“I bet I could have cut back on many of the 70, 80, and 90-hour weeks that I’ve put in over the years, if I’d been more systematic and rigorous in managing time!”
Time and money are both very important in business. Yet, like me, many businesspeople tend to give a lot more specific thought as to how to spend their money. Too often, how we spend our time is only thought of in terms of “What am I going to do today?” or “What should I do next?”
So the first step in time management is changing your mind-set about how important not just time is, but also managing time, and acknowledging that, yes, it can be managed.
Just as a well-run business should carefully develop a strategy to determine how to spend its money, an effective businessperson should carefully develop a strategy to determine how to use his or her time. Just as a well-run business follows a budget in spending money, an effective businessperson should also follow a budget (or schedule) in spending time. And just as a well-run business should evaluate at the end of each month how its sales goals and budgets compare to actual, effective businesspeople should also regularly think about how they managed their time in the previous month or the previous week. You are simply not going to get better at managing your time unless you are willing to devote some time to it.
If you can successfully manage your time, it can really help drive your business ahead. An important part of successful time management is allocating dedicated quality time for thinking and working on improving and building the business, not just focusing on the day-to-day operations. This is doubly true for a very small business with few employees.
And it is triply true for a one-person business!
Prioritize Your Time
The first step in effective time management is not to develop a schedule, but instead to develop a time strategy. The time strategy should be based on a short list of time priorities.
You start by identifying the number one way you can most increase profits by use of your time, then the number two way, then the number three way, and so on. This short list of time priorities forms the foundation for your time planning for every week of the year.
These time priorities may be identical to key parts of your company strategy or they may be different. For example, if your company strategy is based upon excellent customer service, then spending lots of your time in customer service may not be the best use of your time if you have a terrific customer-service manager.
Narrow Your Focus
Focus is crucial for time management, and the fewer priorities you focus on at once, the more productive you will be.
After you have your major time priorities for the year established, you should allocate them by week or by month. Like it or not, a lot of our time each week is going to be eaten up by nonstrategic items that we have no control over; hence, it is important to limit the number of strategic time goals we have for each week. So even if you have ten strategic time goals for the year, you may want to focus on no more than one or two of them in any given week.
For example, in a particular week you may plan on working on your number one time objective, such as planning improvements for the company’s major product line, and a secondary goal, such as reevaluating the dealer marketing program, but no time on other secondary time goals that you plan on tackling during other weeks.
Set Aside Uninterrupted Time
Every week you should make up a detailed time plan, which you modify each day as needed. Except in times of crisis, try to make sure day-to-day issues don’t push your strategic time priorities off your schedule.
Generally, your major strategic time priorities will involve such activities as planning, thinking, and developing ideas. More so than day-to-day issues, such activities require big blocks of uninterrupted time.
Constant interruption kills any hope of effective time management. One way to avoid interruption is to make it clear that when your door is closed you are not to be disturbed. Another is to have regular meetings, such as every week, with the people that you interact with the most and insist on saving non-pressing issues for these meetings.
Avoid Bob’s Time Traps!
These are some “time traps,” all of which have plagued me and that you should guard against:
- Spending a disproportionately large amount of time in the offices where the most congenial people are, as opposed to where the most important issues are
- Wasting too much time getting daily updates on routine activities as opposed to waiting for a more meaningful weekly summary
- Jumping too eagerly into the routine, more straightforward work and putting off the more complex and difficult work
- Not starting the more important work first thing in the morning
- Not bothering to make up a schedule for each day
- Overscheduling—scheduling each day so tightly that it is impossible to stay on track and the schedule quickly becomes meaningless
- Not spending enough time giving some hard, deep thought as to how you can manage your time better
- Budget your time as well as your money.
- Narrow your focus—multitasking isn’t always the solution.