10 time management tips for busy people

As the saying goes, we all have the same hours in the day as Beyoncé. But what does that really look like for small business owners and self-employed professionals?

The thought of time-management can often conjure images of intimidating planners, strict schedules and the haunting tick of the clock. But learning to account for the hours in our day doesn’t mean we need to become robotic.

Creator of A Life of Productivity Chris Bailey doesn’t believe in following a set recipe to get more done but rather being deliberate with your time, attention and energy: “If there’s one central idea I keep coming back to in my productivity experiments, interviews, and research, it’s that the most productive people don’t work on autopilot in response to the work that comes their way—they work deliberately and with intention behind what they do”.

With working deliberately in mind, we ask independent creatives, entrepreneurs, sole traders and small business owners to share accessible approaches to managing your time.

Eradicate distractions

A bevvy of tools and apps can be installed on your computer and smartphone to help eliminate distractions. Try News Feed Eradicator or the Strict Workflow browser extensions, or if you really want to commit to being distraction free, delete time wasting apps from your phone.

Author and founder of Go-To Skincare Zoe Foster Blake imposed a ‘digital sundown’ where she and her partner Hamish Blake put their phones in a bucket and out of sight. Admittedly, this can be difficult when running a business and needing the convenience of communication.

Be conscious of your actions

When running a small business, there are often many balls in the air creating a pressure to do everything at once.

Founder of MiGoals Adam Jelic has learnt to focus and be conscious of his actions. Having specific goals for the business in mind helps with making decisions and setting priorities.

“It is about being consciously aware of what is going on and asking if something will grow the business, or if you’re doing it just for the sake of it”.


Popular sayings such as “there is plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead” promote a culture that prides lack of sleep. Yet this attitude can be counter-productive to running a business well.

For co-director of Frank Body Jess Hatzis, running two businesses means she can’t afford to be tired.

“Not sleeping is nothing to be proud of, it drives me mad when people wear it as a badge of honour. A sleep deprived brain isn’t doing anybody, any good. Getting sleep – and downtime in general – is important for you to be able to think clearly, creatively and rationally. A rested you is better for your business.”

Hatzis aims for 7-8 hours of sleep each night, although it’s not always that easy. “Eventually you realise that sometimes you need to stop working and rest, not only for your sanity but for the sake of your business.”

Overestimate time per task

To avoid over-cramming and feeling behind, designer, publisher and podcaster Tess McCabe overestimates the amount of time she thinks a task will take.

“When the task is finished quicker than I anticipated, I can move onto the next thing or prioritise leisure time.”

Action small tasks immediately

For many self-employed or business owners, working hours can be sporadic. To avoid overload, McCabe actions small tasks quickly.

“I hate to be a bottleneck, so if something like an email can be actioned or responded to immediately, I do it, especially if it keeps a project moving along. Smartphones make this easy – I can get a lot done waiting in line at the post office!”

Communicate with those around you

Clear and consistent communication with colleagues, family and friends can make all the difference when it comes to managing your time well.McCabe said her biggest time management asset when it comes to raising a family and owning a business is having an equal care arrangement with her husband. “We both recognise and support each other’s work life and side projects and are always communicating our scheduling needs”.

Follow a school time-table

Founder of Saint Gertrude Letterpress Amy Constable was a disciplined high-achiever in high school, but found managing work expectations and structure a lot harder to predict in the real world. She decided to create the same structure in her day as she had in school.

“I start with a quick 15 minutes of ‘Home Room’ where I get a coffee and check my emails for anything new and write my to-do list for the day. I use an app called Todoist to help me with this and separate my day into six ‘periods’. For each period, I work solidly for 45-minutes on one task with no digital interruption, then I take a 15-minute break to stretch or snack before going onto the next period. My Fitbit buzzes when I need to stop work, then start again. Like a school bell”.

Minimise your commute

Research has shown that an easy commute is connected to an improved quality of life. It may not necessarily be the time it takes, but the lack of mental energy for you to get into work. After all, arriving already exhausted or frustrated is going to affect your energy levels or patience.If a long commute is unavoidable, be conscious about how you want to spend that time. But the pressure needn’t be on doing something productive. Artist Frances Cannon finds her morning commute to be a great time to check her Instagram.

Practice saying no

Time management is just as much about the invitations and jobs you say no to as the ones you accept. Learning to be more discerning and accepting you can’t do everything has been a key ingredient for the creator of The Design Files, Lucy Feagins.

“I once read that it’s okay to be selective with things because in the end your presence isn’t missed nearly as much as you think it might be!”

Don’t strive to be perfect

The best thing to keep in mind when planning your days or reflecting on how you spend the previous week is that no one gets it right 100% of the time. Yes, we all have 24 hours in the day, but if we maximised each of them all of the time, we would be robots. People stumble, procrastination, get caught up in commitments or tasks, and drop the ball every now and then.

All we can do is commit to continue to learn, find what works for us and look ahead. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way”.

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