10 common time wasters & how to fix them

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Any small business owner knows that time is money. So why are you throwing it out the window wasting it on these top common time wasters?

There’s a reason that these particular activities are insidious, and that’s because they are sneaky time thieves…after all, it’s not like you’re out wandering the mall or chasing a golf ball—each of these activities is a legitimate business practice that makes you feel like you are making progress. But when you do any of them to excess, you’re really just spinning your wheels.

We compiled a list of 10 of the top time wasters small business owners suffer from. Here’s how to identify them—and stop doing them.

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1. Email

Repeat after us: Processing email is not an activity. While you might feel that you’re really tackling something when you dive into your email box, you’re most likely just procrastinating what you should be doing.

Collectively we’re wasting significant time on email—one survey pegs our daily email habit, at more than five hours.

How to fix it

Ruthlessly limit your email time—vow to check email a few times a day at set intervals and stick to it. It’s ok if you start big and check every hour or so; email withdrawal is real and you can always ramp down when you get more comfortable.

The key is to make this “check email” window part of your to-do list like everything else to make sure that you don’t underestimate the amount of time you spend on it.

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2. Web surfing (& its companion social media)

There you are, searching for an important fact when you find yourself immersed in whatever is trending. Web surfing—and social media—can take over your life if you let it.

How to fix it

Track your time online. There’s no other way to recognize the problem than by measuring it; once you know the extent of your online surfing habit, you can take steps to curb it, such as adding an app that keeps you from mindlessly going from site to site.

If you find that you go online to search for a piece of information—and then get sidetracked (raises hand), jot down what you want to look for and then revisit all those needs at once during a designated “online surfing” time.

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3. Over-researching potential customers

Sometimes reaching out to a customer can be paralyzing…making that phone call or sending that email is when the rejection can become real.

Instead, it’s very common for small business owners to endlessly research customers rather than just calling them.

How to fix it

Don’t get us wrong: You shouldn’t forgo research entirely; after all, quality is better than quantity so just randomly reaching out to any company can be a waste of time on its own. Instead, develop a process that allows you to compile adequate intel on customers—but not too much.

For example, create a background sheet where you’ll fill out key facts gleaned from four information sources: their website, social media pages, local or trade publicity and a visit to your key contact’s LinkedIn page to see if there are any commonalities you can reference.

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4. Too much professional development

You want to be the best (insert professional here) that you can be, so you end up scouring the web for podcasts, books, and blogs devoted to your industry. That’s savvy of course—until you find that you are spending so much time improving your professionalism that you’re not actually doing any work.

How to fix it

Keeping up on the latest best practices is smart—until it usurps prospecting and client work. Set aside a certain amount of time each week or month to focus on professional development activities and then keep a file of relevant articles, podcasts, and discussion groups that you can avail yourselves of when the time rolls around.

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5. Micromanaging employees

If you hired an employee, presumably it’s because you have work that needs to be delegated, and you trust them. However, even though you are paying someone to accomplish a certain task, it’s not uncommon for small business owners to want things done a specific way—and that leads them to spend their time observing and even redoing work that an employee has done.

But that not only undermines the employee, but it’s also a waste of your time and energy that should be spent on other tasks. (Check out this employee cost calculator.)

How to fix it

It’s reasonable to want your process done a certain way, but your employee can’t read your mind. Instead of hovering, create a list of tasks or even specific steps that you can go over with them.

The bonus of creating a process manual is that you can use it to train subsequent employees. And remember that even if you like things done a certain way, employees might have their own ideas—and believe it or not, they might even be more efficient, so don’t hesitate to ask if they have suggestions that might actually streamline processes.

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6. Meetings

You already knew this. By some estimates, we spend up to half of our time in meetings. Not all meetings are bad of course; many times a short meeting can eliminate a frustrating and endless email “reply all” chain.

The key is to know when a meeting is helpful versus when it is a time suck.

How to fix it

While we could write entire books on what’s wrong with meetings, there are two places to focus.

First, take a hard look at “standing meetings.” Monday morning team meetings might be useful, but chances are good they aren’t.

While it might be nice to hear everyone’s status updates, sending them via email is likely a better choice than a meeting. But if the email will cause more confusion or open up rounds of debate, then…make it a meeting.

If you do decide a meeting is necessary, create an agenda and send it out in advance so that everyone is aware of discussions items so they can come prepared. Make sure you include time limits on each agenda item, which will keep everyone focused and ensure you stay on time so you can get out of that productive meeting as quickly as possible.

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7. Perfectionism

The proposal looks great, but it would look even better if you just tweaked the icons a touch. And maybe a different font? And one more customer anecdote. No. Stop.

“Done is better than perfect.” We promise.

How to fix it

It’s probably fair to say that nearly everything could be the tiniest bit better, but would anyone but you notice? Once you feel like your project is nearly complete, put it away and then take a look a day or so later—is there something egregious that pops out?

Then, by all means, change it.

If there are only subtle issues that will take more than 10 minutes to fix—and only you will care about them—call it good enough and send it out. Now, we’re not talking sloppy—it’s a fact that incorrect or poor work will always reflect badly on you.

We’re focusing here on those nearly imperceptible things that can swallow gallons of time as you make changes that are essentially immaterial.

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8. DIY

Many small business owners take the whole “wear a lot of hats” thing seriously and try to become a web developer, attorney, and graphic designer. But…news flash…there are people who do that…and they’re usually really good.

Spending time learning something you’re just not good at (or don’t enjoy) is a huge time waster for many reasons, but one of them is that you’re probably not going to feel terribly successful.

How to fix it

Do you love tinkering with your web page? Well then keep at it….to a degree. But if you are trying to design your own newsletter and you keep botching it, or you’re searching for just the right contract but feel like you’re getting ripped off, then you’re not doing yourself any favors by trying to save money the DIY route.

Figure out what parts of your business someone could do better and let them, or find an online system, like QuickBooks, which can streamline a number of accounting tasks.

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9. Looking for stuff you need

Lose an important paper? Think how much time you’re losing by stopping everything to search high and low for hard copies or computer files.

How to fix it

The beginning of the year is a great time to examine your systems and see if something needs to be improved, whether it’s your physical filing or your digital hoarding tendencies.

Your mantra should be to delete or recycle anything that you can get your hands on should you need it at some future time. The less stuff that you have to go through, the easier it is to find anything you are looking for.

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10. Constantly seeking new vendors and processes

Wondering if you’re getting the best price and service?

A periodic audit is always smart to see if your service provider can offer better terms or if you can consolidate services with one vendor, which makes it easier to manage relationships and bills.

However, every new process comes with a learning curve, so you want to make sure you’re not trying something new just for the sake of change.

How to fix it

If you sense that you could be getting more bang for the buck or better service, ask around to other small business people to see which company or program they use for various activities.

If someone you trust has done the legwork, there’s no reason to do it all yourself. And it’s always best to automate everything that you can, from appointment to invoice reminders.

Find seamless solutions that are easy to use, master the basics and then use them to save time every day.

To learn more, check out this business start-up guide.

This article originally appeared on the Quickbooks Resource Center and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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