A well-planned day will make or break a small business. It may sound like hyperbole, but this statement isn’t far off. One of the biggest challenges facing small business owners is keeping up with the day-to-day tasks, and balancing it all. In order to be successful, you have to know where your time should go, and then put it there.

Business advisor Alan K. Lund asks his small business clients the following question: “How does the time you spend help you to achieve your business plan and objectives?”

Here is his advice on how to categorize the tasks you’re facing, and learn to work them into your daily, weekly, and quarterly schedule.

1. The Necessary Tasks

Certain tasks are crucial for the smooth functioning of your business. These include the following:

    Manage Both the Daily and Weekly Inventory

Without inventory, your business grinds to a halt. Either you or your department managers should be aware of inventory fluctuations on a daily basis. If you don’t have automated inventory tracking in place, make it a priority. For some businesses, daily inventory orders will be necessary; for others, regular weekly orders are sufficient.

    Update Important Documentation Once a Month

Legal contracts, employee training manuals, insurance coverage and regulatory information are only helpful as long as they are accurate. Make a list these important documents, and spend one afternoon per month reviewing them. Next month, pick up where you left off. Repeat monthly until you work through the whole list, then start over again. By following this method, you should be able to review all your important documents annually.

2. The “Planning Ahead” Tasks

To make good business decisions, you also need to put regular time into planning. High-level insights into your business help you identify problems before they become emergencies, as well as help you know if and when your business is ready to grow.

    Create and Communicate Action Plans Monthly

Your department managers, employees, independent contractors, and consultants need to know what to focus on at all times. Otherwise, everyone will be pursuing their own ideas instead of working on a cohesive plan. Use your overall plan for growth and improvement to create department and individual plans of action on a monthly basis, then share them with your teams.

    Analyze Your Business Data Quarterly

Set aside one morning or afternoon each quarter to analyze business data. Look at sales, overhead, expenses, employee salaries, upcoming expenses, capital needed for growth, marketing responses, employee feedback and cash flow patterns. If you’re meeting with your accountant quarterly, you can use some of the time to go over the financial data together.

    Identify and Plan for Areas of Growth Quarterly

Growth doesn’t happen on its own. Your regular business analysis will help you to see where you need to improve and how your business can grow. Spend at least a few hours each quarter deciding which areas of your business you will focus on and develop a plan for improvement and growth.

3. The Non-Work (But Still Important) Tasks

Arguably the most important part of a small business owner’s work isn’t always work. It’s taking care of yourself – your mind, body, relationships, interests – so that you are able to function at your best as you run your business.

“It’s rare our most important work takes place in an office setting,” says author and business consultant Garrick van Buren. “Sometimes it’s lunch with your children, a solo visit to an art museum, or playing kubb in a local park. It’s in settings like these where we refill the creative energies needed to solve our business’s most challenging problems. These outings, just like board meetings and client appointments, need a recurring place on your calendar.”

When you work non-work events into your regular calendar, you’ll benefit from a sharper mind, increased energy, and more creativity at work. End result? You become a more productive small business owner, not to mention a happier person.

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