Easy come, easy go

As US Senator Everett Dirksen reputedly said: “A million here, a million there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.” As an acerbic quip about frivolous, unchecked government spending it works pretty well. The sentiment applies just as accurately to time management: “an hour here, an hour there …”

Even 10 minutes a day adds up to a working week over the course of a full year. Saving half an hour a day frees up enough time in a year for your dream holiday.

Where on earth did that time go?

As businesses grow they have a tendency to become more complicated which is just the nature of organisations. Every business owner has a natural complexity ceiling which helps decide how big the business grows.

You get more customers, suppliers and employees and they all have their dramas. You’re always the one to fix it because you’ve always been the one with the answers. Everything flows through you and you become the log jam. Before long your good intentions have gone out the window with nothing to show for it because you’re fire-fighting dozens minor issues.

To address this, entrepreneurs typically look to their own experiences and support network for the answers. In some instances, this can be helpful – other times not so much. Everyone has an anecdotal tip about time management but things like ‘to do’ lists of whatever nature only work until the pressure comes on.

Our approach to time management is usually fixed

This is because our view of what we can achieve is as hard to change as any other ingrained behaviour.

It’s governed by what we think is possible.

The only tool that gets to the root of this is simple and highly visual and so it rams the lessons home. It’s a simple time log. You stop and log what you’ve done with your time every 30 minutes (clearly this isn’t always possible but leave it too long and the log becomes woolly) tracking everything from the outright mundane to the relatively magnificent. Do this for between 2-4 weeks to create a full picture. The devil – and the salvation – are often found in the detail.

The next step is to work out your mandated hourly rate. You do this by dividing the total money earned from the business (salary + dividends + retained profit) by the statutory number of working hours in a year (c1920).

What’s your genuine hourly rate?

Say this comes out as £35 an hour. That’s your average hourly rate. Some of the things you do with an hour are high value … and some will inevitably below value. Of course terms like ‘high and low value’ are subjective.

One business owner’s definition of high value might be marketing & sales. Someone running a larger business will look to maximise value through activities such as making systems work, recruiting superstars or pursuing acquisitions.

You need to really ‘see’ how you’re investing your time

At this point, we’ll grab 2 highlighter pens – orange and green. Orange for obvious low-value stuff that needs to go (this is basically delusion & distraction) and green for the activities that created the most value for the business. Often, these will also be tasks that you most enjoy doing. It’s what some psychometric profiles identify as your ‘flow’ – the highest value tasks that leave you feeling the most energised. Maslow refers to it as ‘self-actualisation’.

The trick is to make the worst of what you do feel like a slap in the face with a large fish and colour coding does just that.

NB don’t worry if there are big blocks of time that are neither orange nor green – that’s normal. All you need to do is ditch or delegate your very lowest value tasks and refocus on your high value and you’ll never run out – of either.

Focus on the easy – not the hard

Life would be simple if this exercise highlighted big blocks of time devoted to regularly occurring tasks that you could just stop. Sometimes you catch that break but it doesn’t always work that way.

Also, there will be plenty of things you do that whilst you don’t love you can’t avoid. The stuff that is neither coloured orange nor green.

Focus on the small amounts of time repeated regularly that if you put your mind to it, you could outsource or delegate effectively – or just become disciplined enough to stop. It might not be glamourous but sanity comes from consistently saving 10 mins here and 10 mins there.

Your job is to raise the value that you (and your team) bring to the hour

Assuming the time you’ve ‘bought back’ or created through better systems/delegation and discipline is devoted to high-value activities, your average hourly rate will climb continuously alongside your profitability. As your business grows your definition of ‘high-value tasks’ also develops – so there’s no end to where this takes you.

Your business depends on your driving performance, building a better culture, attracting more superstars. It will struggle when you get bogged down in the mundane stuff that countless other people can do just as well.

At this point, you’ll realise that time management is a misleading concept. We all have the same amount of time and once you’re at capacity there’s no organisational tool that will save you.

It’s the productivity of your hour that really counts.

So how much time would you invest to save 10 minutes a day?

Everyone will have their own answer to this – as you will. If you want to create sustainable, enjoyable business and personal growth it’s a question that needs an answer.


Looking for a business coach in London?Ready to take this seriously?

Get in touch today and let’s have a detailed look at how much value you bring to your hour.