As a business owner, the most valuable thing you have is not money, but time. Your ability to leverage your time and generate value is the foundation for creating a successful business and a satisfying life. But ‘time management’ is one of those terms that is so overused it has become meaningless. It’s easy to use ‘time’ as an excuse for not completing a task as promised. “I didn’t have time” or “I’m too busy” really means, “it’s not priority”.

‘Priority management’ is a much more useful and accurate term, as it changes the way we approach the challenge. The conversation then becomes centered on you, the individual. It is much more empowering and honest. Better priority management can give you freedom, control and a sense of accomplishment.

To achieve growth and development in your business, you must have time to work on growth and strategy. If you are always reactive and putting out spot fires, then your business growth will be stunted. To realise your potential, you need to dedicate time to business planning, reviewing, developing systems, developing your big picture and making it come to life. As your business grows, your skills in priority management must also evolve. With a larger team you will have different priorities. Family or personal commitments also change, which necessitates an ongoing review of your skills and practices.

Getting on top of your priority management is easy enough, but it does need discipline to set up simple habits, create systems and keep yourself on track. Develop one habit at a time, focus on your tasks and make small improvements. Here are some key areas to focus on:

1. Know what is important

The purpose of priority management is to balance everything in your life, so you can achieve your goals and still enjoy everything that is truly important to you. Knowing what these things are builds your personal framework. Family and relationships are priorities which commonly become casualties when your business demands more attention and becomes higher priority.

2. Understand your capacity

How much time do you actually have? Time is finite and the amount you can personally do in a given timeframe has a limit. It is more effective to start planning with your time limitations in mind than work backwards. For example, if you have a 9 hour day in front of you, but have a list of tasks that will take you 12 hours to complete, you obviously won’t finish them, yet many of us start the day with such a list. If you admit that there are things that you won’t complete, you are more likely to find other ways of doing them, delegating them or even dumping them.

3. Know when to stop

Some of us have more difficulty turning ‘off’ than ‘on’. For these people, it is important to understand the effect that overworking has on your productivity, health, creativity and family/social life. These limits are different for everyone, but working longer is not working smarter, nor is it more productive. Quality of life is not only measured through business success, money or work. Other things are important, and you will find ways to achieve your goals without working 24-7. You will also be more creative, productive and nicer to be around when your life is balanced.

4. Measure the value of your time.

Have you ever measured the dollar-value of your working time? Looking at that number can be a big reality check once you see the true value of the work that you do you. This will definitely motivate you to change your habits. It also gives you a useful benchmark that you can use to increase that value.

5. Use tools

The most organised business owners I know use a variety of tools, strategies and technology to help them keep on track with tasks, priorities and appointments. They could include electronic calendars, lists, reminders, phones, organisers or even a Personal Assistant. Business software can increase your efficiency significantly, especially software that is industry-specific for your business. It’s important to find methods that suit you; some people like hand written notes. It really doesn’t matter, so long as you actually use them and develop habits around them which take away uncertainty and free your mind.

6. Plan

If you want to manage your priorities, then you need to know what they are. Planning is the single most important habit to develop. Create a routine that you follow each day and week. A weekly priority list should be reviewed daily and updated at the same time each week. A daily priority list should be updated daily. Ideally plan your tasks at the end of each day for the following day. Don’t ever do priority management on the run, as you can’t have any clarity on bigger objectives when you are busy.

7. Know your weaknesses and distractions

We all have things that are more interesting than our work projects. It’s normal, but distractions are not good for efficiency! For example, let’s be honest, most of the content on social media is mindless. Learn to filter what is important or useful, or set aside time in the day when you check it, so it doesn’t intrude into every minute of your workday.

8. Pay attention.

How many times would you dial a number twice, re-type a word or make a mistake and then have to do it all over again? Paying attention pays dividends. Slow down and focus on doing it right the first time. Taking regular breaks also helps refresh your mind so you can maintain your focus.

9. Build business systems.

Creating systems in your business is the first base of efficiency in your business. Without systems, you will always be chasing your tail. We all use systems in business, think about standard templates or training manuals. Systems set you free, as you don’t need to waste time and energy re-inventing your methods every time. Once you have your systems standardised, document them. Then you can start measuring, refining and delegating. Where possible, automate them.

10. Get help

The ultimate way to leverage your time is to engage the services of others. Making this transition can be difficult for small business owners, especially when they are just starting out. Determine where your greatest value is for the business, for example selling, managing operations or marketing. Work towards putting your energy and time into those areas and get others to take care of the other tasks. Look for easy, low-risk and cost-effective ways to outsource. It might be a contract bookkeeper, a virtual service provider or even getting help with home tasks. Paying a regular salary is a huge drain on business cash flow, so looking for ways to outsource through contract or part time work helps to minimise the risk.

By: Dr. Warren Harmer