Steps to Effective Time

My dad was a great salesman and a fine businessman. I can recall many times hearing him say, "time is money." I'm not sure that I truly understood what that statement meant, however, until I started my own business and had employees working for me.

As a small business owner in the kitchen and bath industry, you wear many hats. You're probably the lead salesperson, you handle purchasing, you're supposed to be the financial manager and a human resources guru. You also represent the front line when it comes to handling customer complaints, and are the number-one target of vendor reps.'

On top of this, you have a family and friends who want a piece of you, as well. But, as it is, you're working 60 to 80 hours a week, are always running behind, and always feel like there's more to do than there's time to do it. It can be overwhelming.

My question is: Have you ever really tried to get yourself organized and learned how to be a good time manager?

Probably not, because you've just been too busy!

Well, there is no better time than now to step back and address a critical aspect of sound business and personnel management time management.

Time, and the efficient use of it, is one of those cultural issues that starts at the entrepreneur's desk. By your actions, you the owner and grand "pooh bah" of your company determine how your business uses its time.'

If you ensure that meetings start on time, that the workday begins at 8 a.m. sharp and that prolonged gatherings around the coffeepot are not acceptable workday behavior, your company will develop a culture of efficient time management. On the other hand, if you don't pay attention to these critical issues, human nature will most likely take its natural course, which will not bode well for your business' efficient time management.

Time wasters
Here are a number of ways that the team members of your company can waste time:'

  • Arriving at work late and/or not beginning work as soon as they arrive.

  • Missing deadlines and appointments.

  • Conducting meetings that don't have a written agenda, and which last longer than necessary.

  • Misusing the telephone through long voice mail messages, phone calls that are not returned, too much "BS," ringing phones that are not picked up, unnecessary calls and personal calls.

  • Sending and receiving unnecessary e-mails.

  • Conducting personal matters on company time.

  • Standing around unproductively while waiting for someone to finish using the phone, fax machine or photocopier.

  • Having equipment that malfunctions, systems that don't work, and supplies that run out.

  • Not organizing and prioritizing each and every day.

  • Making careless mistakes.

Time savers
A small business culture that allows such time-abusive behavior to take place does not have to develop at your company.

You and you alone can insist on employee attitudes that value time rather than abuse it.

You can teach your employees to respect the fact that they're being paid to do the work of your business, and that they should remain focused on that objective when they're'
at work.

What follows are some time-savers that you should insist upon:

  • Require that people be on time for the start of each day, and for meetings, conferences, appointments, etc.

  • Never hold a full meeting when a conversation at a desk'
    can suffice.

  • Have a written agenda and time frame for every meeting.

  • Require every employee (and yourself) to use some type of time management system. It could be as simple as a prioritized "to-do" list or a more complex, store-bought system.

  • Have rules for conducting "personal business" at work, and try to enforce them.

  • Deal with in-house talkers and time-abusers.

  • Require that telephones be answered in not more than two rings. Similarly, mandate that conversations and voice-mail messages be kept short, and that callbacks be made promptly.

  • Respect each visitor's time. Don't make vendor reps or clients wait. Keep visits short and stick to business.

  • Encourage, teach and demonstrate delegation. Don't waste your time doing a task someone else should be doing.

  • Understand that "shorter and quicker" is better when it comes to meetings, memos, letters, phone calls, e-mails, manuals and rules.

  • Insist on employee accountability. Getting designs, drawings and quotes out on time, placing purchase orders and doing follow-ups with vendors, and maintaining equipment to minimize downtime are all important.

  • Design (and document) systems and procedures that ensure a well-run, efficient organization. Make sure they're followed.

  • Use and provide time-proven technology.

Boost efficiency
Try to imagine what your company would be like if effective time management were practiced by all of your employees.

For example, by enforcing good time-management habits, could you gain five hours of work time per week per employee? That's 250 hours of extra productive time per employee per year. Take that times five employees and that's 1,250 additional hours of productive work time. That's more than a new employee!

Following are 10 additional management/personnel techniques that you might want to consider to increase the efficiency of time management at your'

1. Concentrate on priorities. Every day, make a list of what you have to do then rank it in order of priority. Always do the highest priority tasks first. Continually update and revise your list.

2. Set realistic deadlines. Leave a little extra time to complete the task to compensate for interruptions and the unexpected.

3. Change your habits. Step back and look at how you currently work. Look for different ways to free up time. Save just 15 minutes a day and you've now added 55 hours a yearor maybe that extra week of vacation you've wanted to take!

4. Consider revamping your management style. Most small business owners practice a highly-visible management style spending most of each day working with clients and vendors, conferring with employees, etc. Set aside an hour or two each day to work with your office door closed. This lower profile may give you the time you need to stay on top of your desk-bound duties.

5. Eliminate non-essential chores. Look for minor chores that you now handle that can be either eliminated or delegated to someone else. They're there! Find them and get rid of them.

6. Learn to say "no." None of us wants to be rude, and all of us want to be helpful, but there are times when we need to just say "no!"

7. Use technology wisely. Personal computers, voice mail, pagers, electronic calendars and all the other "techie" equipment available can be either a productivity booster or a productivity buster! Learn how to use all of this equipment as cost effectively and efficiently as possible. Be sure to teach your employees to do the same thing.

8. Use scheduling aids. Your time will be used more efficiently if you schedule and prioritize. "Memory joggers" including appointment calendars, "to-do" lists, "tickler" files and daily planners might be useful to you, but, like so many other management aids, you have to use them in order to profit from them.'

9. Find time to think. Certain tasks require quiet time. You have to learn how to block out the required time to plan, budget and analyze, or you'll procrastinate, postpone, be late or end up doing a less-than-perfect job.

10. Review your time-control efforts. Once you learn how to manage your time more efficiently, don't get cocky! Like other bad habits, it's easy to slip back into old routines. Always be on the lookout for ways to improve your time management efforts and those that work for you.

Time management itself is very difficult to measure. What can be measured, though, are results.

You alone can make time management part of your company's culture. After hiring the best people that you can, set the right example. Your employees will take it from there.
It's like my dad always said, "time is money!"

Hank Darlington is a Gold River, California-based writer, business management instructor'
and former kitchen and bath "whotail" business owner who does consulting for kitchen and'
bath dealers, wholesalers and manufacturers.