By Sarah Prevette (Founder, Sprouter)
Time is arguably the most valuable asset of every entrepreneur — and can be hard to find enough time in the day to do everything you need to do keep your business running. Respond to e-mails, managing employees and customers, sourcing strategic partners and networking in your industry. It all takes time.

Work days can easily be burned through by being reactionary to inquiries, questions and requests. As you grow your business you’ll inevitably get an increasing number of interview requests from publications, meeting requests from new entrepreneurs and students, and e-mails from people interested in your company. When you’re a solopreneur or have a small staff, you often have to respond to customer service inquiries and requests yourself. You might start the day with a clear list of priorities, but then your attention is diverted by any number of distractions. Time wasted on non-priorities was time you could have spent focused on your real priorities.

Your job isn’t to answer emails, go to meetings or help others accomplish their goals. Your job is to grow your business. While facilitating an introduction or meeting someone to discuss potential synergies can be productive, make sure you ask yourself what’s in it for your business. Look at every request and ask yourself: does it result in personal or professional gain? And more importantly, does this help accomplish your highest strategic priorities?

If you find yourself getting away from your core focus on a daily basis try incorporating the following tactics into your day:

  • If you’re inundated with emails or requests, ask people to outline clear objectives for why they are requesting your time so you can evaluate them as they come in.
  • Turn down meetings that don’t provide value. Politely tell people that you’re focused on building your business right now, and let them know which community event you’ll be at next, so you can connect there.
  • Schedule calls instead of coffee meetings, and set time limits so you know exactly how much of your day you’re devoting to tasks that aren’t a priority.
  • Create filters in your e-mail so you only respond to messages that are a priority, and if you can’t help but respond then limit the number of times you check email in a day.
  • Address customer service inquiries or other necessary tasks once or twice daily instead of as they come in.
  • Create a list of top priorities every morning and make sure you stay focused on them throughout the day.
  • No matter what stage of your business you’re at you need to protect your time and ensure your mindset is always focused on your own goals. Time is money, and that’s never more true than when you’re an entrepreneur.

This post was originally posted at The Young Entrepreneur Council (Y.E.C.), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country’s most promising young entrepreneurs.

The Y.E.C promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business’s development and growth.

About the guest blogger: Sarah Prevette is the Founder of Sprouter, an online collaboration tool facilitating knowledge exchange between startups and business leaders. Sarah has robust familiarity with the common pitfalls of early stage startups and the tips and tools that foster success. Prior to starting Sprouter, Sarah built the tween pop culture community Upinion and held various strategic positions in the recently acquired Cyberbahn Group as well as at Info~Tech Research Group. Sarah was recently named one of Inc. Magazine’s 30 Under 30 entrepreneurs 2010.