5 Big Small-Business Time Wasters

Running a successful business takes time and focus — two commodities in short supply for almost every entrepreneur. We're all wired differently, from super organized to easily distracted, so our time wasters come in a variety of shapes and sizes. After 30 years of working with entrepreneurs and business owners, Jerry White, director of the Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship at the SMU Cox School of Business in Dallas, has seen them all. "The trickiest time traps really do seem to catch just about everybody," White says.

Here's his rundown of the top five.

1. Courting sales prospects who won't commit. Stay in business long enough, and you'll develop a sixth sense about who's actually going to buy. It's a skill that's worth cultivating quickly. Avoid prospects who want to learn everything you can teach them without ever signing on the bottom line.

2. Forgetting to shut the door. An open-door policy may be great for team morale, but it can wreak havoc on your productivity. If your partners and employees feel comfortable walking in at any time for any reason, shut the door when you need to focus. Don't have a door? Just set some friendly limits. Block off a couple of "do not disturb" hours or hit the coffee shop. They'll understand — and maybe get some work done themselves.

3. Answering every email. Pingdom.com reports that the average corporate user sent and received 112 emails a day in 2011. And despite firewalls and spam filters, 19 percent of them were spam. Combine spam with emails you're copied on that aren't really important, and you're dealing with dozens of worthless messages a day. Learn to hit delete, White advises.

4. Pitching in. Sure, being helpful greases the wheels of your operation. But beware of getting sucked into bailing out employees and teammates on tasks they can tackle themselves. Redelegation — the bounce-back of an assignment you've handed off — pulls you away from the things you really need to pay attention to. You have a job to do — so let them do theirs.

5. Meeting without making money. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do in-person appointments. Because meetings have a way of overrunning their boundaries, make sure every appointment you agree to advances your personal or business success. Book a block of meetings back to back, White advises. The tight schedule will help you — and your appointment — stay on track.

These are just five of the hundreds of common behaviors that steal away the time we need to get ahead. "Whether you're running a billion-dollar conglomerate or a small, growing business," White notes, "business success boils down to being able to separate the trivial many from the vital few." How you spend your time really does determine your future.

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