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10 Tips for Managing Your Business Time
If there's one problem shared by all small businesses, from accounting services to zipper repair shops, it's the problem of how to manage time.

Looking at it another way, time can prove a small-business owner's best friend or their worst enemy. That makes time management - or lack thereof - central to the business day. While larger operations have the personnel and resources to tackle tasks in any number of fashions, a small-business person is often trying to make two hands work like 12.

Time management really is a problem for a lot of small-business owners simply because they have so much they have to do themselves. Owners must do everything from the routine to the most urgent. Sometimes it can simply be overwhelming.

Instead of making you read another how-to book and take up more valuable time here are 10 fast tips that can help you manage your business day.

Create a to-do list that goes one step further.

No revolutionary pearls here. Whether the night before or first thing in the morning, make a list of what you want to accomplish that day. But make the list useful by prioritizing it according to what has to be done and what can wait. Scarborough suggests using a letter system - A for things that are absolute musts, B for chores that are less so but still important and C for duties that, should things go as planned, would be nice to get out of the way.

Work through the ABCs.

After laying out daily tasks, look after the A list first, then move on to B and so on. Doing so targets the most important items up front, and if the list is unfinished by end of day, you'll have a reminder that it's not always possible to follow through on a schedule. That can make for more realistic time planning and management later on.

Bundle your tasks.

Depending on how you've prioritized your day, you can bundle certain chores together, such as earmarking an hour after lunch for making all your phone calls. That can help you avoid jumping from one task to another, and back again. (Sound familiar?)

If applicable, factor in the children.

Rather than looking at your little ones as the bombs who break up your day, plan around them. It's not easy (I speak from experience), but you can juggle children and a business in the same day. For some detailed advice, read this story.

Take advantage of technology.

Day Timers are tried and true, but there's more advanced technology available that can be a real boon to small-business time management. For instance, bCentral's Appointment Manager offers an automated means of scheduling, tracking and managing appointments. The Web-based system lets customers set their own appointments, sends reminder e-mails and faxes automatically and keeps you up to date on changes and updates in your workday.

Play to your strengths.

Are you a morning person? Then earmark that time for more creative duties, such as brochure writing or business plan work. By contrast, if you come back to the office glassy-eyed after even the lightest of lunches, set that time aside for stuffing envelopes and other less-cerebral tasks.

Carry work with you to take advantage of time gaps.

If you're out making sales calls, bring more than sales material with you. That way, if you have to wait 10 minutes before an appointment, you can punch out a quick thank-you note to a customer on your laptop, or even just update the status of all your current projects. It may sound like a nickel-and-dime tactic, but you'll have one less task hanging over your head.

Don't be shy about being a hermit.

Short of congratulatory phone calls from the lottery commission or Ed McMahon's prize van pulling into your driveway, unexpected phone calls and visitors can decimate even the best laid out schedules. So, if you need to set aside an hour or two for focused, concentrated work, let the answering machine screen your calls and ignore your neighbor at the front door. You can always catch up with them later.

Include relaxation or activity break.

Unless you happen to have a large red "S" emblazoned on your chest, it's not likely that you're going to function on all cylinders from daybreak to dusk. Don't overlook some down time as part of your overall time management strategy - even a few minutes spent staring out the window can return you to work recharged and ready to rock.

Make sure your time management actually works.

After you've built up a plan, how do you know you're hitting your time management goals? That, like so much to do with mapping out your workday in an efficient fashion, is really quite simple - if you come to the end of the day with time to relax and unwind, your time plan is doing its job. As Scarborough points out: "That's the best sign that you're controlling your time and not the other way around."

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