Sometimes running a small business feels like having your wipers on during a thunderstorm. Every time you feel like you’ve got your workload cleared, a deluge of tasks rains down and covers you up all over again. And that can get a little stressful.
As a small business owner you’re responsible for everything: Keeping the books, managing employees, marketing, social media, taxes, sometimes even cleaning the bathrooms. Even if you’ve got a great team, they can’t work for you 24/7, or do every job the business entails. So the only way to keep yourself from drowning is effectively managing the workload. Both for you, and the people who work for you. And here are some ideas on how to do it.
Managing Your Own Workload
When you feel like an entire world’s worth of work is hanging over your head, the first thing you need to do is prioritize. And the first priority? Your customers. Administrative, marketing, HR and personal work all comes after keeping your customers happy. if you’ve got a line of customers waiting at the counter, and you’re in the back cleaning the oven, both literally and figuratively, you’re not prioritizing right.
The second thing to do when prioritizing is to look at deadlines, both self-imposed and external. Obviously, work on the most pressing stuff first, but when setting deadlines for yourself look at external deadlines and decide what you can realistically expect. Nothing will stress you out faster than an unreasonable time table.
Once you’ve figured out your priorities, sit down and write out a personal schedule. And not just a to-do list scribbled on the back of a collections letter. An actual schedule for the week that lays out what you’re going to work on and when. Is it going to change? Of COURSE it’s going to change. You own a small business! But if you don’t at least have a plan you’ve lost the battle before it started.
So how do you make the schedule? Everyone prefers different work styles, but it can be helpful to schedule working on small parts of larger projects throughout the day. That is, maybe work on taxes for a few hours, then social media plans, then vendor management, rather than trying to do all of one task at once. This will keep you from getting bored or burned out, and keep your brain interested. Speaking of your brain, look to alternate between projects that require creativity and brain power – like marketing – and more menial stuff like data entry and paperwork. It all needs to get done, but sometimes your brain needs the break.
Finally, if you’ve got the budget, outsource whatever you can. It ultimately will depend on how much you believe your time is worth, but if you can have outsiders working on things like taxes, social media, and sanitation it frees you up to do the stuff only you can.
Managing Employee Time
Managing your own workload is challenging enough. But keeping your employees busy, scheduling them correctly, and controlling labor costs is a downright art form. Scheduling software is helpful, but it won’t handle last-minute call offs, unproductive employees, and spiraling overtime costs. So you’ll need to know how to do some of it yourself.
The first rule of scheduling is to never reprint the same schedule twice. No two weeks will ever be exactly the same, whether that’s because of customer flow, staff availability, or work demands. Even if a schedule seems to work well, take the time to re-evaluate it every week. Look ahead at any special events or promotions you might have that require extra staff, and determine if you have the staff capable of handling it. Don’t forget to make thorough contingency plans for sick days and last-minute cancellations.
Take a look back at previous years, and see how you scheduled them. Are you a bar that has a holiday or sporting event that needs special staff? Or perhaps a landscaping company that sees a big uptick in demand in April? Bottom line is you need to know your “store” no matter what you’re selling, and when you’ll need your best employees.
Determining Who Should Work When
You know who your stars are, and tempting as it might be to schedule your best people at the same time, typically they’ll need some time off. One method of ensuring you always have at least a few of your top staff on the clock is separating them into different groups, based on how well they perform. Then as you schedule, take a few from your top tier, a few from the middle, and a few from the bottom. (These should typically be new people. Anyone consistently rated low you might want to re-evaluate.) You won’t always get a perfect mix, but it ensures you don’t get stuck with a crew full of newbies at a busy time.
Of course, you must also consider the number of hours’ people have worked. Remember: Hourly employees working over 40 hours are entitled to overtime, and too many overtime hours can skyrocket your labor costs. If you’ve got a star employee you know you’re going to need to work late, see if you can cut that person loose early or have them come in late during slower times. Also, stating that no employee can work overtime without permission gives you a heads up when people are working more hours than you’d planned. It also lets you know when you might need to either hire more staff or look at ways to become more efficient.
Managing both you and your team’s workload can seem like an endless task. Bluntly, it is. With proper planning, scheduling, and prioritizing, it can be done effectively and possibly free you up to do something other than work.