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Learning to manage time an important investment

You may be an expert in sales, a whiz in finance and a technological guru, but if you're not managing your time well, you're wasting one of your most important resources.

One of the major stress factors in owning a small business is that there simply isn't enough time to accomplish all that needs to be done to keep things running smoothly. No matter how large your business grows, there will always be just 24 hours in a day.

Small business owners typically get bogged down for two reasons: poor planning and poor communication. Without a written business plan to guide your business, each decision requires more and more time. Before long, you're spending more time putting out fires than planning for the future. With a business plan, you can outline the fundamental goals and objectives of your business. This allows you to concentrate on implementation rather than second-guessing every decision.

To avoid the communication pitfall, maintain an open-door policy for employees. Create an atmosphere that encourages employees to keep you informed about what is going on in your business. Employees are on the front lines and know your business almost as well as you do. They may also know your customers better than you do. Keep the lines of communication open, so you can benefit from the knowledge and insights of employees.

To make better use of your time, log appointments and major deadlines in a monthly calendar. Write down what must be done and the due dates for projects at key progress intervals. There are many time management systems available: pocket calendars, various types of day timers and electronic schedulers. Any of these can help you control your time commitments and project obligations.

Start each day with a planned schedule. Try to arrive at your office, store or plant 15 minutes early simply to organize yourself before addressing the business of the day. Make a checklist of priority items and the amount of time you can dedicate to each. Integrate your daily appointments into this checklist. If you find that you are most productive in the morning, perhaps you want to work at your desk until noon and save sales calls for after lunch. Adjust your calendar to your own personal style for maximum effectiveness.

Make it common practice to establish firm deadlines and meet them. In doing so, you'll set a good example for your employees. They will look to your practices as examples of how things are accomplished within the business. If you routinely meet deadlines, employees will be more likely to meet their deadlines as well.

+ Editor's note: This column is one of a series of monthly columns by Bill Fuller which provides information supplied by the Citrus County SCORE Chapter 646 which offers free, confidential counseling services to new and existing businesses in the county. The counseling covers a range of business-related topics. Call 621-0775.

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