Once you’ve taken the plunge and jumped into the whirlpool that is running a small business, the subject of time management moves from being an abstract concern to a matter of day-to-day survival. No matter what way you slice it, there are only so many hours in the day, and how best to employ them will ultimately define the success or failure of your enterprise.
The classic problem facing small business owners is that it’s incredibly hard to see the big picture in terms of where best to allocate your resources when you’re slap bang in the middle of the maelstrom of the average working week.
In this article, we’ll break out a simple, universally applicable way of categorising tasks that you can use to bring order to chaos, start mastering your own time and take control of your workload. There are four distinct types of tasks you will face as a small business owner, and which ones you spend most time on makes all the difference. Let’s step through them.
Level 1: Not urgent and not important
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s very tempting to take refuge in small, trivial tasks simply to give yourself the impression you’re actually getting anything done at all. Step one in improving your overall time management is working out how much time you’re wasting on these types of tasks.
Is what you’re currently doing urgent? Is it important? If the answer to both questions is no, park it immediately and move it to the very back of your to-do list.
Level 2: Urgent and not important
This set of tasks are ones that aren’t critical, but that do have a time component that demands immediate action. A looming deadline forces you to tackle these tasks, so go ahead and get them out of the way. The key point to bear in mind as you do so, however, is to make sure you don’t end up in a situation where this type of trivial task can hijack your attention again.
These are exactly the sorts of items that you should be looking to both schedule and outsource – make explicit notes for how you can do so in future as you tick them off.
Level 3: Urgent and important
Now things are starting to get serious! These are the tasks that are both critical and pressing. Here again, the immediate focus is on efficiently taking care of business so start by knuckling down and getting them off your plate.
The longer-term point to focus on is that you simply shouldn’t be letting these type of tasks get anywhere near the relevant deadline in the first place. Important tasks can’t necessarily be outsourced, but they can most definitely be scheduled and planned in advance. Take each one of these as an opportunity to ask yourself, how do I make sure this never happens again?
Level 4: Not urgent and important
This is where you actually want to be spending most of your time as a small business owner – calmly focusing on genuinely important tasks, free from the pressure of last-minute panic or deadlines.
These are precisely the type of tasks where you are delivering the most value to your business and, not coincidentally, the ones where you’re most likely to be able to get in the zone and really blast through work while you’re doing them.
Put simply, the secret to long-term success as a small business owner is spending most of your day tackling these types of tasks. Anything you can do to make that a reality is an automatic win.
The four levels we’ve covered are deliberately broad – start using them to slice up your list of pending tasks by category, focus on trying to spend as much time as possible on the final category over time, and you’ll soon find that previously unmanageable workload starting to be whipped into shape!