During the course of my work, I meet a lot of smaller business operators. In fact, unlike many, I don’t have a single client that doesn’t operate a business of 20 staff or less.
So, along the way I get some insights into the way they run their businesses, or occasionally don’t.
Take Rosie, for instance. Rosie (not her real name) owns and runs a couple of restaurants. She hired me to build a website for one of them, but it’s been badly delayed by her inability to provide input into the content I’ve provided.
And now it’s in danger of not being ready in time for her relaunch.
But for some months now I’ve been prompting her via all available means: voicemail, text, email, even Facebook messaging.
You see, she never ever answers her own phone – unless it’s something extremely urgent.
So the other day, when I finally I got hold of her, I politely quizzed her about her inability to be contacted.
“Oh, I’m glad you’re here,” she said. “I really want to get on with that website.”
“Fantastic,” I said. “But didn’t you get my messages for the past two months?”
“Oh, I think so,” she said. “But I just get so many messages; I never seem to get a chance to respond.”
“Have you tried rearranging your day so that you allow yourself time to respond to messages?”
“I can’t. It’s just meeting after meeting at the moment.”
“But isn’t the content of your messages as important as your meetings?”
“Yes, but people soon realise that if they want me, they just have to keep trying.”
Discriminating against electronic communication
As she said this, all I could think of were the myriad of projects awaiting her quick input or decision that could be progressed by a quick and simple text or email but were sitting in limbo till she could be contacted.
And the impact that was having on them all.
Fundamentally, she’d failed to accommodate the change in the way her stakeholders were communicating with her – by email and voicemail rather than real-time communication.
Rosie is actually creating far more work for herself than she needs to and is holding back her business in the process.
This is no isolated incident. Up to half of the projects I work on at any one time suffer delays of this kind.
And how often do your hear colleagues or associates complaining about the number of emails they have to deal with?
Old habits = new problems
In my own case, it became clear fairly early in the life of my business that email and text were a fast, convenient and cheap way of working as well as providing documented evidence of agreements. However if I didn’t manage their use properly, I would soon become overwhelmed and overworked and less productive.
My business is predominantly around the provision of services. The more ‘billable hours’ I can squeeze out of my week, the more I earn.
To that end I made the following alterations to my work day. It’s important to note that I don’t have a PA or admin assistant, so in the main need to manage my work solo.
Now I don’t claim to be any sort of time management guru, but these rules are working wonders for my productivity.
1. No meetings in the morning (unless unavoidable)
This frees me up to attend incoming emails and make phone calls and start on some billable work.
2. No leaving the office on successive days
Leaving the office for meetings or training is extremely time-consuming by the time travel is factored in. And when I returned I would be greeted by multiple voice and email messages to attend to. The rule in my case was the greater the number of meetings (even though I could charge for some of these) the less work I could actually get done.
So whenever I arrange a meeting, I make sure I don’t have any the following or preceding days.
3. Group meetings together as much as possible
There is travel, preparation and action time associated with every meeting, which can all add up. However by grouping them, this associated time can be reduced and you get some time economies of scale. Instead of attending a meeting in the morning and another later in the afternoon, group them together and minimise the associated time wastage.
4. Make as many calls as possible while on the road
Phone calls are time consuming, particularly if you can’t charge for time spent on them as part of a job. On the other hand, travelling between destinations or appointments is essentially dead time.
Try and delay as many calls as you can until you are on the road and make the most of that otherwise wasted time. Don’t worry about the mobile rates. Your time is usually far more valuable.
5. Clear your Inbox regularly
The more emails in your Inbox, the more you feel you will need to attend and the more stressed you will become.
Organise workable folders based on their type and priority and get them out of your Inbox and off your mind.
6. Only attend urgent emails immediately
If we attended emails as soon as they hit our Inbox, we simply wouldn’t get any work done. So make a point of leaving them till the next ’email attendance time’.
7. Turn off the phone
Like emails, phone calls can interrupt what you are doing and interfere with the momentum of the task you are achieving. They push tasks further and further away from completion. So ignore the phone till after you have completed your task at hand.
Obviously these guidelines aren’t going to work for everyone as there are different income streams, work priorities and earning models. And there are always times it doesn’t always work so smoothly.
And some may sound outrageous. “I couldn’t possibly attend meetings on only every other day”.
Outrageous as they may seem, with persistence and discipline they may actually work for you.
Either way, by analysing where your time is going and altering your behaviour to suit, you will soon get your day back on track and your performance humming.
Which self-imposed guidelines have improved your productivity?
Craig Reardon is a writer, educator and operator of independent web services firm for SMEs, The E Team.