As entrepreneurs, we often read and hear about the importance of periodically tracking our activities for a few days to determine where we are spending out time, and if it’s being used effectively. Although there is a high awareness level around this activity, I see quite a bit of resistance about actually doing it. “I know how I spend my time.” Or “I can tell you exactly where my times goes,” are two of the most common responses when I suggest time-tracking to my clients. Even so, for those who actually follow through on this assignment, important observations and dramatic “Ah Ha” moments are a common outcome.
Business owners are often surprised at how much time they spend being reactive, rather than proactive. It’s difficult to commit to upfront time to create systems and procedures that will prevent fires so that we’re not constantly putting out fires. Other discoveries that this exercise reveals are things like time being “wasted” on-line in unnecessary “research,” performing tasks that can be outsourced or given to employees, fielding too many personal phone calls from parents and friends, and laboring over email. Scheduling time into your week to perform tasks, like keeping up on email and putting systems in place is critical to business growth. While it’s difficult to embrace the thought of taking on “more work” while you are already feeling that you’re in over your head, the upfront investment of time will save you much pain in the long run. Try following these suggestions to determine where your time, and money, is going down the drain.
1. Create a simple chart with five columns and the following headers: Time, Activity, Time Used, Priority, Comment. Either have the page handy to write on or easily accessible on your computer. 2. Each day for 3-5 days, list and prioritize your goals for the day, either on a separate sheet or directly on your time tracking sheet. 3. Simply go about business as usual and fill out your activity log throughout the day. When you enter into a new activity note the start time and end time. If you get interrupted, note the length and nature of the interruption. Prioritize each task, from 1-5, 1 being top priority. This alone can bring about a great awareness if everything feels like a top priority! 4. After a minimum of 3 days, add up the hours spend on various activities and objectively explore these activities. A business coach or mentor will be able to offer insights and a higher level of awareness than you might achieve on your own.
Questions to ask yourself:
How many of your tasks were revenue generating? How much of your time was spent on entrepreneurial tasks, rather than personal, time-wasting and clerical tasks? Did you spend more time browsing the internet, engaging in non-productive activities, putting out fires and answering emails and phone calls of a personal nature than you did generating an income? What surprises do you see? This “map” will lead you to many hidden treasures if you analyze the details.
Basic solutions: When we get caught up in browsing the internet, aimless social media (vs. planned and strategic social media), playing spider solitaire (yup, that goes on the list too!) and low-level activities, it’s most often because we don’t have a clear vision and plan. Schedule time to work on your vision, develop a marketing plan and create the steps to achieve your vision. Again, this is a lot to ask of yourself – even if you are creative and strategic. Working on your own plan can be daunting so consider asking for input from well chosen resources.
Schedule time to create structure. If you are consistently recreating the wheel then you are wasting time and may not have clarity in your vision. Create a FAQ’s page for your website, design marketing language that can be used in any number of situations, develop responses that can be used over and over again. This is just one example of a process that will save you time and headaches in the future.
Outsource. And if you don’t believe you can afford a few hours of help each week, add up the hours that you spend on things that don’t fall under the definition of an entrepreneur, multiply that by your hourly worth and consider how much more money you will make after a month or two of wearing the hat of a leader, rather than that of an administrative assistant, bookkeeper or jack of all trades.
MARLA TABAKA is a small-business adviser who helps entrepreneurs around the globe grow their businesses well into the millions. She speaks widely on combining strategic and creative thinking for optimum success and happiness. @MarlaTabaka