Starting a new business is an exciting but challenging journey that requires a lot of time and effort.
As a new business owner, managing your time effectively is essential to stay on top of all the tasks and responsibilities. From managing finances to marketing, customer service, and product development, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day.
In this article, we’ll be sharing some essential time management tips for new business owners to help them stay organized, productive, and focused on achieving their goals.
Whether running a small home-based business or a larger enterprise, these tips will help you make the most of your time and set your business up for success.
Setting goals and understanding what you are trying to achieve
Time is our most valuable asset – in a way, our only real asset. As a new business owner, you should start thinking of time not as something you spend but as something you invest. Every minute of your day will have impacts down the road, and the compound effect of time invested in the right way should not be underestimated.
There is a fantastic quote that goes: “we often overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a lifetime.”
This is why the key to effective time management in business starts with goal setting and understanding what you are trying to achieve. This section will cover how to set long, medium, and short-term goals for your small business.
Long term goals
Long-term goals represent where you are heading as a small business owner. It has to include a good mix of somewhat tangible and concrete goals with a more general idea of what you are trying to achieve with your new business and what you value in life.
For example, long-term goals might involve statements such as:
I want to achieve financial freedom;
I want to spend most of my day close to my kids and partner;
On the other hand, too broad statements that can’t be tracked should be avoided, such as:
I want to have more work-life balance (what is work-life balance for you?)
I want to be rich (what is to be rich for?)
Set 3 to 5 long-term goals.
You would also want to set from 3 to 5 long-term goals. Too many create a distraction, while too few can create a narrow-minded mentality.
In the end, starting a new business is not just about making more money. Try to create long-term goals for different areas of your life. For example, you might want to set one financial, health-related, social, or family related and one lifestyle-related goal.
“Long term” can mean different things for different business owners.
Additionally, it is hard to frame what “long-term” means for everyone. For a solopreneur building a small digital business, the long term might be 2-3 years from now, whereas for bigger businesses, that can be 10 years into the future or even more.
Next, we come to yearly or medium-term goals in line with our time management strategy. In this tier, you are aiming to create a list of concrete targets for your year ahead. Think of how you can narrow down some of the more broad long-term goals you previously set.
For example, if you set “financial freedom” as part of your long-term goals, then you can think of the following as ideas for your yearly objectives for your new business:
To be able to quit my job and work on my business full-time;
To save at least 10% of my income every month;
To establish an emergency fund that covers one year of my base expenses;
Notice that at a yearly level, all of the goals are objective and easily measurable. You can answer yes or no to whether you accomplished them, whereas, in the long-term goals, you can leave some margin for interpretation.
Quick note: if you are reading this post in the middle of the year, don’t lose heart and think you will need to wait until next January to set yearly goals. Create a plan for the rest of the year that will already help you create the habit of setting medium-term goals in the future.
If your year is a full later, your month is one of the intermediate steps. Monthly goals should be realistic and achievable but still challenging enough to motivate your new business toward growth and progress. Monthly goals can be adjusted to suit your changing circumstances, and they can help you develop habits and routines that can help you achieve your long-term goals.
Still in the financial spectrum, here are some examples of monthly goals for small business owners:
To stick to the monthly budget, I created last month;
To run new marketing campaigns that increase my profit by 20% in comparison to last month;
To strike a deal with a new supplier and save 10% on my monthly inventory purchase;
As you can see, all these goals are aligned with your yearly and long-term ones. The monthly plan starts to enter the realm of specific actions you need to take in order to accomplish important tasks. But it is in our next one that we really get to time management itself.
Bonus: the main weekly goal
In the weekly time frame, you should aim not to create a complex list of tasks and goals – we will leave that for your monthly and daily plans. But one way to support both is to set what is your main weekly goal.
In other words, if there is one task or goal you were to achieve in the week ahead, what would that be?
Your weekly goal can be something very specific, such as “conduct 100 phone calls with potential customers” or even “increase time spent with my family.”
It is easy to get caught up in day-to-day operations, so this serves as a buffer between the different tasks your daily life asks of you and the broader long-term goals you set yourself.
The “plan tomorrow today” method (or PTT)
If you were to read only one segment of this article, this would be it. The “plan tomorrow today” method is the foundation of good time management skills for business owners.
The best part is that this method’s name is exactly what it means: you should plan tomorrow’s daily schedule today, not yesterday, and not next week.
Planning tomorrow today allows you to see the specific tasks you will need to perform and help you stay focused and avoid multitasking. Here is a step-by-step guide to how to create a plan for the next day, today.
Prioritize tasks and create a to-do list.
Effective time management and a to-do list go hand in hand. To-do lists (or checklists) are effective because they allow you to have a visual understanding of your tasks. Managing a to-do list is easy and also supports you in planning better every day.
For example, you might notice you have been overplanning tasks and never getting everything done. To-do lists that go incomplete too many times might suggest you either need to have more productive time while working or need to hire employees and delegate tasks.
On the other hand, you might be planning too few tasks and end up having wasted time. Poor time management can also happen when you underestimate your ability to manage time. For all of these reasons, a good old to-do list is one of the best time management systems available.
Divide the day in two.
Granted: some small business owners have client-related tasks that demand them to have a more flexible routine. For other small business types, such as accounting firms, freelancers, consultants, or any other role in which they can easily assign tasks for themselves without a problem, a good idea is to divide the day in two.
Science has pretty strong evidence that our brains work in different ways throughout the day. Although it is not clear that everyone’s mental power works the same way, it is safe to assume that we can perform different tasks with different quality as the day goes by.
One of the best time management tips is to divide your day in two and test what sort of tasks works best for you at each time of the day. For example, work on creative projects in the morning and admin tasks in the afternoon for a while, then try the other way around. See what works best and is more time effective.
Go through all your goal settings every day.
A good sailor can always point to the north, and so should you. As a small business owner, this applies to your long-term and medium-term goals.
Going through your list of objectives for your week, month, year, and beyond supports your understanding that you are planning tomorrow today the right way. Poor time management is almost always related to losing track of what your goals are.
Ideally, save some time to read through your goals whenever you are planning your time. Even if that doesn’t necessarily make you manage your time effectively, it should be enough to boost your motivation for the day of work ahead.
Use these 3 time management tools and techniques
There are a plethora of tools for new business owners to choose from when managing time and productivity. Very often, it can be an overwhelming task just to choose from the tools available. This is why we list 3 tools to manage your time so you can have a clear idea of how to plan ahead and work smarter.
Time tracking tools
Time tracking tools are a great way for small business owners to start out their time management journey. A time tracking tool is a software or service that enables small businesses to monitor and record the amount of time spent on various tasks or projects.
Such tools will help time wasters avoid binge-watching YouTube or support you to stay productive by telling how you are spending work hours. Examples of such tools are Clockify, Tracking Time, and Toggl.
As you become more productive, stop wasting time, and understand what time management practices are working best, you might see that time-tracking tools become a bit of an overkill. But if you are just starting out, they are great to help you boost productivity.
To-do list tools
We already spoke of the power of checklists and to-do lists for time management. And if you want to go beyond pen and paper to manage your daily tasks, you can sign up for an account in a productivity tool, such as Trello, TeuxDeux, or Notion.
The advantage of using an online to-do system is that it helps you easily define what is your highest priority for the day, focus on the tasks that bring the most positive impact, and give a sense of progress when you accomplish tasks.
The timeless Pomodoro technique is a fantastic way to boost your time management routine. The Pomodoro technique divides your working periods into groups of 2 hours and further breaks down each of these hours into sets of 30 minutes. Every set of 30 minutes includes a short 5 minutes break, and once you finish that longer 2-hour block, you can take a longer break.
There is no scientific evidence that breaking your time this way boosts productivity. The aim of using the Pomodoro technique is more to support you in forming a habit of working with time constraints, setting a time limit for each task, but also knowing when to take breaks.
There are endless options of YouTube videos with the Pomodoro technique timer to choose from. Go ahead and give it a try to get your next task done.
Plan “unproductive” time
It is crazy that we have to call this fundamental part of your time management “unproductive,” but it is a good way of defining it. Unproductive time is all those bits and pieces in which we are doing everything but working.
Time management shouldn’t be constrained to those hours you spend working at your business and getting things done, but it also helps you spend quality time with your loved ones and have less stress.
Holidays are vital for anyone’s mental well-being. Having long and relaxing free time throughout your year will go a long way toward helping you improve your work quality, reduce stress levels and connect with why you are doing what you are doing.
Holiday periodization is not set in stone, as people have different recovery rates. Some will be able to feel mentally and emotionally fresh in less time, while other new business owners might need long chunks of time to help them get ready for upcoming challenges. As with everything related to time management, try and test what works best for you and your business.
Take a break between tasks.
On a daily level, it is critical that you take a break between tasks. Finishing answering emails for hours just to start a new set of tasks is counterproductive. Your brain needs time to unwind before you can focus on the next task.
The Pomodoro technique we mentioned earlier is a great way to start including breaks in your working routine.
Invest in your mental health.
Investing in your mental health isn’t a direct time management tip, but it is essential for anyone to stay productive and enjoy the most of a new business journey.
Eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, and spending quality time with your loved ones can go a long way to boost your sense of well-being. Additionally, consider looking for a counselor or coach if you want to further work on your emotional health.
Hone your time management skills
Time management is a skill, and with any new skill, you can work to improve it. Honing and improving your time management abilities is vital to help you plan ahead more effectively, save time and even reduce any unnecessary stress.
If you are into productivity and time management topics, we highly encourage you to take a time management course. We recommend that you look into the University of California’s Work Smarter, Not Harder course available at Coursera. There are other courses out there, but this should give provide you with more in-depth knowledge of time management for business that we covered in this article.