Is Time Your Challenge?

I've been helping business owners and managers find better ways to manage their time for many years. That's given me plenty of time to figure out what it takes for an owner to get the most from his/her 24 hours each day.

The most valuable lesson I've learned over the years: There are three key aspects to effective time management for business owners...

• Personal organization
• Keeping a project list
• Redefining your own job, continuously, as the business grows

Personal Organization

Personal time management is closely related to paper management. The problem of paper is basically one of decision-making. And that's where the trouble begins. I call it The Scarlett O'Hara Syndrome -- “I'll think about that tomorrow.”

Solution: A system I created called TRAF. For each piece of paper, choose one of the four TRAF options...

• Toss it out there and then
• Refer it to someone else to take care of the matter
• Act on it yourself
• File it in a convenient place for future action or reference.

With this system, you avoid the constant firefighting that consumes the time of so many business owners. When you deal with a problem as it comes up, you prevent important decisions from piling up to the point that you feel overwhelmed. Give up the idea of private time during the workday, or at least reduce your expectation to no more than one hour a day. As the head of a business operation, you must be available to handle questions or problems that arise anytime. Learn to snatch a little time for your personal priorities by vanishing into an empty room in the office... or down the street to a coffee shop... or the library. It may also be possible to get a little quiet time early in the morning. After business hours in the evening is perfect. And, of course, use your travel time for thinking, writing and reading.

To deal with telephone calls that cause constant interruptions, think of them as raindrops that keep the business blooming. Don't let them bother you -- just keep them as short as possible. Rule of thumb: When returning calls, you'll find people less chatty just before lunch or quitting time. Projects List Anyone who runs their own business has what seems like a million projects going on at the same time -- some are inside the company, some outside. With so much happening, it's easy to lose track of how close to completion a particular project is. Nothing is more embarrassing than to have a customer call and ask about some project you've forgotten about.

Solution: Create a simple form listing the name of the project... the initials of the person or persons working on it... the date of referral... and the date of expected completion. Also, you should break large or complicated jobs into pieces with benchmarks along the way. Keep a tickler file of the dates for expected completion, and on each date, be sure to follow up.

Redefining Your Role

In the beginning, every business owner must take on many tasks, including even sweeping the floor. But as the operation grows and matures, hiring others to take on responsibilities becomes critical to healthy growth. Trap: Failing to redefine continuously your changing role in the organisation. When that happens, you end up with much more than you're able to accomplish efficiently. If the process continues, physical symptoms such as stress... high blood pressure... and depression can develop. Solution: Take an honest look at your workload and identify tasks that you don't do well. You may be digitally gifted but possess little financial savvy.

Or, you may be an excellent "people person" but hopelessly disorganised. The real measure of a successful business owner is in knowing when to complement his/her own skills by hiring others who can take over certain key roles.

Example: A client who had founded a newsletter for bankers saw the newsletter grow to the point where he had 12 full-time employees. As time went on, he found himself increasingly frustrated because the demands of being editor and publisher left him virtually no time to spend on sales and marketing. After rethinking the needs of the business and in order to assure the publication's future, he decided to turn the editorial duties over to a trusted associate and concentrate his own time on sales and marketing.

That move immediately cleared the logjam of work on his desk... freed his mind from constant worry about getting everything done... and ultimately led to a growth spurt fueled by new, highly successful marketing campaigns.

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