Small-business owners get pulled into a dozen different directions every day. It can feel like you're constantly reacting to events and struggling to keep ahead of deadlines — and that makes it far more difficult to think strategically about building your business. On a personal level, it's also incredibly stressful.
But even the busiest entrepreneur can take control with a few organization strategies. Arranging your time and using available tools can help you bring a sense of order and progress to your days. Here are a few ideas to try:
1. Lean on Your Calendar, Not Your To-Do List
Some people find that to-do lists work well for them — but for a lot of entrepreneurs, they aren't very effective. If you find yourself constantly unable to finish your list (and probably neglecting the biggest, most important tasks on there), it may be time to try a different approach.
Open your calendar and schedule everything you have to do for the week, dedicating a chunk of time to each item. This requires you to estimate how long a particular task may take, and doesn't account for last-minute emergencies, so keep some wiggle room in case things need to be shuffled around. But for the most part, you're more likely to get your to-dos done when you've already made the decision about when to do them.
2. Keep Your Inbox Sacred
Stopping to respond to emails breaks your concentration and keeps you from tackling bigger-picture items. Turn off your email notifications — even hearing the buzz on your phone can be distracting — and set aside dedicated, consistent blocks of your day to respond to email.
Make it a habit to go through every single email in your inbox, completing tasks or sorting them into files dedicated to more time-consuming projects. Once your dedicated time for email is up, turn it off. If you're worried about missing an emergency, ask that people contact you via text message.
3. Tackle Your Least Favorite Task First
As you plan out your schedule, first tackle the tasks that are most important, starting with the ones you dislike. The idea is that you will stop procrastinating and face the toughest items first thing in the morning, before the day tires you out and steals your focus.
You may need to adjust this if you are absolutely not a morning person — but even so, doing these tough tasks early in your day can free you up to concentrate on other things. Once you get these difficult items done, you'll sail through the rest of your priorities.
4. Use Technology Designed to Integrate
While you're structuring your days in the best way possible, make sure your tools are keeping up with you. Create a tech setup that helps you move efficiently from one task to the next.
Cloud-based technology, software and apps that all integrate with each other can help make your communications and projects centrally located and seamlessly connected to one another. Before you commit to using any tool, confirm that it's designed to easily integrate with your existing hardware, software and platforms.
Lastly, consider the possibility that you're just taking on too much. Small-business owners often feel like they have to handle every aspect of running their business, when it makes more sense — both financially and in terms of personal well-being — to assign tasks to others. Can you train an employee to manage some regular tasks? Could you hire an HR company to take on more work related to personnel? Ask your peer small-business owners if they have recommendations for companies or other resources.
No matter how much you love being your own boss, it's not always easy to balance all the work involved. Organization strategies that fit the needs of an entrepreneur can help you tame your schedule. Best of all, they allow you to think about the types of big-picture projects that will keep your business strong.