Self Employed Web

Crunch Time

Posted on Tuesday, March 4th, 2003 by

Crunch Time

Time on his side: John Harrington
owner of Standard Printing Co. in Ypsilanti, Mich

Sure, crazed is your middle name—it goes with owning a business. But if you’re like many entrepreneurs, you desperately need to get more organized. Learn how to stretch 24 hours into productive (i.e., more profitable) time without hiring new staff or losing your competitive edge.

For many business owners, time is the great and ugly enemy. Before you know it, the day is gone and you wonder what you’ve accomplished. You’re no closer to completing that big project you’ve been putting off for weeks. Those interviews with candidates for the sales job that’s gone wanting for so long? Postponed. The bid for that new account? No way. Progress on opening the new store? Zilch.

If any of this sounds familiar, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone—there’s a virtual army of small-business owners who can’t find enough time in the day to march even half the distance they charted. The typical small-business owner gets so engulfed in putting out fires and dealing with daily tasks and interruptions that he or she hardly has time to tackle the big stuff.

Speed Traps

The problem is, says Harold Taylor, who heads up Time Consultants Inc. ( in New Market, Ontario, many small-business owners get ensnarled in time traps that prove costly and unproductive. “Probably the most common of these is the failure of entrepreneurs to schedule time for themselves,” says Taylor, who consults for some of North America’s largest corporations as well as numerous small businesses.

Business owners also have difficulty saying no. They also don’t set deadlines on all appointments and meetings and fail to spend enough time on the objectives of the business (read: they get mired in the little stuff). Collectively, these time traps can cause entrepreneurs to spin their wheels when they should be gaining traction.

Another pitfall to making the most of your time, ironically, is not taking enough time to get your required 40 winks. “I see a drastic improvement among my clients who get eight hours of sleep each night,” reports Vince Panella, author of The 26 Hour Day—How to Gain at Least 2 Hours a Day with Time Control (Career Press, 2001). “They report making fewer mistakes, and they’re more energetic on the job.”

In The 26 Hour Day—How to Gain at Least 2 Hours a Day with Time Control, author Vince Panella lists the “killer 13” time-wasters:
1. Telephone/email
2. Surfing the Web
3. Interruptions
4. Socializing
5. Procrastination
6. Personal disorganization
7. Cleaning your desk
8. Inability to say no
9. Lack of delegation
10. Indecision
11. Unimportant paperwork and reading
12. Poorly planned meetings
13. Television and video games

Panella lists the “killer 13” time-wasters (see sidebar), including the time that business owners and managers devote to their email—a concern Taylor shares. “When I talk to groups, I ask them how much time they spend a day on email,” he explains. “No executive I’ve encountered spends less than one hour, and some of them are up to three hours.”

At the same time, managers often treat email as though everything they receive is urgent. “Every time they get a message, their computers give a little audio signal, and they drop whatever they’re doing to read what’s come in,” Taylor says. Not only is this little task cumulatively time consuming, it also is distracting.

As for meetings, keep them on point, short and close-ended, Taylor advises.

All the Right Moves

Probably the most important step in avoiding time traps should be a given—but many business owners fail to take it. “You need to draw up your company’s mission and define the goals, with individual deadlines, that will enable you to fulfill that mission,” says Taylor, who notes that any time you spend that doesn’t help you realize those goals is likely wasted.

Tony Mandola, a Houston, Texas, restaurateur, knows firsthand the importance of establishing a mission and sticking to the game plan. Mandola, who owns three New Orleans– style bistros and a catering firm, admits that before he got time-saving religion and adopted a set of principles and ideas for better organizing his day, “I was so busy, I’d wake up behind.” Now, he says, “I get more done in a shorter span because I’ve learned to prioritize my time.”

He’s also learned the importance of focusing on meeting business objectives. “The key is clarity,” Mandola says. “Stating and reviewing your goals helps with everything else. Having clarity helps eliminate things that might tend to slow you down.” Mandola makes sure his goals are front and center by frequently reviewing them. “I set them down on tape and listen to them or read them. That way, every decision I make, I ask, ‘Does this help me achieve my goal?’”

Being proactive, rather than reactive—and looking out for number one—also can help. For example, Taylor says that we often set up meetings around other people’s schedules, not our own. “We show more respect for others than ourselves, and that can snowball.”

The solution: Schedule time for yourself so that you can focus on a task without interruption. That means no phone calls and no email. These should be dealt with much the same way managers used to deal with snail mail. “You spend a half hour when you come in going through your email, and maybe another half

hour at the end of the day—and that’s it,” Taylor says. In the seven hours in between, ignore the computer messages, and don’t be afraid not to answer the phone occasionally. That’s why messaging services were invented—so you don’t have to respond to every caller when you’re working on something that’s vital to the business.

Learning to set priorities also is a proven time-management tool. However, this doesn’t mean simply drawing up “to do” lists, which Taylor views as often exercises in futility. “Unless you actually put the activity on your schedule and set a deadline for completing it, it’s probably not going to get done,” he says.

Of course, none of this is going to do you a bit of good unless you stick with the program. “Follow-through and consistency is the only way to change behavioral patterns,” says Panella. “Real change is going to take some work. This is not a change you can make overnight. There is no miracle or little exercise that you can do and—lo and behold—you’ve suddenly got all the time you need.”

Carefully Define Work

Another personal-productivity guru, David Allen, author of the best-seller Getting Things Done—The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (Penguin Books, 2001), proposes that business owners carefully define their work, breaking down each project into its essential tasks. “Many actions require only a minute or two to move a project forward,” he says. “It’s radical common sense.”

Peter Levitt, co-owner of Saul’s, a busy Berkeley, Calif., restaurant and delicatessen, follows that approach to a T. “Every employee’s job has a checklist that defines each task,” he explains. “The idea is, you’ve already invented the wheel, so write it down. That way, you get better and better at each task.” Eventually, Levitt says, “You find you can do things faster, which frees up time to do other non-routine tasks.”

Allen also recommends maintaining a vision of what’s important in your life and in business. “For entrepreneurs, the biggest challenge is keeping a vision or perspective and not losing it on the details,” he says. “The problem is that most people make decisions on what to do at a particular time based on what I call ‘the latest and loudest.’”

Getting in the way of the best-planned schedule are the inevitable time-chewing gremlins that nibble away, minute by minute, at your limited time. “Entrepreneurs are in a particularly tight squeeze because they must wear all these different hats—CEO, sales, HR, PR, operations, finance—you name it,” Allen says. “These people may have 30 different projects they’re committed to.”

In a twist, Marilyn Rinzler, owner of Poulet, a restaurant and catering business in Berkeley, says her workers are so well-trained and efficient that she tackles the daily interruptions herself to keep the others from getting sidetracked. “My people are efficient, and to allow them to be efficient, I do all the stuff that’s inefficient,” she says.

Don’t Ignore the Basics

Despite the success of the newer approaches to getting more done, some experts still adhere to management basics. “The biggest thing is hiring the right people to fit your business,” says Dennis Hoppe, who operates a consulting firm, Change Management Implementation( in Rochester, N.Y. He believes that hiring the right people can save time, hassles and interruptions down the road. “When you’re hiring someone,” he says, “the only thing that really counts is his or her chemistry and the passion he or she has to get into that line of work.”

“My peole are efficient, and to allow them to be efficient, I do all the stuff that’s inefficient”
-Mailyn Rinzler, owner of Poulet, Berkeley, Calif

The key is having good, competent staff to depend on,” says John Harrington, owner of Standard Printing Co., Ypsilanti, Mich. “Training your people well, so they can pick up a lot of the stuff that eats up your time, is critical to getting more done.”

Hope counsels small-business clients to be clear about what is expected when delegating. “You have to let people know exactly what’s expected and then follow up with them on key checkpoints along the way. Unfortunately, too many small-business owners, who typically have done it all themselves, automatically assume that everyone can do it all—and that’s just not true.”

Herb Bivins, a co-owner with two other bibliophiles of Black Oak Books, a trio of bookstores in the San Francisco Bay area, is a big proponent of careful hiring, training and delegating. “If you choose the right person for the job and train him or her to do it right, it saves you time,” he says. “I’ve tried it the other way—assuming a person knew how to do everything—and believe me, it doesn’t work. You have to show him or her how to do it right.”

More recently, after managing the opening of a new Black Oak Books in San Francisco, Bivins turned the operation over to an employee. “If you hire people who can think for themselves, and train them well, then they can do it—they can run the store.”

Software Can Help

Some business owners find software to be a helpful time-saver. Richard G. Myers, president of Small Business Consultants ( in Houston, trains his clients to use PC-based contact-management software such as ACT!, a leading program for small-business owners. It helps you keep track of business contacts, conversations and other correspondence. When an action or task is due for a particular project, the program can beep as a reminder.

“This software doesn’t manage your time,” Myers admits. “No software is going to give you 30 hours in the day. But the technology can cut down on the floundering around—searching for names, telephone numbers and files—which often eats into your time.”

HIGH TECH HELP Time-management software that won’t waste your time.
For those who need help organizing their day, the software industry has jumped into the fray. Most programs offer a free trial before requiring users to pay a license fee.Some of our favorites:
Small Business Tracker Deluxe comes with several modules for running a business. These include Activity & Expense Tracker, for monitoring projects and tasks and their related expenses; Schedule Tracker, for keeping tabs on appointments and all daily, weekly and monthly schedules; and Task Tracker, for generating to-do lists. Published by SpiritWorks Software Development, the package has a 10-day free trial. After that, you can get it for $129 ([email protected]).Other time-management programs include GoalPro 5.0, a goal-setting and time-management package from Success Studios Corporation. Consider a 30-day free trial ( Also, check out Time Maximizer—designed for the Palm and other PDA handheld devices—which helps you get a grip on how you spend your time ($14.95, 21-day free tryout).If you want to conduct your own search, go online. You’ll find
a universe of software by typing in (you guessed it) time-
management software. —D.B.

In truth, though, it’s the rare small-business owner whose day fits a neat plan. The unknown and unexpected—combined with the unpredictable ebb and flow of the business—often dictate your activities. “My day is more go with the flow,” says Bivins on a recent evening at Black Oak’s flagship store in Berkeley. “It’s determined by how many people come in that front door. Today I’m doing the buying [of used books]. I’ve been buying almost continuously since 10 this morning.”

That’s why printer Harrington actually builds in time for handling the unexpected. “When I walk in here each day, there are things I know I have to do. But I also leave some time for fires that flare up that I will have to deal with on the spot.”

Embracing the Unexpected

In fact, some small-business owners relish the feeling of having unregimented days. For them, the uncertainty breathes fresh challenges into their business. It also keeps them on their toes and at a high energy level that makes work fun.

“My thinking time comes when my cat gets me up at 4:30 in the morning,” says David Brown, who, with his wife, runs David L. Brown Photography in Atlantic Highlands, N.J. “That’s when I lie in bed and do all the planning and daydreaming—figuring out what I can do that day,” says Brown, who offers his framed  photos and posters in galleries and at crafts shows on the Jersey shore.

For some, being efficient and getting more work done in less time—extending the workday—isn’t what it’s all about, anyway. After all, many small businesses are successful partly because they’re, well, small. As 24-year veteran restaurateur Rinzler puts it, “Even though I complain about being inefficient, efficiency is not my goal.”

Before Rinzler can finish her thought, a customer approaches. “Thank you for this place,” she says. “I love it.” The customer turns and walks away, smiling broadly.

“We’re efficiently run,” says Rinzler, clearly elated at the spontaneous compliment. “All the food we make is different. That’s part of what I like about Poulet. I don’t want it to be McDonald’s.”

In that spirit, Taylor reminds us that even the most efficient of us never get everything done on schedule—no matter how well we master time management. “Most of us will go to our graves leaving behind a 12-foot-long to-do list and hundreds of unanswered emails,” he says. His final word of advice, extracted from the ancient wisdom of the Zen masters: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

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