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How to avoid burnout and improve time management

Kathy Macomber Published on 31 December 2010

An owner’s responsibilities for running a small business can seem overwhelming. As a result, the delicate balancing act of allocating time to work on the business, as well as in the business, can result in too little time for family, personal interests and self-care.

There are some strategies a business owner can use to avoid burnout and improve time management, according to Kathy Macomber, a business development specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

“There are tools that can help with time management, which is really self-management. Time is a finite resource, but your efficiency in using that time can be improved with the use of some or all of the following techniques,” said Macomber.

The first step toward help with self-management is to keep a record, for one week, of all activities in 15-minute increments.

“I know, this seems like adding another task that isn’t driving results, but you need to gather data before you can make meaningful decisions,” said Macomber.

Thoroughly examine the list, and then prioritize the activities according to your goals. Macomber recommends using a 1-to-5 scale to weight how important an activity is to profitability, repeat business, customer satisfaction or other business goals.

Continue to analyze the list to identify activities that only you can do effectively, and those that could be done by someone else.

“If you have employees, delegate. Spend some time training and setting expectations, and then trust the employee to achieve the goals,” said Macomber.

Another step is examining whether or not you are using technology effectively to reduce the time you spend on low-value tasks.

Macomber says it is also important to identify which activities are strategic and which are more firefighting. For example, you may spend more time resolving customer complaints (firefighting) and less time analyzing the complaints and root causes (strategic).

“The goal should be to reduce the need for firefighting and schedule time for high-level strategic thinking,” said Macomber.

It is also possible to underestimate the time requirements or difficulty levels of certain activities. In fact, the activity list should identify the actual time spent, and those numbers might be a surprise.

“You need to know your limitations. And at the same time, you should aim for high performance rather than maximum effort. Underestimating the time and difficulty of activities may result in sub-par performance due to lack of time,” said Macomber.

“The goal of self-management is to find a balance. It is likely that 20 percent of your activities result in 80 percent of the value. Focus on high-value activities that only you can do and look for alternative ways to accomplish the rest, if they are necessary activities at all,” said Macomber.

It is also a good idea to take a break, a walk or a vacation, to recharge and return energized.

There are only 24 hours in your day. There is also an opportunity cost for every choice made, since spending time in one activity limits your ability to do other things.

It is important to focus on the fact that success is equal to results, not effort. “You may be spending too much time on an activity that is personally satisfying, but not driving the results you want,” said Macomber. FG

—Excerpts from University of Missouri Extension news release, November 2010

Kathy Macomber
Business Development
University of Missouri