But it seems that an inefficient use of time could be partly responsible for owners working longer hours. "Whether unintentionally or not, many of us don't work as efficiently as possible some or even most of the time," observes Robert Craven, business development consultant, author and founder of The Directors' Centre in Bath. "Some owners mistakenly believe that working long hours is the key to success, when they should be working smarter not longer."
Business owners have always been faced with distractions, but modern communications technology means that potentially there are more of them and they're more frequent, says Craven. "It's easy for small business owners to get distracted, especially as there are so many things vying for their attention.
"Many owners don't realise they could be making much better use of their time. They get bogged down in menial admin tasks or spend their time doing what they want to do, rather than what the business needs them to do – usually sell.
"Social media addiction has become a bigger problem – and being active on such sites is not the same as being busy. Much time can also be taken up unnecessarily with products and suppliers, often at the expense of selling – the most important task."
Procrastination also leads some owners to waste time, says Craven, while others just aren't good at prioritising tasks, or remaining disciplined and organised. "Trying to juggle too many things at once creates inefficiencies, too," he warns. "Some owners are reluctant to outsource because of cost or to delegate responsibility to staff, but delegating doesn't mean abdicating responsibility. If your staff must have the necessary knowledge and ability, it can free up more of your time."
Micro-managing employees is another common drain on time. As Craven explains: "People who build up a business from scratch often find it hard to let go, but they risk not contributing as much value as they could – as well as working in the business rather than on it. They need time to step back, consider the big picture and plan the best way forward. Introducing better systems and processes, as well as making full use of technology and other people can free up a lot of time for owners."
Many hours can also be devoted to customers, too. "If that brings your business healthy returns and other duties don't suffer, fine, but some customers are more trouble than they're worth," Craven says. "Concentrating your efforts on higher-value customers can generate more revenue and save you lots of time."
"If you're not sure how you're wasting time, try keeping a detailed diary for a week," advises efficiency and time-management expert Cory Cook. "But you must be honest, because perception is often different from reality. You might think you're looking at social media sites for a few minutes each day, when in truth it's five hours a week."
Once you have identified how you are wasting time, you can decide what changes are required, she says. "It's not always about personal distractions, your day would be taken up with time-consuming tasks when others would contribute much more value to your business, for example, accounting, when it's more cost-efficient to outsource. Delegating more responsibility to others could also enable you to contribute more value – and do more enjoyable things."
If outsourcing or delegating tasks isn't an option, better time management could make a major difference to your bottom line and work-life balance. "It begins with structuring your working day," Cook explains. "Knowing what needs to be done and how long you've got for each task encourages focus. And the more focused you are, the more productive you'll be."
Cook recommends working with to-do lists – as long as they are not too long. "This can make them seem intimidating, so it's better to prioritise six or so key tasks and work through them one by one. Things will crop up which will change things, sure, but aim to start off each day with a structured to-do list. Focus on the task in hand and be realistic about how much time is required, otherwise you risk putting yourself under more pressure, while possibly doing a second-rate job because you've rushed."
You must also consider your energy levels, she says. "Planning to do difficult or boring tasks when you lack energy is usually counterproductive. Get them out of the way during peak energy times, usually earlier in the day, and leave easier or more enjoyable tasks for when your energy is lower."
Business owners also need to know when it's time to go home, she adds. "At the end of a tiring day, when your focus and energy has diminished, tasks take longer to complete, especially those we dislike. Better to come back refreshed the next day, when you'll probably get the job done quicker. Whatever the task, ask yourself what contribution it makes to taking your business forward. If the answer is 'not much', ask yourself why you're doing it."
Successful time management also requires self-discipline and being prepared to politely saying no to non-essential time-sapping requests. "Get into better habits too, for example, checking your email less frequently, because chopping and changing inevitably wastes time. Let others know when you're not to be interrupted unless absolutely necessary, have your calls screened and tell others not to copy you into emails you don't need to read. Avoid unnecessary meetings, and hold them at your premises if possible, that way you'll waste less time travelling."
Cook says even seemingly small changes like this can make a big difference. "If better time management enables you to get just 10 per cent more work done each day, that can make a big difference to your business – and perhaps mean you don't need to work so many hours too."