When my kids were little (3 kids under 5 with 2 in diapers) a more experienced parent saw the exhaustion on my face and shared, “You know what they say about parenthood – the days are endless but the years fly by.”  Two decades later, with millennial children scattered across the U.S., I can attest to the truth of that statement. Where did all the time go?  In my work with business owners, I often stumble across them asking the same question.  Where did all that time go?  Only they’re usually asking it like this:

  • It’s time to bill the clients.  Anyone know how many hours we worked on the Smith project?
  • Bob/Susan is driving me crazy.  Just what do I pay Bob/Susan to do for 40 hours a week, anyway?
  • I’ve been at my desk all morning.  What did I get done?
  • I’m writing a proposal for Johnson, Inc.  Anyone know how long it takes us to do this type of project?

Do you track your time? Does everyone in your company track their time?  If not, you have one, maybe two glaring weak spots in your business.  I’ll address one in this month’s musing and hope you return for part two next month.

  1. Running a business places huge demands on the business owner’s time.  If you’re wasting time, you’re working harder than you need to.  And how do you know if you’re wasting time if you’re not collecting data about how you spend time?
  2. If your business basically sells time – think professional services, trade services, any services – and you’re not tracking time, you are almost certainly wasting a precious resource. That resource is billable time. I’ll dive deeper into this topic next month.

Business owner time.   As a business owner, I often feel time starved.  That can lead to feeling overwhelmed and powerless. One of my most effective tools to regaining a sense of control is a time diary.  Read almost any time management article, and they’ll all tell you it’s a good idea to record how you spend your working day.  So at least once a month, I work with a pad a paper right next to me.  I set a timer to ring every 15 minutes.  And I record how I spent those 15 minutes.  At the end of the day, I’ll review the time log and make notes on any period that felt particularly efficient or inefficient.  I’m collecting data about how I spend my time.  And that process has helped me reduce wasted time. A few changes I made after reviewing my time data:

  • I set a timer when reviewing email.  After 20 or 30 minutes, I may not have cleaned out the In Box, but it’s time to move onto something else.  Otherwise I risk getting stuck in a 2 or 3 hour rabbit hole.  Honest to goodness, I had days where email sucked 3 hours out of a day.
  • I schedule phone calls.  For every game of phone tag, I was losing 15 to 30 minutes of time before finally connecting on the phone.  In an average week, I might have 2 to 10 of these phone tag games.  Never zero.  A half hour to five hours down the drain every week just trying to talk to people.

Try it. Become your own time analyst.  Management guru Peter Drucker recommends keeping a time diary for 100 days to gather data.  I made it a month one time.  Whether you last for one day, one week, one month, or longer (kudos to you), here’s my promise.  You will learn valuable and surprising things about your time and productivity.  And these realizations will be backed up by data.  I’d love to hear what you discover about yourself; shoot me a time efficient email.

Wishing you lots of positive cash flow,

Walter Miller