Top tips: How to target your priorities

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Ed Molyneux in his RAF days

By Ed Molyneux

Running a business is time-consuming.  When you run your own venture, it’s hard not to constantly try and juggle priorities or stay on top of a dozen things at once. You’ve got clients to deal with, marketing to undertake and accounts to manage – and that’s in addition to the work you actually get paid for by your customers. Tasks can balloon into much larger responsibilities and you might simply find there are not enough hours in the day to dedicate to them whilst attending to other duties such as strategic planning and pitching for investment that come with the territory of running your own business. Here are some of my tips on time-management.

Focus on one task at a time

If you focus on one task at a time and avoid distractions you are more likely to be more effective.  Most people aren’t skilled enough to be effective multitaskers.  Try to schedule “appointment time” in your day to focus on a specific project, implementing a system like Kanban to help you to prioritise your workload or even simply keep on top on a decent to-do list, it will all help you to spend less time flitting between things on your schedule and more time doing the work.

Learn to delegate

If you want to run and grow a successful business, it is important to learn to delegate.  When your business is your baby it is hard to let go but that is simply not sustainable.  It is important to learn and realise that you simply cannot do everything yourself and that you may even be putting your business at risk by spreading yourself too thin.  So, take a step back, assess the areas where you are not 100% proficient and delegate those tasks to someone else who has more expertise to take on the role.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Low level admin can be the bane of a small business owner’s life, and a major cause of disillusionment. Few people choose self-employment to sample the joys of financial admin, secretarial paperwork, email management and data filing – but they end up spending the majority of their time doing these tasks rather than being able to focus on the exciting parts of running a business.

If you can, try to delegate these low-level tasks to someone else so that you clear up your schedule to focus on more strategic, and enjoyable, duties. But if there’s no-one else to take the work on – and you can’t afford to hire someone – see if you can outsource or automate it instead.

For example, cloud accounting software can help make tedious financial admin easier and quicker, while there are a range of tools available to automate your marketing emails and help you file and manage important business records. Do your research and find the right software for your type of business – not just the one that is the most popular.

Don’t forget to track your time

Many business owners think that, as long as everything gets done, they don’t need to monitor their daily habits or keep an eye on the amount of time they spend on each part of their work. But time tracking can actually be hugely beneficial for identifying potential pain points in your business.

You don’t have to meticulously log timesheets every 10 minutes, but try to keep a record of what you’re working on and how long it takes you to complete it – and then review that info at the end of the week. You may find that you’re spending more time in meetings than you thought you were, or that your project estimates are taking twice as long to complete. Or perhaps maintaining your social media channels is taking up more and more of your day.

Armed with that information, you’ll be able to identify areas where you need help or where you need to be more ruthless in keeping to your deadline. And don’t forget to also keep tabs of the time you spend on non-work related stuff too. This won’t just help you identify instances where you’re procrastinating or wasting time when you should be working – you’ll also be able to see if you’re taking enough breaks during your day to keep you productive!

Ed Molyneux is CEO and founder of FreeAgent, which specialises in cloud accounting software for small businesses.  Ed was an RAF pilot before setting up FreeAgent in 2007 and the company has grown from three founders to over 130 employees and some 50,000 customers.  The company floated in 2016.