Time management is a tough skill to learn, but it’s vital if you want to make it as an entrepreneur. When you first start out as a small business owner, it’s tempting to work all the hours under the sun to achieve success. However, working too many hours can actually be counterproductive for small businesses. Putting in 70-hour weeks is not a sustainable business model, and soon, you will fall victim to burnout and stress.
Entrepreneurs now understand that if they want to make it in the business world, they need to manage their time cleverly and effectively. A work-life balance can be difficult to strike, so here are some tips to help you master the skill of time management.
1. Challenge misconceptions about time management and success
You wouldn’t ask your employees to work overtime every day of the week, so why do you expect this of yourself? 1/3 of U.S. business owners say they need to work 69 hours a week to successfully run their businesses, despite emerging evidence that working more than 39 hours per week is detrimental to human health.
Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer goes further than this. In his new book, Dying For A Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health And Company Performance And What We Can Do About It (2018), he argues that working over 40 hours per week is counterproductive and that we could all benefit from working fewer hours while still getting the work done.
Of course, many factors contribute to stress, but Prefer argues that long hours are among the most prevalent. Unfortunately, working long hours seems to have become synonymous with success, even though in reality it is anything but.
“In a perverse twist, longer work hours have become a status symbol,” Pfeffer points out.
Remote work has only exacerbated this problem. Now that we live in a world where work can be done anytime, anywhere, our working lives extend far beyond the office. Forbes reports that 81% of respondents of a recent survey said they checked e-mail on the weekends, while 55% said they logged in after 11 p.m., and 59% said they looked at emails while on vacation.
To manage your time more productively, you first need to change your mindset. More time does not equal more productivity. In fact, in most cases the reverse is true.
2. Restrict your working hours
Multiple studies show the adverse effects of working long hours on a regular basis. The definition of what constitutes these “long hours” varies depending on who you speak to, but the maximum working week is usually considered to be around 40-50 hours.
The negative effects of working more than 50 hours a week include:
- Poor sleep quality
- Reduced immunity
- Higher risk of stress-related illnesses
- Poor physical health
As such, it’s important to put restrictions in place to protect yourself from burnout. It can be helpful to have a cut-off point for work in the evenings, such as 7 pm, and vow not to check your email at weekends. You may find that you work more productively at different times of day, in which case you can shift your schedule accordingly. Some people, for instance, prefer to work early in the morning and finish halfway through the day. Others work best at night.
If you restrict your own working hours, you must do the same for your employees. Lead by example and try to encourage a healthy work-life balance. Not only will effective time management prevent your employees from becoming stressed and overworked, but it will also promote a healthy work culture, which will only benefit your business.
3. Limit your projects
Often, we find ourselves working overtime because we’ve taken on too many projects. When this happens, we’ll try to meet impossible deadlines and eventually realize that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done.
Working under pressure does have some short-term benefits, and in business some “crunch times” are inevitable. However, if you’re always chasing your tail, you won’t perform your best work and will quickly burn out.
Acknowledge that there is only so much your business can take on. If you find yourself burning the candle at both ends, you’ll need to consider limiting your workload or outsourcing projects to manage your deadlines better.
The key here is to prioritize tasks according to importance. Is a task vital to your business? Will it alleviate pressure or get you closer to meeting a deadline? If not, ask yourself whether it can be postponed or eliminated from your schedule. Permit yourself to say no sometimes, especially to projects or tasks that don’t benefit you in the long-term.
4. Create a realistic work schedule
Creating realistic schedules is paramount to your success as a business owner. If you’re constantly over-promising and under-delivering, you will suffer, work late at night and eventually burn out after too many 80-hour weeks. Often, this happens, and the project still doesn’t deliver on time. Research into project management in the U.S. found that roughly 78% of projects are behind schedule, over budget, and provide less functionality than was agreed in the original scope.
The answer is to develop a realistic schedule by breaking down tasks and activities, working out how long they will take to complete, and appointing a project manager to oversee each element of the project. You should also measure future progress against the timeline to see how the project is faring. If any part of the process is behind schedule, you can take corrective or preventative action as it approaches the deadline.
Long working hours is one of the main contributors to mental illness and stress. However, new evidence is coming to light that a shorter working week could actually make us more productive. The key to effective time management is to get ahead and be prepared, so you can work smart – not hard. This means working flexible hours without procrastinating or making yourself ill. It will take some practice, but over time learning to manage your time effectively could be the key to business success.