Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu said, “Time is a created thing. To say 'I don't have time,' is like saying, 'I don't want to.’” Writer H. Jackson Brown, Jr. said, “Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”
Time. We all have that set amount of time to complete what we need—and want—to do on any given day. The key for every small business owner is deciding what to do in those precious hours and minutes to maximize time and, hopefully, maximize revenue. Consider these statistics: A 2012 study by Mavenlink found that 38 percent of the small business owners polled considered time their most valuable asset, while 50 percent said their top worry in running a business is that there is not enough time to get everything done. Only 35 percent said making a profit was the top stress.
Is there a better way to spend your time? Maybe, probably, yes. We chatted with small business owners who changed in little ways how they spend and organize their work hours, and saw benefits from increased productivity and more time in the day to boost their bottom line.
Shift when you do things
Are you a morning person? Do you get an afternoon slump? Use that knowledge to your advantage, and switch around your schedule accordingly. “Work on tasks that suit your energy levels. If you are a morning person, tackle the most complex tasks early in the day,” says Marion Thier, president of Listening Impact, a company that teaches people how to listen to achieve better results. Thier utilizes this technique herself and passes this advice to her clients. “One of my clients has dramatically improved her sales performance by scheduling calls mid-afternoon when she has the least amount of nervous energy and has gotten the administrative work accomplished. She is calm and open to focus on prospective and current clients.”
Cut out unnecessary tasks
Roberto Torres, director of operations for Black & Denim, a small denim manufacturer in Tampa, Florida, stopped performing a time-consuming task of his every day, and instead shifted to completing it only once a week. “We [used to run] reports every morning, comparing our warehouse and website before we implemented a tweak. Now, instead of running the report every day, we run the report every Friday,” says Torres, “Our web store is more active on the weekends, so we make sure that the inventory was accurate before the busiest part of the week.” Not only was this shift a time saver for his company, it also helped ensure an accurate inventory by preventing customers from ordering a style that wasn’t available, and therefore helping maintain solid customer service.
You return emails as you are in a meeting with your top team. You read reports as you work out at the gym. You may think doing two (or five) things at once is saving you time, but it may be doing the opposite. “Our brains cannot multitask,” says Thier. “Trying to do more than one thing at a time causes errors, loss of focus, and poor decisions. Instead, carve out a block of time to accomplish one task. Doing one thing well in a single block of time is the most efficient way to achieve results.”
Lindsay Anvik, CEO of See Endless, a brand and marketing consulting firm in New York City, uses technology to stay on one task. “I break up my day into small tasks using an alarm/clock as a way to keep my focus. We all get bogged down with checking email, answering phones and fielding all the other things that come our way. I found that when I started using the 30/30 app [a customizable app that allows you to set tasks and the length of time for each] on my iPad, I was able to focus on one thing at a time and get it done without being distracted by anything else,” says Anvik. “When I use the app religiously, and not let myself stop working on the task at hand to do something else (unless critical, of course), I found my productivity increased.”
Sure, a list of everything you need to accomplish is good, but the way you organize the list can make your hours more productive. Jennifer Daly, co-owner of Kinespirit Studios, New York City’s largest Gyrotonic and Pilates studio, reworked her daily checklist to make it more specific and break down into exact times the things she needs to accomplish. “Take your list of to-dos and give them a schedule. For example, [on my daily agenda], I sit down to email from nine to 10 a.m. and four to five p.m. That's it. I check my iPhone regularly to make sure there are no emergencies, but I give myself set email times to be more focused and to not spend my whole day being distracted by communication that can wait,” Daly explains. She then arranges weekly activities, like reaching out to new clients and welcoming them on Mondays, manager meetings on Wednesdays, and checking for supply re-ordering on Fridays. “It is overwhelming to think that you have several things to do everyday,” she says, “so set it up on a schedule and stick to it.”
Thier prepares her list the day before and prioritizes it. “Take time at the end of the day to review what you've accomplished and make a list for the following day. I color code my list, since interruptions are apt to claim attention. I use green for those with the highest priority. I tell my clients to be rigorous in the selection, of ones that require immediate attention and will cause positive or negative financial impact,” says Thier. “Of course, we'd like to check off everything on our lists, but that's not realistic. Not surprisingly, some of the [low priority] items remain there until they are no longer relevant. [Not doing those now-irrelevant tasks] doesn't translate into working fewer hours, but it does mean the time can be used to network, market, write—activities that will create income.”
Learn to ask why and remember how to say no
“People too often just write down all the things they think need to be accomplished without examining why,” Thier says. “I ask clients to keep a log for one week and we review how they spent their time and what were the results. People are often flabbergasted by how much nonproductive time they spent, often because they just went from one task to the next without asking if the task was necessary.” That wasted time is valuable time you could have been using to be more productive to grow revenue. Challenge yourself to opt not to do something unless you can see how it will really benefit you and your revenue. “Say no to extraneous requests for your time,” says Thier. “Question its relevance, its impact, and how it will fit into your already full load.”