A sole trader’s greatest asset is time: Here’s how to manage it effectively

time management

Source: Unsplash/Nick Morrison.

Being your own boss is a dream for many, but the reality of being solely responsible for the success of your business – and finding the best ways to run it efficiently — can be challenging. 

Prioritising what needs to be done, finding the most productive time of day to work, and avoiding distractions are some of the key concerns for sole traders, according to Xero’s Tipping point research.

It shows that 55% of sole traders believe staying organised and on track are major challenges, with 47% stating the responsibility for ‘doing everything’ is a heavy burden. 

Here we look at some strategies to help sole traders develop an effective time management routine, all so you can focus on the important things, like growing your business and connecting with customers. 

Is the effort worth the outcome?

When developing a time management strategy, it’s important to know which tasks you should prioritise, which can wait, and which aren’t worth your time.

A clever way to figure this out is by harnessing the Pareto Principle (aka the 80/20 rule), which assumes 80% of the outcome is generated by 20% of the effort you put in.

For sole traders, the 80/20 rule could mean:

  • 20% of your time results in 80% of your income or new leads;
  • 20% of your clients drive 80% of your income; and/or 
  • 20% of your marketing efforts drive 80% of your inquiries.

Whether you lead a small team or are going it alone, you’ll find the support you need at Xero’s dedicated resource page – complete with free tools and guides to help everything run smoothly. Xero is online accounting software designed to let you do business beautifully and simply, nab a free 30-day trial today.

To find your 80/20 ratio, start by tracking your tasks over a fortnight. Then, cross check your records to see if the work you’re spending the most time on is actually generating the majority of your income or inquiries. 

Tip: Using time and project tracking tools, such the Time Tracker in Xero Projects can help you collate invaluable data and get an accurate reading of where your time is best spent.

Multitasking vs. a single focus — what’s the better approach?

In the past, multitasking has been lauded as a hallmark of effective workers, but modern research is starting to cast doubt on the effectiveness of splitting your focus.

Xero’s Tipping point research shows that time management is a challenge for 49% of sole traders, so it’s important to find a strategy that works for you — keeping in mind that everyone’s different.

Clinical psychologist Michael Breus says there are four different chronotypes — or differences in human alertness from morning to night — and knowing which one best matches your behavioural patterns can help you find that productivity sweet spot.

It makes sense to take advantage of natural peaks in concentration to get the bulk of your analytical and highly detailed work completed, while leaving lulls for admin or repetitive work. 

The chronotypes are:

Bears: The most common type, bears prefer to tackle tasks that require focus and concentration in the morning and get into more creative tasks in the afternoon;

Lions: Early risers, lions love mornings for analytical tasks, and afternoons for brainstorming and creativity;

Wolves: Late nights are a staple for wolves as they don’t reach their mental peak until later in the day. They prefer to plan in the morning and save meetings and analytical work until the afternoon; 

Dolphins: With no set routine, dolphins find mornings are best for brainstorming and planning. When energy levels rise in the afternoons, the timing is better for activities that require deep concentration. 

Tip: With multitasking or single focus, remember, it’s not how much you do that matters, but how well you do it. Finding your concentration rhythm is key to effective time management and setting a workable routine.

Automate repetitive tasks

Technology can be a sole trader’s best friend. It offers ways to ease the burden of doing it all yourself, with 66% of existing sole traders (and nearly 90% of aspiring ones) believing tech is important for financial tracking, management and planning. 

Apps such as Stripe, Hubspot, Mailchimp, Gmail and Harvest all integrate directly with Xero accounting software and can automate invoicing, payments, and managing contacts and clients — saving you plenty of time and effort. 

They can also cut down on admin and double handling, and generate useful client data to help sharpen your market focus and grow your business. 

Other tasks that can be automated include:

  • Content management programs such as Hootsuite can help you schedule social posts in advance;
  • Google alerts can keep track of any developments in your field by sending real-time notifications of breaking news and insights;
  • Google Analytics will monitor your website traffic and create reports which pinpoint pages that are generating sales or leads;
  • Having your title and contact details in your email signature will save you typing it over and over.

While not having enough hours in the day to run your business may seem like an age-old dilemma, there are plenty of ways sole traders can maximise productivity and develop a routine that works for you, and your business.

NOW READ: If you build it, they will come: How to create a website for your business

NOW READ: Level up in 2021: Three sole traders share their best advice for fellow business owners


Xero is a cloud-based accounting software platform for small businesses with over 3 million subscribers globally. Through Xero, small business owners and their advisors have access to real-time financial data any time, anywhere and on any device. Xero offers an ecosystem of over 1,000 third-party apps and 300 plus connections to banks and other financial partners.

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