time to answer emails, get together for meetings, or have calls. The rest of the day is for focused work.
In one study, groups who communicated in this way wound up being more creative and productive than those communicating all the time.
2. Define your company priorities and connect them to your team’s goals
Before you can assess how to track time in your small business, it’s important to define the results you want. Developing statements for your mission, vision, and values is a good starting point.
- Mission: The purpose of your company, aside from normal operations
- Vision: Your goal for your small business
- Values: How your business will fulfill its mission and reach its vision
Taken together, these concepts will define your culture—the sum of all the actions and interactions in your business. And this culture will have a huge impact on your time management focus.
As an example, take Tower, a holistic beach-lifestyle company that implemented a five-hour workday for their employees.
This reduction of hours to enjoy a quality of life doesn’t remove any accountability for Tower employees—there is nothing preventing them from putting in an 8-hour day when the situation requires. But the shorter workday gives employees the flexibility to enjoy the work-life balance their business supports.
Defining the ideal working culture for your business is the first step toward creating a time management plan that works for everyone.
3. Track time usage accurately (but not invasively)
After you’ve identified goals for your company culture, the next step is to get an accurate picture of how employees are actually using their time.
Tracking your employee’s time helps the bottom line. But more importantly, it lets them develop their own time management skills and become more productive and focused themselves. But keeping these two goals in check is a delicate balance.
Invasively tracking your employee’s time with employee monitoring software kills trust. And this has major downsides.
A 2015 study found that workers who feel trusted not only produce higher-quality work but also create more financial value for their companies. Trust helps employees feel less stressed and focus more intensely on their tasks without the constant fear of being fired, reprimanded, or ridiculed by peers.
Tools like RescueTime for Orgs gives employees a complete picture of how they spend their working hours as well as the tools they need to block distractions and build better habits. And as a business owner, it lets you identify the big-picture trends of your company’s productivity and where you’re losing time (all without invading their privacy).
4. Identify your team’s most productive hours and optimize their schedules
Once you’ve collected your time tracking data, you can review it to find high-energy periods of time for each employee.
Do some employees work best in the morning while others really get started in the afternoon?
Is there a consistent uptick in social networking or entertainment during the half-hour before the regular 1:30 after-lunch meeting?
We all go through an ebb and flow of energy each day. And finding how your team works best can help you recommend ways for them to better manage and schedule their time.
5. Don’t leave time management out of team performance reviews
When asking employees to use time tracking software, it’s important to provide context through regular performance management.
Put yourself in the employee’s shoes: What would you think if your manager cheerfully introduced a mandatory program that tracked your every working minute? Probably not very trusted or respected, to say the least.
That’s why you need to reassure your team that time tracking won’t be used as leverage against salary increases or promotions. Instead, it’s only used to help them understand their own patterns and help them do more meaningful work each day.
Tools like RescueTime for Orgs gives managers insight into overall productivity trends, time spent on key tools, and focus metrics so you can see when your team is overworked, identify time sucks, and help them spend more time on meaningful work without invading their privacy.
While teammates have access to deep insights into what apps and websites they spend their time on, managers don’t. This way, they know for sure that the tool is there only to help and not hurt them.
Yet while this is a feature of the tool, you still need to reassure your team they aren’t being spied on.
At BambooHR, we recommend constant informal performance conversations and regular one-on-one check-ins between managers and employees. This includes setting and reviewing goals with each employee so that they have a standard to work towards.
Effective performance management strikes a careful balance between accountability and development. When employees know that your business wants to help them grow from good to great, they buy into initiatives (such as time-tracking) that you present to help them improve.
6. Use the right time management software
To paraphrase some classic financial advice, it takes time to make time.
Without the right software infrastructure, tracking and reporting time can be a tedious process for employees and managers alike. A
As your small business continues to grow, re-evaluate how your software handles individual distractions and communication breakdowns. For example, RescueTime is an effective tool for helping individual employees stay on track while BambooHR HRIS serves as a hub for all your people, performance, and compensation information.
If you want your small business to grow, you need to give it the right foundation. And that starts with making the most of your employee’s time. Try these tips and start building the best possible time management culture for your small business.
Brian Anderson is a copywriter with BambooHR, a full-service, cloud-based HR management software. His work explores employee engagement, total rewards, and how core HRIS software connects with every aspect of HR. You can find more from Brian on the BambooHR Blog.