Do you find yourself wishing you had more time to focus on building your business? If so, you're not alone. One of the most common concerns among business owners is that there just aren't enough hours in the week. But, I promise you: There really are.
Here are five concrete ways that you can use design thinking to save time and claim back five or more of your best hours every week. What's more, they work to help your company run smoother with fewer fires and "crises."
We've been coaching our clients to use these simple strategies for over a decade and the results are impressive. One of the reasons these ideas work so well is that they help you consistently claim back some of your best hours every week so that you can reinvest this time on the activities that create the most value for your company.
What makes the work of designers so exciting is their intentionality -- the way that they attend to every detail of whatever they're crafting by asking: How can this flow better? How can we make it simpler and more efficient by reducing inputs and increasing outputs? How can we save time and create better results?
To think about your schedule like a designer, I want you to start by looking at the three key demands on your time that prevent you from focusing on the work you need to do to grow your business. These are:
- Third-party demands: These include things like a customer asking you to get them a specific report or to send them a time sensitive proposal; team members who ask for your help or for you to take on a task; or vendors who ask you to meet with them. Some third-party demands are highly valuable, but many are instead low value to you and your business, but hard to say no to, which is why good design helps you fend off and even preempt these low value, third party demands.
- Fires: The unplanned emergencies that demand your attention here and now. A key client who needs your immediate attention or a staff member who quits. Most fires are urgent and important and require you to deal with them quickly. What good design can do here is to reduce the system friction and help you prevent many of these fires from sparking to begin with.
- Interruptions: All of the beeps, buzzes, or alerts you get from your email, text, and other productivity tools. Or, the phone calls or drop in visitors who pull you fracture your time into smaller slivers. Good design can help you aggregate your slivers of time into higher value blocks.
Those three time-demands probably make up the vast majority of your weekly schedule. And that's where your problem is. All of those activities are reactive. This means that your schedule is out of your control. If you want to take back your time, you need to become intentional about how you schedule it. You need to redesign your workweek with these 5 design-based strategies:
1. Restructure your week.
When your schedule is reactive, you don't get time to focus. Most of your work gets done in five-to-15-minute windows that open up between meetings, calls, emails, and emergencies. But you can't create real value in slivers of time. You need to give yourself space to put your best attention on your most important projects. So I'm going to share with you two tools that do that: I call them "Focus Time" and "Prime Time."
To create Focus Time, pick one day a week as your Focus Day. Then block out two to four hours that you're going to set aside on that day every week to focus on your highest-value projects. Create a recurring calendar event to reserve that time.
Once you've chosen a Focus Day, you can look at all the other days in your work week as Push Days -- days where you just push the company forward one step at a time, handling lower-value operations. On your Push Days, claim back a 45-60-minute Prime Time block of your best time, and then you're fine to do the rest of the day the way you normally would.
If you set aside Focus Time and Prime Time, you'll still have most of your calendar free for meetings and fire-fighting, but you'll have given yourself the gift of five to eight hours every week to consistently get higher-value work done. In essence, what you're doing is designing your week to fit in these high value focus blocks of time first, before you let the other interruptions and third party demands crowd them out.
2. Automate recurring responsibilities.
Next, start eliminating the low-value work that eats up the rest of your week by automating your recurring responsibilities. These are predictable activities that you or your business have to do again and again. Good design says, "How do we automate these tasks so that they consistently get done with less energy or effort?"
For example, one of our former clients was a surgical group that handled hundreds of surgeries every year. One very important recurring responsibility surgeons have is to meet with every patient before an operation to give them preoperative instructions. While it might take the surgeon only five or 10 minutes to give a pre-op speech, when you multiply that by the hundreds of cases they handle every year, this adds up to serious time. Better design can preempt this altogether.
Our client created a clear, professional video of the surgeon sharing his very best pre-op instructions. Not only did this save the surgeon hours each week, but it also ensured that no matter how busy the surgeon's schedule, every patient received the best possible version of the instructions.
How can you do something similar in your business? What recurring responsibilities can you automate? Template? Or even eliminate?
3. Fireproof your week.
Most businesses have recurring fires that spring up from interactions and workflows where you can predict inflammatory friction.
So ask yourself: What are the recurring fires in my business? What are the points of friction that spark those fires? How can we better improve our processes and procedures to remove the friction? Those question will bring you to...
4. Clarify roles and responsibilities.
One of the most common causes of friction is misunderstanding who's responsible for what. Sometimes tasks are missed; other times they're duplicated.
So fill the gaps and reduce redundancies. Take a little bit of time to think through which responsibilities go with which roles and clarify this information with your team.
5. Script critical linkages.
You know what the biggest point of failure is in a relay race? The moment that one runner hands the baton off to another. That's why Olympic sprinters spend so much time practicing hand-offs. It is a critical point failure for their race.
The same goes for your business. The moment that one department or functional area in your business hands something off to another is critical to determining the success and efficiency of your operations.
You can prevent fires and improve your teamwork by scripting and practicing your cross-functional hand-offs. Explore how you can make these linkages smooth and simple, free of friction and fire.
It's a tall order, but a little bit of intentional energy on the design side can yield compounded dividends over time. You might only be saving 5 or 10 or 15 percent of your time, but compound those savings over every day of every week of every month of every year that you run this business and, sooner or later, you'll start seeing tremendous savings and earnings as well as a radical change in your quality of life.