Managing your time is a strategic decision

By Nina Kaufman, Esq.

Do you ever reach the end of a day and have no idea where the time went? Have a to-do list that’s longer than your arm? Once you cross something off the list, you pile 3 things on?

(That last one is DEFINITELY me. Just ask my husband.).

If so, you’re in good company. Great company, in fact. The vast majority of small businesses in this country function like red hot messes. Why? Because their owners have much of their business in their heads.

But you can’t grow your business if it resides in your head. You can’t assess which systems are ripe for automation or delegation if they’re rattling around in your cranium … where no one else can get at them.

So when clients come to me, they complain that matters are slipping through the cracks. Or, another new hire didn’t work out. I’ll ask them:

Do you know how you’re spending your time?

Often, they don’t. They have a vague idea, but aren’t always sure. As a business owner, you need to see how you’re spending time … and on which activities. Knowing how you spend your time has a bearing on how you charge for your services. And whether there are patterns in those activities.

Here’s the good news:

Where there are patterns, you can create systems. When you create systems, you can refine and improve how work gets done. And, when the systems are out of your head, you can teach them to other people.

That can’t happen when it’s a bunch of smoke and mirrors in your brain.

This was a challenge my client, Gabriel, was facing. He’s on track to crack 7-figures in his speaking and training business. But to make that happen, Gabriel has to be free to be the face of the brand. He can’t, as he put it, be glued to the business 9-to-5, Monday-Friday (and that’s a good week!).

So I asked him if he tracked his time.

Yeah, yeah. I did. Kinda. In categories. I had an app on my phone. Haven’t done it recently, though.

No surprise. Tracking time can feel more restrictive than Grandma’s corset. It’s not fun. You can’t move. And you’re always aware it’s on you.

Here are some tips I shared with Gabriel to overcome the aversion to tracking:

  1. Time-tracking helps your profits. You need to know how much time (direct labor) you spend serving clients to know if you’re making a profit. Sure, a client can pay you $10,000. But if you spend $20,000 worth of time serving that client, one of 3 things is at play. You’re not charging enough. You’re inefficient. Or you need to find the clients who will pay you more.
  2. Track detail in healthy doses. Too little, and you can’t see if patterns are emerging. Too much, and you’re drowning in unnecessary information. Tracking categories alone (marketing, admin, HR) won’t give you enough information. What aspect of marketing are you working on? Blogposts? Networking coffees? Ezines? With a little more detail, you can better evaluate which tasks don’t need you to do them. And, which tasks come up over and over (so, could benefit from an efficient system). You could farm out blogposts to others for the initial drafting. Automate certain kinds of emails using email signatures or newsletter programs. Maybe you’d continue to host networking coffees, as that’s a higher-value activity. But at least you’re making a choice based on ROI and the best use of your time. On the flip side, when you get too bogged down in the details of tracking, the exercise loses its utility. And you’re more likely to fall off the wagon.
  3. Review your time records. Good business hygiene habits—like time tracking—aren’t a once-and-done experience. It’s like working a new muscle at the gym. It takes time to get in the groove. Don’t beat yourself up. Do the best you can. Progress over time is what you’re looking for. But if you capture the information and don’t look at it, you’re never learn the story it has to tell you.
  4. Choose substance over form. There are a gazillion time-tracking apps. Umpteen Word and Excel spreadsheets. Plenty of SaaS systems. They are all garbage … if you don’t use them. Daily. Figure out which one best suits your style and USE it. If it’s paper and pen, so be it.

Numbers are a mirror. They help you see how to improve next time. When you are aware how you (and your team members) spend time, don’t go into recriminations. That’s not useful. Accept where you are as “neutral.” It’s where you are.

Then ask, “Where would you like to be?” And create the action plan to get there.

If you liked what you read, watch our video to see if Kaufman Business Law is a good fit for you.