Small Business Basics
Time-Saving Tips

(Date posted: May 9, 2014)

This page of business basics explains ways to save time and get work done efficiently.

Here are the topics:

Introduction to methods
Avoid or minimize interruptions
Break the habit of perfectionism
Complete all required preparations first
Complete those small, nagging tasks
Delegate certain tasks
Divide big jobs into smaller pieces
Eliminate unneeded tasks
Emphasize the most important tasks
Finish one task before starting the next
Know when to get help or stop working
Know your final objective
Organize your workplace
Prepare a work plan
Use standardized forms and procedures
Use to-do lists and deadlines

I have used all of these time-saving tips at one time or another. I recommend that you pick out two or three of the best ideas and develop them into a habit. Later on, you can choose some other ideas to make into a habit.

Introduction to methods

Everyone has the same amount of hours in a day. However, either this time can be used effectively or it can be wasted. This page provides you with numerous time-saving methods. It is up to you to review these methods and adopt the ones that seem useful. Then as you keep using a particular method, you will gradually develop it into a habit. This will let you make better use of your valuable time.

These methods may apply both to your employment and to your personal endeavors. However, be sure to get your employer’s or supervisor’s approval before using these ideas on the job. The time-saving methods described in this page are easy to understand and put to use. However, you must use them on a daily basis and develop them into a habit to get the most benefit from them.

The following methods use different ways to save time. You’ll save the most time by using every appropriate method.

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Avoid or minimize interruptions

Some days you might not get much done because of constant interruptions. If this happens often, you might need to control these interruptions, if possible. Try to have some quiet periods when you can work on your most important tasks. Maybe you could put up a sign to discourage interruptions. It could say something like: Quiet please, genius at work.

Also, you could schedule some busy periods for work that isn’t so critical. During these times, you would be available to discuss things and handle other interruptions.

Besides restricting interruptions to busy periods, you might want to eliminate some types of interruptions altogether. What is the reason for these interruptions? Maybe you have a habit of being available for intrusions. (Perhaps you shouldn’t be so inviting.)

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Break the habit of perfectionism

Perfectionism means to keep working on a task longer than needed. This habit can waste a great deal of time. I believe it results from an excessive fear of being ridiculed for making mistakes or doing a poor job. Thus, you tend to keep working on a task until it is so perfect that no one could possibly criticize it. However, this usually is a poor use of your valuable time.

You can eliminate this habit by first determining what level of quality is sufficient for a particular task. Then you should stop work on that task when the desired quality is attained.

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Complete all required preparations first

Sometimes when you have a new task, you just want to jump in and start doing things. This may make you feel better, but it isn’t always the best way to get the job done.

Often, some time spent in advance preparations will prevent you from wasting a greater amount of time later on. It’s not enough just to get something done. It has to be the right something and it should be done without wasting a lot of time, effort, or resources.

Here’s a brief list of things that may need to be done before starting work on the main task:

1. Know your final objective.

2. Determine any restrictions or requirements that must be followed while performing the task.

3. Determine if you need any special training.

4. Perform any research needed on how best to get the work done.

5. Prepare a work plan (when appropriate).

6. Get all required instructions, authorizations, and permissions.

7. Schedule any work required from others.

8. Gather all needed materials, tools, and supplies.

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Complete those small, nagging tasks

Have you ever had some small tasks than need doing but you keep putting them off? Sometimes you waste more time worrying about them than it would take to finish them.

There are two ways to handle this problem. If an unfinished task could have adverse consequences, then do it as soon as possible. (At least do it the next time you think about it.) Those other unfinished tasks can be grouped together on your to-do list and worked on whenever you have the time.

Example:

You were told to order some supplies for your current project. However, you kept putting it off. Then one day it happens, you need the supplies but they haven’t been ordered. You are chewed out for holding up an important project. See, you should have ordered the supplies the same day you were told to do it.

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Delegate certain tasks

When appropriate, one of the best ways to save your time is to have someone else do the work. Delegating certain tasks may be worthwhile when it produces timely results, of the required level of quality.

It may be appropriate to delegate certain tasks when all of the following items apply:

1. You have one or more helpers who can be trained to do these tasks.

2. These helpers have the information and skills needed to perform these tasks. (Although these helpers may not be able to perform these tasks as well as you can, they can do them adequately if they have proper coaching and/or supervision.)

3. This delegation will result in an overall saving of time and/or money.

4. If you are working for an employer, this delegation must have the approval of your employer or supervisor.

Some tasks might be beyond the abilities of you and any helpers. If these tasks are essential, a qualified outside person or business firm may have to do the work. For example, an accounting firm may have to be hired to keep the books and prepare tax returns.

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Divide big jobs into smaller pieces

Large jobs present several problems. They can be so daunting that you keep avoiding them. If you only work on them occasionally, you waste time by having to get up to speed every time you start working on them. Moreover, if you work on a single job for a long period you may have to forego or delay other jobs that should be done.

Before starting a large job, you probably can save time by planning how to break it into smaller pieces. These smaller pieces are much less daunting and allow you more flexibility in planning your time.

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Eliminate unneeded tasks

Another waste of time is working on tasks that don’t need to be done. Sometimes we keep doing things just because that’s how it was done in the past.

So how do you identify tasks that aren’t needed? First, you question whether some things might not be needed. Then you stop doing a questionable task. If the stoppage has no adverse effect then you can eliminate this task in the future.

Of course, if you’re working for an employer, you need to do whatever tasks are required by your supervisor or employer.

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Emphasize the most important tasks

Your valuable time and effort is best used on the most important tasks. Important (or high-value) tasks are those that are essential for the success of your endeavors. They also could be tasks, such as planning or review, that have to be done before other tasks can be started or completed.

One way to emphasize the most important tasks is to assign an hourly wage to various tasks. The high-value tasks get the highest wages; the low-value tasks get the lowest wages. Then you would try to maximize your daily wages by working mostly on the high-value tasks—the ones with the highest hourly wage.

One problem is that these high-value tasks can be difficult to perform. One solution I have used is to pick out one high-value task at a time and learn how to do it. Then learn how to do another high-value task, and so on.

You also may need to do routine tasks. However, you normally should give preference to the most important tasks.

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Finish one task before starting the next

Note: This method assumes that you have divided all big jobs into smaller pieces, as shown under the divide big jobs topic on this page. Then a task could refer to a smaller piece of a large job.

The problem with jumping from one uncompleted task to another task is that you’re wasting time on getting up to speed on each new task. Also, you might get confused by having to handle several partially completed tasks at the same time. Keep tasks small enough so you can finish one before having to go on to another.

This does not mean that you should never interrupt a task. (Sometimes emergencies dictate your actions.) However, try to minimize any task interruptions.

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Know when to get help or stop working

Sometimes you may run into a problem with a particular task. Perhaps you lack needed information or skills. Maybe you just aren’t suited for doing that kind of task.

Instead of wasting time on a problem you can’t solve maybe you should get help or stop working on the task. Then you can find out how to resolve the problem. It’s usually not a good idea to keep working away without getting results.

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Know your final objective

One of the biggest time wasters is to complete a task and then discover it did not achieve the desired results. Before starting work on a new project, be sure you know all the requirements. It may even be a good idea to write them down.

Here are some questions that may help you determine all the requirements.

1. What is the desired result?

2. How can I determine when this result has been achieved?

3. How can I measure my progress?

4. What is the minimum quality level required?

5. Is there a budget, time limit, or any other restriction?

6. Are there any other requirements?

Once you know your final objective and its detailed requirements, you may want to prepare a work plan as described below.

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Organize your workplace

No matter what kind of workplace you have, whether an office, shop, construction site, or whatever, there usually are some tools and supplies that you use. You may even use some instructions, plans, or reference manuals. The more things you use the more important it is to organize them so they are readily available.

There is an old saying that applies here: A place for everything and everything in its place.

Here is one way to organize your workplace:

1. Remove those things that you hardly ever use.

2. Decide how to store things so what you use most often is kept in the handiest locations.

3. Acquire more storage devices, if needed.

4. Put things in their designated storage areas.

Once everything is organized, you can quickly learn where to look when you need something. The alternative is to just leave things scattered around, and then have to waste time searching for them when they’re needed.

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Prepare a work plan

When appropriate, a work plan can be a great time saver. It summarizes the task requirements, any advance preparations, activities of the main task, and any final activities. It also can list deadlines and other considerations for a satisfactory job.

A work plan is especially desirable for new or elaborate projects. Usually a small amount of time spent planning can save a great deal of time, and even expense, in getting the work done.

When preparing a work plan for a new or complicated project you may need assistance from experienced people. You also should see if a work plan or some other instructions already exist for this project.

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Use standardized forms and procedures

This method applies if you have repetitive tasks that require detailed information or procedures. Often it takes extra time to find the best way to do this kind of task. There may be a trial and error process the first few times you do the task.

Once you have uncovered the secrets for a certain kind of task you can set up a cheat sheet. This is a form or set of instructions that shows you how to do that same task in the future. It should include all the known insights and shortcuts.

If you are working for an employer there already may be standard forms or procedures that you can use. In any case, you have to follow your employer’s or supervisor’s instructions for doing your job.

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Use to-do lists and deadlines

To-do lists remind you of what has to be done. They can also include the deadlines and relative importance of various tasks.

Deadlines give you a kick in the pants that help you get going. By deadlines, I mean both a starting date and the desired completion date. These deadlines are especially useful when dividing large jobs into smaller pieces. You can set deadlines for each one of the smaller pieces.

Some tasks have lag times. You may have to wait for something else to be done before being able to finish the task. In this case, the starting date for your task should be early enough to allow for any expected lag times. You also could use a separate deadline to monitor the work being done by someone else.

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