As just about any small business owner or entrepreneur will tell you, time is at a premium. Learning to prioritize and delegate tasks is crucial, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the success or failure of your business may well depend on your ability to make the most of your work day. This is especially true during the early stages of the business life cycle. One of the most significant challenges lies in the fact that small business owners have to play a lot of different roles. Fortunately, there are a lot of proven strategies you can use to optimize your productivity.

Time-Saving Tip #1: Do the Hardest Thing First

You may be tempted to ease into your day by working on easier tasks at the outset. However, productivity experts discourage this practice, as it often leads to putting off harder, more important work until later in the day, when fatigue and stress are kicking in and inhibiting your ability to focus. There’s another benefit of taking care of the most challenging and time-consuming task at the outset of your day: the rest of your day will seem like a breeze in comparison. You’ll enjoy sustained productivity and benefit from a heightened sense of accomplishment.

Time-Saving Tip #2: Keep a Calendar

This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how few people take full advantage of this tried and true technique. Both paper-based and electronic calendars help you keep track of important dates and deadlines, and ensure that important things don’t slip through the cracks.

Time-Saving Tip #3: Use Technology to Your Advantage

There are dozens of software and mobile apps designed to boost productivity and help you stay organized, and many of them are free or very inexpensive. Take advantage of these tools; they’ll make a major difference by reducing labor and time expenditure, generating automatic reminders, and helping your organize your work day. Some popular examples include QuickBooks accounting software, the Smartsheet business organizer and the Evernote e-note system.

Time-Saving Tip #4: The «Pomodoro Technique»

This strategy, which is widely used by software development professionals, revolves around breaking down your work day into short intervals of 20 to 25 minutes. Use a timer to mark each interval, and when time is up, take a 5 or 10 minute break. Research shows that intense bursts of work separated by frequent breaks improves overall productivity, as it helps you maintain physical and mental energy throughout the day.

Time-Saving Tip #5: Analyze Your Social Media Usage

Social media can be a boon to small business, but it can also be a time vampire. You need to carefully analyze the relationship between social media usage and revenue generation — in other words, if social media is helping you generate more income, then you should use it more often. If it gets you a lot of website traffic or «likes,» but isn’t necessarily contributing to your bottom line, then it’s something you should put on the back burner and work on later in the day.

Time-Saving Tip #6: Don’t Be Afraid to Delegate

The desire to do everything yourself is probably what drove you to start your own business in the first place, and it’s a powerful and (mostly) positive impulse. But at a certain point, it can be counterproductive, especially if you’re forcing yourself to do things you’re not particularly good at. That forces you to the bottom of the learning curve, which is a time-consuming place to be. If you have partners or employees, take advantage of their strengths. Assign them tasks you don’t have the time or expertise to take care of yourself. Delegation is something that all successful small business owners do.

Time-Saving Tip #7: Use Professional Outsourcing Services

While outsourcing tasks like accounting or tax return preparation will cost you some money, don’t look at it as an expense. Look at it as an investment. Professional services like these can actually help you save thousands of dollars. First, by hiring an accountant or a tax prep professional, you’ll free up a lot of time to focus on other things. Second, by trusting these tasks to those in the know, you’ll avoid making mistakes that might otherwise have cost you. Remember: it’s okay not to know everything, and it’s okay to lean on the expertise of others.

Time-Saving Tip #8: Keep the Big Picture in Sight

Every day, dedicate a little bit of time to the bigger picture. Plan a long-term strategy and plot your progression towards it. Understanding how your business will grow is a vital first step in shaping your future, and the more successful you become, the more employees you’ll bring into the fold — and the more time you’ll save in the end.