There’s a dire need for small business owners to learn the kinds of task management skills that allow you to work both smarter and quicker Research shows that, over the last two decades, the amount of time we spend at work has increased by around 15% on average. Over the same period, leisure time has decreased by 33%.

In other words, we’re spending more and more time on the job and less and less time outside the office. Learning how to use our time at work in a smart way is essential for a proper work-life balance. It also has important effects on the success of a new company, since stress, anxiety and lack of sleep only hinder productivity in the long run.

Here are some actionable task management strategies that will help you complete your work more efficiently.

Focus on one task at a time

Were you taught that in order to be productive at work, you need to have finely developed multitasking skills? Unfortunately, you’re in for a rude awakening: scientific studies have debunked that claim rather soundly. In fact, a University of Michigan study found that productivity dropped by as much as 40% when workers tried to accomplish just two tasks at once.

One of the most crucial time management strategies is to avoid multitasking. Focusing your efforts on just one task at a time improves your productivity far more than attempting to make multitasking work.

To that end, there are concrete strategies you can employ to maximize your productivity on a daily level, such as taking on the most difficult task of the day first. You can also arrive to work early, since research has shown that workers are most productive between 9 AM and noon.

Finally, avoid checking your email throughout the day as you go about your other tasks. Email too easily distracts from the task at hand, so you’ll be more productive if you block off a specific chunk of time just for email, and keep your inbox closed the rest of the day.

Organize your tasks by level of priority

As a rule, you simply can’t expect yourself to remember every single detail of your schedule without some outside help. There’s a reason that almost every notebook comes with a calendar, after all, and it’s to provide much-needed support for people with hectic daily schedules. Day planners, desk blotters, wall calendars — the list of organizational tools for keeping your business schedule straight is as varied as the day is long.

It’s crucial, though, that your record of tasks is more than just a simple list. Tasks vary in terms of priority, urgency, duration, and more, so checking tasks off your list in a linear fashion isn’t the most effective approach. In addition to keeping a handwritten checklist on your desk, you can use task management software to sort your action items based on these categories, as well as to schedule specific deadlines for your tasks. That will help you decide which ones to do first, and it will also help you hold yourself accountable for completing each task by a certain date.

Take time to sleep and relax

These last few strategies are likely to feel counterintuitive to hard-working entrepreneurs, as they focus on spending time actively outside the office instead of working tirelessly to get your small business running successfully. However, if there’s one crucial aspect of being a business owner that is routinely ignored, it’s the toll that working long, hard hours takes on your mind and body.

Most small business owners are no stranger to long, sleepless nights. It may be tempting to push yourself harder when you’re working on a new project, but your results are unlikely to be as good as if you had just gone home to get some sleep. In fact, sleep loss accounts for some $411 billion in losses to the US economy on an annual basis due to the poor productivity of the nation’s zombie workforce.

For hard-working entrepreneurs, letting yourself stop and relax requires even more self-discipline than taking on a new project. Schedule a consistent time each day — say, 5 PM — by which you need to leave the office or shut down your computer, regardless of whether you’re in the middle of a task. That task isn’t going anywhere, and you’ll be more clear-headed and productive in the morning than you are at the end of the workday.

You should also set aside time to mentally remove yourself from work. While this can be hard for entrepreneurs managing early stage companies, you should put aside a block of time for a few hours after work during which you don’t check your email, schedule phone calls, or do any other work-related tasks. For example, you might decide that each day between 8 PM and bedtime, you’ll make an effort to mentally remove yourself from work completely. Turn off email notifications on your phone and, instead, reserve the time for your loved ones and your favorite hobbies.

Wrapping up

The secret to effectively manage your time when you have a lot on your plate is to designate blocks of time for specific tasks. Close your inbox, place a ban on multitasking, and choose a specific chunk of time during which you focus on one — and only one — task.

You’ll also need to set aside time for tasks as counterintuitive as sleeping and relaxing (indeed, they’re just as important for your business’s success as replying to that client’s email!). Remember: not every new business takes off, but small business owners who know how to work smarter, and not just harder, have the best chances for success.

Shachar is Co-Founder at Ranky. He dreams about growth and startup marketing, wakes up to the Tweets of birds and he’s literally a Social person. He is also a football fan (but don’t ask him anything about FC Barcelona) and gadgets addicts. Stalk him on Twitter.

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