When I interview business owners a chief complaint is stress due lack of time. Small wonder: the owner of a small business must accomplish all of the tasks a multinational corporation does with none of the resources, either financial or human.

“I must start this project today. I must speak to this employee about the quality of his work. I must get the numbers together for the accountant. I must call ten potential customers. I must follow up on the back ordered items. I must create a plan for the warehouse. I must train the new person. I must evaluate new software. I must go to my daughter’s recital. I must buy a new coffee pot. And I must do today’s work.”

The sheer quantity of tasks added to the range of expertise required is daunting. For some  it can become debilitating. There is little to be done about the sheer quantity of work it takes to run a business, but there are ways to manage the time you have and relieve some of the stress. For the short term you’ll be adding some tasks, but in the long term you should find them easier to manage.

Set Priorities & Make a Schedule

In the list above, how would you prioritize the tasks?  Perhaps calling new customers should be #1, but realistically some other times may take precedence. For instance, your daughter’s recital may be a command performance.  

You have a project which must be started.  When must it be completed?  If you anticipate it will take 20 hours and must be finished in thirty days, then you will require five hours per week to deliver it on time. Schedule those hours.

Speaking to an employee about poor performance is uncomfortable for most people, but the process, even with documentation, will take a few minutes of your time. Get it over with first thing in the morning and reduce your stress for the rest of the day.

Numbers for the accountant is an ongoing problem (probably either monthly or quarterly). If it is a problem every period, look at how you can mitigate some of the work, with a different system of bookkeeping, software, or delegating some of the simpler tasks. If you hate it, do it first thing in the morning. If you find it a relaxing activity, schedule it late in the day when you are a bit weary.

New customers are key to the health of a business, no question. If you set aside a period every day or week to call new customers (“from 2 until 3 in the afternoon” or “Thursday mornings”). That effectively takes it off your plate for the rest of the week.

Following up on back ordered items may be something you can delegate. If not, schedule a call and get it over with.

Creating a plan for the warehouse is likely to eat up a lot of hours.  Why not start by asking the people who work in the warehouse to come up with a preliminary plan. They will have a more intimate familiarity with the issues in any event.  

Training staff is both important and time consuming, but well trained employee is an asset. If you have an Employee Handbook to offer it will cover a range of issues. Have other employees do as much of the early training as possible. Then schedule regular periods for training.

New software can be a boon if it frees up time, accomplishes tasks more effectively and makes your life easier. Realistically you know your business and how difficult it will be to integrate new software into the business.  However, it does not necessarily have to happen during the regular work day.

If you or your employees rely on coffee to push through the work day, that pot may be a high priority.

So in the future you have a time reserved for regular work, recurring tasks and you fit non-recurring items into your schedule as needed.  Sounds simple, right? It is, but it can have a profound effect on your stress level if you are know you have allotted the hours to get it all done.  Include all deadlines, routine maintenance, meetings and other items to ensure you have accounted for all the time you have committed.  You may find that much of your time is spent doing what others could do.  Or you may decide that some of the work can be outsourced.  Until you look at the universe of your work, it’s difficult to make informed decisions.

You also need to understand when you have hit stress overload and respond to it: go take a walk, go to the gym, go home and play with the dog….whatever relaxes you. Don’t underestimate the toll that stress takes on your health and your work. Your employees will probably be grateful.

As for today, you start by acknowledging that you must leave at 3:00, and the recital will take an hour, you can stop obsessing about that one.  It’s decided.  Maybe you can take an extra 15 minutes and buy a coffee pot on the way back.

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