4 business coaches share tips for time-strapped retailers 

Close icon

Get Afterpay for your business

Sign up

Feeling overwhelmed? Here's how small businesses can manage their time from four top coaches


Ernest Hemingway wasn’t a business consultant, but he knew that hard work alone doesn’t translate into productivity. “Never mistake motion for action,” warned the writer* in a line that’ll resonate with any small business owner who’s struggling to hit their targets and get everything done.


But how can you operate in a more effective way? Four leading business coaches share their tips.


Prioritise smarter

“Many small business owners are busy but not productive,” says business coach Milton Collins. The reason: they get sucked into non-essential tasks that chew up their working day. 


Collins’ solution to stay on track isn’t rocket science, but its simplicity makes it effective. Before you leave work, make a to-do list for the next day that’s broken into four categories. 


The first category is for critical tasks that only you can complete; the second is for important, but less urgent, work; the third is for jobs you can delegate to your team; while the final category is for anything you can park and reschedule. “It’s common sense,” says Collins. “But so many people don’t do it.”


As a business owner, it’s important to maximise efficiency, he adds. “If what you’re doing isn’t growing your business or making money for it then, in many cases, it’s a waste of time.” 

If what you’re doing isn’t growing your business or making money for it then, in many cases, it’s a waste of time

- Milton Collins

Be proactive, not reactive

“Productivity is really about creating great habits and sticking to them”, says Pru Chapman, founder of The Owners Collective, which helps start-ups to grow. 


Take your early morning routine, for example. Do you sit down to work and immediately check your inbox for new emails? Wrong move, says Chapman. “Focus on getting one big thing done for your business before switching on your email or social media channels,” she advises.  


The idea here is to tick off one substantial task before you’re smashed by the day’s inevitable multi-car pile-up of distractions. Not only will this ensure you take control of your working day, rather than letting it get yanked in random directions, but it also helps you become proactive – not reactive. 


“When we're in that busy, busy, very reactive state, we're actually not very productive at all,” she says. “We're prioritising everything that's urgent over everything that's important. When you’re in a proactive state, you're in the driver's seat and deciding what you're going to do and why. That's what will really drive your business forward.”


When we're in that busy, busy, very reactive state, we're actually not very productive at all

- Pru Chapman, The Owners' Collective

Set and clarify targets

Aligning your efforts and those of your team toward a collective goal is critical for your business to function productively. “You need to make the invisible visible,” says business coach David Lennon


When parachuted in to help a failing business, he often finds that KPIs and targets aren’t properly spelled out for the employees. “I work a lot with manufacturing clients and they're notorious for not having set targets positioned up in writing at each station,” says Lennon. “But sticking those signs up will help to clarify the goals of your staff.”


The next step is to check in with your employees and ask them to reflect on what they believe is necessary in order to get their job done. This further step of clarification helps to ensure that your team’s energy is correctly invested. “It helps your staff understand exactly what they need to achieve,” says Lennon.   


Get out-sourcing

If there’s one common complaint among the business owners and entrepreneurs that virtual business manager Rachel Caradine works with, it’s this: “They tell me there’s not enough hours in the day, and they have too many things to do.”


And yet, she says, often the problem isn’t the amount of work; it’s that business owners aren’t delegating it. “Most of them feel like they are the only person who can do everything.”


As a result, Caradine says that business owners often find themselves spending too much time working “in” the business instead of “on” it. Her advice? “Keep a diary for a week or two of every task you do each day. No task is too small,” she says. 


At the end of the period, highlight all the things that are working “in” the business (operational work, process-driven work, work that doesn’t make you money). Next, pick a different colour and highlight all the things that are working “on” the business (strategic and creative work, tasks that do generate cash) in another colour. Finally, take a third colour and highlight the tasks that only you can do. 


“This exercise should leave you with a list of things that you can outsource,” says Caradine. “Outsource process-driven, operational work first.” 


Luke Benedictus is a journalist and the former editor of Men’s Health. 


All references to any registered trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Afterpay does not endorse or recommend any one particular supplier and the information provided is for educational purposes only.