Making Your Time More Productive
If there's one discipline that small business owners must master, it's maintaining personal clarity on the difference between activity and productivity.
The to-do list for any business startup grows continually. By the time you check one thing off of the list, three more items have been added.
As a result, it's imperative to spend as much time as possible on things which genuinely move the business forward.
Not all activity does so. It's far too easy to stay busy the entire day, only to look back in the evening and see that little of what we accomplished was productive.
Bringing In Business
And what constitutes productive time? The simplest answer is, activity which brings business to you or which directly generates revenue. Without customers, your business has no future. Nor does it have a future without revenue.
Productive time thus encompasses such things as writing marketing materials, adding new items to your inventory, updating a web site, delivering a fee-based service, training your sales staff, or making a sales call. These undertakings have the direct aim of increasing your customer base or producing immediate income.
A Vital Question
Since maximizing productive time is so vital to your success, you should ask this question about every item on your to-do list: "How will the time that I devote to this task contribute directly to gaining customers, retaining customers, or generating revenue?"
And the key word in that question is "directly." You can build the case that most of what you do in your business contributes to building your customer base or revenue. But the contribution from many time-consuming activities is indirect. It's not direct.
Equipment or facility maintenance falls into this category. So, too, does time devoted to bookkeeping, filing taxes, or purchasing routine supplies. Your business cannot function without these activities. They must be done, because they are truly essential. Yet they do not contribute directly to a larger customer base or immediate revenue.
Three Categories of Activity
When you carefully examine your to-do list, you will discover that the items on it fall into one of three categories. First, there are the kinds of productive items that should be your priority. Then there are items which are not productive, but essential. And there are probably some items which are important, but which are in fact neither productive nor even essential.
Non-essential items are those activities which offer some distinct benefit or value to your business, but which, left undone, do not endanger your business. Planning an employee holiday event is an example of a non-essential activity. So, too, is changing the decor in a reception area or purchasing more comfortable desk chairs.
Setting Productivity Goals
Your first and foremost time management goal is to give as much time as practical to productive activity. A second goal is to forego non-essential activity until essential activities are well taken care of.
To achieve these goals, begin by labeling each item on your to-do list, appending a notation to each item. This notation indicates the category into which the item falls. I use the letter "P" for productive items, "E" for essential items, and "N" for non-essential items.
An even better approach is to add three columns on either the right side or the left side of your to-do list. Label the three columns "P," "E," and "N." Now, beside each item on the to-do list, place a check mark in the appropriate column.
The advantage of this second approach is that it allows you to visualize at a glance how many of the items are truly productivity-related and how many fall in other groupings. When you do this regularly, you will be struck at how much of your time is given to essential and non-essential activity, not to items which make for productivity.
This awareness then motivates you to find ways to limit the time that you give to activity which does not directly increase your customer base or generate immediate income. It will also motivate you to delegate or outsource essential and non-essential activity so that you have more time for productive endeavors.
Track and Monitor Your Productivity Time
Set certain goals for yourself as to what percentage of your time you will devote each day (or each week) to productive undertakings. Then track the time that you actually give to this portion of your business. Monitor your weekly productivity time to see if you are succeeding at reaching your goal.
The more time that you give to productive undertakings, the greater your likelihood of building a successful business. Don't fall victim to being busy all the time, but with little time which is genuinely productive.
This article first appeared in Encore Entrepreneur inbox magazine on November 13, 2014.