In Search of Lost TIMEPosted on Monday, May 1st, 2006 by Michaela Cavallaro
These tips for better time management will boost profits at almost any business
Last spring, Bill Jemas wanted to implement a new system at 360ep, his Princeton, N.J. start-up. His company brokers licensing deals for clients ranging from the Harlem Globetrotters to the Guggenheim Museum, and its sales people spend a lot of time on the phone, contacting prospective licensees. Unlike Marvel Entertainment Inc., the comic book and movie company where Jemas a few years ago led a dramatic turnaround, 360ep doesn’t have a sales support staff. Jemas’ sales people must manage their own paperwork—and like most sales people, they hate doing it. “They get on the phone, and one call leads to another,” says Jemas. “At best, they might enter information about their calls in the database at the end of the day.”
That pattern posed a problem. Jemas needed real-time data on those calls to monitor productivity. That way, instead of wasting a whole day on unproductive prospects, a rep would make only a handful of lousy calls—entering a quick, on-the-spot report on each call in a shared computer database. Jemas and other managers could then spot the trend just by glancing at the database, and suggest a new approach or different prospects. The upshot: Jemas decided to insist that his sales staff keep real-time records of every call, with the prospect’s name and line of business, as well as notes on what was discussed and any next steps required. Jemas describes his staff’s reaction: “Everyone looked me in the eye and said, ‘Yes, Bill, what a great idea’—but they didn’t do it.”
Jemas solved the problem by requiring a daily five-minute meeting between each salesperson and the sales manager. If a rep’s call information isn’t entered in the database prior to the meeting, guess what gets discussed? It didn’t take long for the staff to tire of having that conversation every day. They now keep real-time records, and they agree that Jemas’ method makes them more efficient sellers.
Today, the process continues to work smoothly. Jemas notes that the consistency of the daily meetings eliminates the need for reminders about sticking to the system. Moreover, the new approach has made the company’s weekly sales meetings a lot more effective. “Now, nobody feels on the spot at the meeting because last week’s calls weren’t as productive as they should have been,” he says. “We addressed those calls last week. Instead, we can use the meetings to focus on strategy, and that’s the fun stuff.”
5 Problems, 5 Solutions
Jemas faced a challenge shared by many small business owners and managers—the need to find ways to help employees make the most of their time at work. We interviewed business owners like Jemas, as well as experts in productivity and time management, to compile a list of five common productivity problems that ultimately lead to wasted time. Our sources also suggested ways owners and managers can solve such problems through better time management.
1 You spend all your time putting out fires. When management is busy dealing with the crisis du jour, there’s no time to figure out how to prevent the problems in the first place. Key employees burn out, and the business loses its way. Owners and managers who spend all their time putting out brush fires often overlook more fundamental issues that can threaten a business. “We can pay so much attention to getting the product out the door that we don’t notice the product is in its death throes,” says Jamie Walters, founder of San Francisco-based IvySea Inc., a consulting firm that focuses on leadership and entrepreneurship. Walters also is author of Big Vision, Small Business (2002), a book about the role of vision in small businesses.
Solution: Revisit your vision for your business. Walters has great empathy for the demanding schedules entrepreneurs face—she’s one herself— but she maintains that it’s crucial to schedule time for what she calls a “vision check-in.” The idea is to take time to ponder and shape the priorities and direction of your organization. Run the results past trusted advisors, who might point out blind spots. That done, you can work on specific strategies (several of which we’ll address below) to get your worklife back on track.
2 Your employees lack motivation to fulfill your vision. If managers are in constant crisis mode, it’s likely that employees are feeling neglected. They may also lack a sense of where you want to take the organization—and they may wonder what’s in it for them.
Solution: Communicate your vision clearly, and make sure new and existing employees understand how it benefits them. Keep telling your workers where you hope better time management and greater productivity will take your firm—and where it will take them. Be specific. For example, let’s say your firm needs more clients in order to produce a bigger profit. You might explain to your workers that you need them to cooperate with your plans to make that happen—and perhaps point out that higher profits will create opportunities for them to earn higher salaries or qualify for profit sharing. “The only way you can get your staff to buy into a plan is if you can get them to see the vision of where you want to go as a company,” says Barbara Hemphill, whose North Carolina-based Hemphill Productivity Institute developed the popular Taming the Paper Tiger organization system. Your new plans may result in employee turnover or lead to growth that requires you to expand your staff. Make sure that you provide job applicants with realistic job descriptions, and clearly convey your goals so that new hires start out on the right foot.
3 Owners and managers spend their time doing jobs someone else could do as well or better. Ashlyn Gomez, who runs a Dalton, Pa., marketing firm called Inkwell Business Writing, is reluctant to hand off responsibility to even the most trusted employee. “Entrepreneurs tend to be do-it-yourselfers, so it takes time to learn to actually trust and value the contributions of others,” she says. She’s right about that. But business owners and managers who underestimate their staff and fail to delegate often find themselves overwhelmed. The results can be hard on your firm’s bottom line—not to mention your mental health.
Solution: Delegate. The first step is to decide which tasks you should delegate. Mark Ellwood of Pace Productivity, a Toronto consulting firm, recommends pon- 35 dering two questions: First, how does your business make its money? Second, how much of your time are you spending on the tasks that are directly related to that goal? For example, let’s say you are a partner in a law firm that makes its profits finding clients and performing their legal work. You probably should focus on those tasks, not on administrative jobs that an office manager can easily do or oversee. Many entrepreneurs claim they can’t afford to pay someone else to do a certain job—or they insist that no one else will know how to do the work properly. Chances are, neither claim is true, but such errors of judgment can lead to dismal results. Ellwood’s verdict: “Delegation is where entrepreneurs are most likely to fail.”
You might start by delegating tasks such as administrative work and Web site development. Ellwood himself hires a specialist to implement his concepts for his website. He could certainly learn HTML, but it’s far more efficient to pay someone else to do it while he focuses on meeting with new clients. What if your employees are too busy to take on more work? Consider hiring a new person, or farm out some work. Ellwood relies on a virtual assistant — essentially, a freelance administrative assistant. (The International Virtual Assistants Association, at www.ivaa.org, can help you find one.) He hires the assistant as needed to transcribe meeting notes and perform other tasks. That way, Ellwood can do the work for which clients pay him: analyzing the results of their time studies and recommending how they can be more efficient. This kind of letting go isn’t always easy, acknowledges Gomez. Still, she says, “It is very liberating.”
4 Employees waste hours on e-mail, instant messaging and the Internet. E-mail, PowerPoint, instant messaging, and other programs that come with our computers can be a boon to productivity— but they can also be time wasters. “The entire company can do nothing but process each others’ email all day, and that’s no way to make a buck,” notes Bill Jemas of 360ep.
Solution: Manage—but don’t over-manage— workers’ use of technology. Barbara Hemphill encourages the use of instant messaging at the Hemphill Productivity Institute, but only for certain purposes. For example, when Hemphill is on the phone her assistant can quickly IM her to find out whether she wants to put off her next appointment. But Hemphill and her employees only use IM internally—no checking on the status of the kids’ homework assignments—and for issues that can be resolved with one or two IM exchanges. “When I’m ready to type the third message, I pick up the phone,” says Hemphill.
Likewise, there is no law that says you must interrupt whatever you’re doing to respond to every new email message. Consider programming your email software to download new messages every 30 minutes, instead of every 30 seconds—or take a more drastic step and close the program while you work on a task that requires sustained concentration. Ellwood takes an almost draconian approach to Internet access. “Most employees don’t need access to the World Wide Web in corporate environments,” he says. Ellwood recommends that some firms consider disabling Internet access on most computers, and set up centrally located Internetenabled terminals that employees share. That way, employees can get the information they need, but they won’t be tempted to while away hours shopping or browsing their favorite news sites.
Other experts argue for a more flexible approach. Jamie Walters of IvySea contends that too many restrictions create an administrative burden and an authoritarian atmosphere that can make employees resentful. Her advice: Allow employees brief interpersonal communications throughout the work day. Productivity relies on engagement and motivation— and it’s tough to feel motivated when the boss is always looking over your shoulder.
5 You might be overlooking ways to make your company more efficient. Workers who specialize in tasks such as sales or administration or technical support may know certain aspects of your firm better than you ever will. That knowledge can be an important resource as you work to help them become more productive.
Solution: Ask employees for their ideas. Ashlyn Gomez of Inkwell Business Writing began her business as a sole proprietor in 2002. Last fall she brought in three independent contractors to help with her growing workload. Gomez allowed the contractors to dictate how much they wanted to work and what sorts of clients interested them. More to the point, she asked them for ideas about what kinds of projects made the most sense for her business. “They really helped me identify which kinds of clients and projects to take on,” says Gomez. “And the fact that they’re part of that process also helps motivate them.”
While front-line employees often can point to inefficiencies and ways to eliminate them, you probably won’t get their ideas if you don’t ask for them. Even then, you may have trouble gleaning useful information at first. “A lot of people come from cultures that limit their input,” says Walters. “You may get some glazed looks at first.”
Don’t be discouraged by such a response. Keep asking employees for their ideas about how they can be more effective. When you do get a good suggestion, promptly act on it. That will reinforce the message that employees’ ideas are taken seriously.
WHATEVER your strategy for enhancing productivity, it’s helpful to lead by example. Case in point: If you interrupt whatever you’re doing to respond immediately to employees’ emails, they’ll get the idea that they should do the same. Similarly, employees who see you making time to meet with your advisors about the company’s strategic direction, communicating your goals clearly, and delegating or outsourcing appropriate tasks, are likely to follow suit. Chances are, your company will be the better for it.