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How do I schedule my time?

When you first start in business you may find that you spend all your time on actually running the business and the number of tasks you have to do can feel overwhelming. This doesn’t seem to leave any time for activities such as planning, networking, thinking creatively or enjoying some leisure and relaxation time. Here we give you some practical tips on how you can become more organised and schedule your time effectively.

What can I do to be more organised?

Firstly think about what your organisational challenges actually are – for example this could be as simple as not having any type of filing system.

The following suggestions might help you:

  • Make sure your workspace is tidy and clutter free – this can cut down time wasted looking for important documents or information
  • Adopt a simple filing system – this might be a filing cabinet or cupboard to store important documents
  • Set up an electronic filing system – once files are saved they can be retrieved quickly
  • Set aside time each week to keep your files up-to-date
  • Create templates for forms or letters you use regularly – you could use these for invoices or customer quotes for example
  • Create email templates for emails that you send out regularly
  • Have a notepad handy or use your phone to capture ideas
  • Set tasks every day and plan you priorities – this will help you focus, stay on track and budget your time accordingly
  • Obtain a calendar – whether it’s paper or electronic, use this to add any appointments to. Get in the habit of checking this on a daily basis.

How can I stop being overwhelmed by paperwork?

If left unchecked paperwork can have a nasty habit of accumulating. Bills and letters arrive to be opened and then chucked on top of the desk. Before long you are left with an unruly pile. Not only does this cost you valuable time when you need to get your hands on an important document, but it adds unneccessary stress to your day. Spending some time in planning and putting a system for filing your paperwork in place will reap dividends in the long run. 

Organising your work area

Here are three simple steps to manage your paperwork and ensure your workspace stays clutter-free.

Getting prepared

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Before you start it will help to have the following to hand: sticky notes/labels, files, bin bags and a paper shredder. Clear some space and decide how much time you are prepared to spend on this per day. Depending on how much paperwork you have to go through, sorting through it all could take up a few hours of your time.

Firstly you’ll need to understand what you need to keep.

This can be broken down into two categories: paperwork that requires action (bills that require settling, forms to be completed, etc) and paperwork you need to keep (tax returns, insurance paperwork, bank statements, receipts, payroll, etc).

Sort your paperwork into named piles, for example: Read, Action, File, Bin.

As you start to work through the pile, remove the obvious items that can be discarded – i.e junk mail – and set this aside in your Bin pile for shredding. 

Now you are ready to work through what’s left. 

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Sorting, labelling and filing

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Work through the paperwork – it may help to label each piece as you go through, eg file/tax, action/invoice etc  – and group each piece into its relevant pile. Once you have worked through your paperwork, you may decide to break your piles down further, by year for example.

The next step is to start creating folders or wallets to store your paperwork. If you don’t have a filing cabinet, an archive box or expanding file will work just as well – the main thing here is to ensure your files are labelled clearly and paperwork can be filed and accessed easily.   

Whatever filing method you choose (filing by document type or date/month etc) it’s worth getting into the habit of using clear, consistent labelling from the start and to create separate sections in your filing cabinet. For example, your bank and HMRC letters would be filed in separate sections.

 

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Staying on top of your paperwork

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Depending on how much you have to file, avoid overstuffing (and causing further annoyance in filing and retrieving documents) by only storing paperwork relevant to the current year in your cabinet.  Paperwork from previous years can then be placed in a storage box, clearly labelled by month and/or year.

Alternatively, scan and store paperwork on your PC, or make use of cloud storage or a file hosting service like Dropbox. This will cut down on what you need to physically archive and can be easily located if needed.

With your filing system in place, set aside time each week to deal with your paperwork.

Try handling paper only once by reading, actioning, filing or shredding.

Once you start to stay on top of your paperwork, this process will become part of your weekly routine and will seem like less of a chore to work through.

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Checklist: How can I improve my planning?

The best way to plan your day or week is to look at your priorities and base your plan around them. Login to save this checklist to your profile for future use. (To register to join and enjoy the benefits of membership click on the link at the top right of the page. It will only take a few minutes to create your profile).

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How can I stop giving myself too much to do in a day?

It’s important that you don’t over schedule. It is much better to create a list that is actually doable rather than cramming in as much as you can and then finding at the end of the day you have been very busy, but accomplished very little.

You also need to schedule in breaks – ensure you take time out during the day. From the outset decide on a reasonable length of your working day. Working long hours doesn’t necessarily make you more productive. This is particularly important if you are working from home, as this can initially feel less structured and perhaps not the way you have been used to working. So scheduling breaks and time to ‘switch off’ from your business is really important.

How can I schedule more effectively?

Get into the habit of scheduling your time each week. Build in time to visit customers; you will probably have to schedule these appointments to suit them.

Try to schedule your work to suit your most productive times – for example if you are at your liveliest mid-morning then that would be a good time to contact your customers. Having an awareness of what time of day suits particular activities or tasks helps you to schedule your day more effectively.

Give yourself deadlines, build them into your schedule and set realistic timeframes. You will find you quickly get to know how long particular activities take, for example such as visiting a customer to quote for work or compiling and sending out invoices.

Are there ways technology can help me?

It’s important to make the best use of the technology you have. The following suggestions will help you with your day-to-day planning:

  • Make use of an electronic task list (for example Toodledo). These are designed to help increase productivity and organise you day. These can be used to create to-do lists, write notes, make custom lists and track your working habits
  • A Smartphone will have a range of functions such as a calendar for scheduling, making appointments, email – all of which keeps you on the move but still in touch with your business
  • Use email as a regular way to contact your customers
  • Manage your emails – schedule specific times in the day when you will read them, avoid continually interrupting your day to deal with them
  • Set up an automatic response on your email. That way your customers will know their message has got through. Always make sure your response gives a positive message and confirmation that you will respond – you can decide on the most appropriate time frame. Use the automatic response as a marketing opportunity by having a link to your website
  • Unsubscribe to newsletters and or websites you no longer use.
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