If you’re shocked that 2017 is almost over, maybe it’s time to ask where the time goes and become a better time manager.
When you greet a child by asking what he or she did in school that day, often the response is, “nothing.” You know they must have done something, but haven’t you felt like that yourself at the end of a workday? You can be busy all day, but feel like you accomplished “nothing.” Those nothing days add up and months pass.
Time is a work tool, just like a vacuum truck, personal computer or smartphone. Like those material items, time can be used wisely to help run a business profitably, or carelessly to the detriment of the business. I’m not suggesting that you are wasting entire workdays playing Candy Crush on your phone or driving to the beach. If you’re doing either of those things, the solution is self-evident. I’m talking about the hours you waste without even realizing it, and how to more effectively manage that time.
BEYOND THE LIST
Productive people are often list-makers. A sense of satisfaction comes from crossing things off a to-do list. But to accomplish more, don’t just make a list; prioritize tasks and schedule them. It’s tempting to do simple tasks first to get a lot of items crossed off the list quickly, but you’ll get more done in the long run by tackling the big jobs first. If payroll is your biggest headache, do it first thing in the morning. If you’re sleepy after lunch, maybe schedule tasks that take you away from your desk, like inspecting your restroom inventory or calling on potential special events customers personally.
ONE THING AT A TIME
Speaking of that big job — it will get done quicker and better if you not only schedule time for it, but also try to focus on it exclusively during the time allotted. While this isn’t always possible, it’s a worthwhile goal. Studies have shown most people actually waste time by multitasking, even though it’s self-aggrandizing to say you’re always doing six things at once. Maybe you’d be able to prepare a more accurate, thorough bid for the government contract you’re going after if you had uninterrupted time to work on putting it together. Or maybe a personnel issue with one of your drivers deserves your undivided attention.
If you honestly don’t know where your time goes, spend a couple of days diligently tracking what you do all day. Informally jot it down in a notebook or, if you think this is a permanent solution to your efficiency woes, there are many productivity apps and job-tracking software programs available for your PC or smartphone. It may amaze you how much time you spend returning emails, answering phone calls or simply chatting with employees. It may also surprise you to find out that you are consistently more productive at certain times of the day. Going forward, you can then try to schedule your most difficult tasks at those times. Also consider the schedules of those you do business with. The sales associates at your paper and chemical suppliers might not be available before 8 a.m., but the owner of a construction company might have more time for you in the early morning.
SCHEDULE COMMUNICATIONS TIME
Give yourself a set amount of time to answer emails or return calls every day. Don’t feel like you must answer the phone just because it rings or answer every email immediately. Also block off some time every day as designated “no communications” time. That means you don’t answer the phone, you don’t even have your email program open and no one is allowed to bother you in person except in a true emergency. You may be surprised by how much you can get done during this period.
ORGANIZE YOUR SPACE
If you honestly track your time for a few days, you’ll realize how much time you waste looking for things in your office. Clean up and organize, and then keep it that way to become more efficient.
LEARN TO DELEGATE
Maybe you feel as though you get nothing done because you are trying to do it all. Don’t think of delegating as a failure on your part. Rather, think of it as a way to give an eager employee an opportunity to grow. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it will take too much time to train someone to do a few of your tasks. It will be time well spent in the long run. It’s OK to admit that one of your young, tech-savvy employees could be a quick study with the routing software and actually do a better job than you do after a few short lessons.
MAKE MEETINGS MORE PRODUCTIVE
Meetings can be efficient ways to communicate, because you can say something once and everyone in attendance gets the message. But meetings can also be giant time-suckers. If you are wasting a lot of time in meetings, try creating and distributing an agenda in advance and sticking to it. This can help keep attendees from going off topic. Thoughtfully creating an agenda can actually help determine if issues could be settled more quickly without a meeting by simply phoning, emailing or having a quick chat with the involved party.
TAKE DRASTIC MEASURES
Here are a few simple but drastic measures you can take if you still find yourself wasting too much time during the workday:
1. Remove the guest chair from your office or cubicle. Or stand up anytime anyone comes in to talk to you. Having guests sit encourages chatting. If one or both people are standing, however, it’s actually kind of awkward and visitors will leave immediately upon having their questions answered.
2. Cut yourself off from social media. If you are constantly scrolling through Facebook and justify it because you have a business page and want to be able to respond immediately to comments or complaints, maybe you need to schedule time to do this once or twice a day rather than staying logged on and being tempted to watch cute puppy videos. Maybe someone else in the office can take over social media marketing while you wean yourself off of the puppy videos.
3. Get some blinds. If you have an office with a glass door or windows that people walk past, you may not realize you are wasting significant time acknowledging people as they pass, whether it’s a nod, wave, verbal greeting or full-blown conversation. You don’t have to become a hermit, but by adding blinds or curtains you can close them when you’re in intense get-things-done mode. This can be helpful for you as well as employees who would be more efficient if they spent less time shooting the breeze with you.
SEEK A BALANCE
If you are frequently left asking yourself where the time went at the end of the day, it may be time to think about time. Using time efficiently doesn’t mean you have to be nose to the grindstone eight to 10 hours a day without a break. It means you use time wisely enough that you actually earn a refreshing break occasionally, and still feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.