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Newfound 'Free' Time? 5 Ways to Use It

Once in a while, a business lull gives you a chance to do what you otherwise don't get to. Make the most of it.
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In the ticket business (which I'm in), the tail typically wags the dog. The workload of a ticket broker is entirely dependent on what's happening in the marketplace. For example, the conclusion of the NCAA Tournament has added a brief respite before New York Yankees Opening Day and the New York Rangers begin the march to the Stanley Cup. Given that these times of relative quiet are few and far between, it's important to have an action plan on how to use newfound ''free'' time.

The following are five tips on what to do when you don't have 10 pounds to stuff into your five pound bag:

1. Correspond   

Small business owners are inundated with email. Having a system for triaging messages and following up appropriately is critical to manage the deluge of communications. The relative importance of each message ranges from junk to immediate to something for follow up later, so categorize them as such when the message arrives. When free moments arise, it's a great time to catch up on the emails that didn't require an immediate response, but deserve one.

2. Reconnect  

Networking is at the heart of building a business. Great strategic contacts and customers come from everywhere, from trade shows to charity dinners to kids' soccer games. The business cards from these events will inevitably pile up. When there is extra time available, use it to schedule coffee or lunch with a new contact or even an existing contact.

3. Organize 

Over the course of normal operations, new ideas and issues crop up. Services like Evernote have seen exponential growth because they offer a service that allows busy professionals to capture all of their scattered pieces of information and new ideas.  Capturing the ideas is only step one.  Once captured, they have to be organized into something actionable. Quiet, or relatively quiet, time is also a great opportunity to create an action plan from the ideas that have been collected during the normal bustle.

4. Focus 

Day-to-day operational needs can make it easy to lose sight of a long-term vision. When your head is down and focused on the task at hand, it's hard to see the target. Use a lull period to re-focus on what is important in the coming weeks and months, and more importantly, ensure that targets are still realistic and achievable. In reality, this shouldn't just occur during natural lull periods. Re-focusing should be a part of any regular routine, at least quarterly.

5. Relax 

Using the twisted logic of an entrepreneur, free time means more time to work on all of those pet projects that just languished while immediate needs took precedence. As someone who is working on two decades as an entrepreneur, I can tell you that I still think this way. However, if the business is offering you ability to take a break and re-energize, do it while it still fits in the natural course of business. As a small business owner, those opportunities to take a break are few and far between. A fully energized and committed entrepreneur is far more effective and valuable than a downtrodden and exhausted one.

No matter what business you are in, I'm sure as a small business owner you never have enough time in the day to meet the needs of all that is asked of you.  However, there are sometimes occasions in the natural course of business that allow you to ''get caught up.'' Using these chances effectively is crucial to be successful. Time management is always a critical skill for an entrepreneur to have, but it's not always about fitting 10 pounds into a five pound bag. Sometimes, effective time management relies on what you do when you only have four pounds for that five pound bag.

Last updated: Apr 18, 2012

DAVID EVANS | Columnist | CEO of EastSeat, LLC

David started his first business at 19 and has spent the majority of his career running his own companies, including his most recent, EasySeat, which has made the Inc 500|5000 for the last two years. David is a classically-trained software developer and IT generalist. David is a member of the Inc. Business Owners Council.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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