How Productive Are You At Work?

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We’re notoriously bad at estimating time. We underestimate how long something will take to do and overestimate how much time we have to do it… a deadly mistake.

The livelihood of your business depends on you being able to estimate how much time you and your team spend on work tasks.

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Most humans can’t estimate their time accurately. This is why enjoyable events seem short and the boring ones seem to last forever.

~ TOGGL.COM

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THE FACTS

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A McKinsey&Company study of 1,500 executes (General Managers or above) across the globe have found that only 9% of respondents were ‘very satisfied’ with the way they spent their time.

Close to a third were ‘actively dissatisfied’.

More shockingly, nearly 50% admitted that they weren’t concentrating enough on the strategic direction of the business.

After speaking to hundreds of business owners, I’d say that nearly 8 out of 10 business owners are not paying enough attention to the strategic direction of their business or planning their success each year.

When was the last time you thought about the type of projects you want to spend your time on or how many hours a week you would like to work?

You can’t effectively calculate how many hours you want to work, if you don’t even know how long it takes you and/or your team to complete a task or project.
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“Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed.”

~ PETER DRUCKER

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Businesses have feast and famine cycles because business owners don’t know how long things take them to do.

They get stuck in the cycle of drumming up business and then having so much work that they can’t keep up… Then they’re left with no time to do marketing, sales and follow-ups calls, until they hit the next bust cycle.

This happens because they:
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  • don’t know how long it takes to get a new client
  • don’t know how long client projects really take to be completed
  • don’t factor in how long ‘marketing activities take to kick in’ and they wait until clients have dried up
  • don’t schedule weekly time in their diaries to do the important money-making activities in their business.

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Business owners who start tracking their work hours are normally shocked by how little time they spend on high impact activities that make money or move the business forward.
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EXAMPLE:

Let’s say you want to sign up 1 new client per week.
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1. Is that a realistic goal for your business and the industry you work in?

In some industries it can take 8-12 months to sign up a new client which means you’ll need to work this into your strategic planning for the year. On the other hand, you could have a business where 100 customers a week is the norm.
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2. Do you know which 2-3 activities will bring in a new client/customer each week for your business?

This is not about trends or what works for other people, it’s about what works for you.

Is it: Paid online advertising like Facebook Ads, phone calls, your Instagram account, building relationships with the right suppliers, your online or brick and mortar shop, speaking at events, print advertising or even radio/ TV advertising?
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3. How much time do you need to devote to these activities every week to be successful?

Well that will depend on how long it takes you from start to finish to sign up new clients – is it 5 hours, 3 days, a week or perhaps 8 months? Your approach would be very different for each.

These are the things you need to know if you want to stop the boom and bust cycles in your business. So where do you spend your time at work – is it on firefighting, admin, managing staff, operations, procrastination or business development?

Let’s find out.

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Track Your Time At Work 

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THE EXERCISE
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Tracking your time for a week but ideally one month will help you understand:

  • how you use your time at work
  • when you’re most productive
  • how ‘dead’ time zones occur and how to fix it.

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You might think you’re working as productively as you can, but many factors influence the time we take to do something e.g. energy levels, illness, stress, the environment, willpower and of course interruptions.
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Do you know how long it takes you to:

  • make follow-up calls with potential customers who previously requested information or quotes
  • contact existing clients for referrals
  • prepare and send out a quote or proposal
  • create a marketing email to clients
  • prepare for and have a client meeting?

Make it your mission to find out this week.

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THIS EXERCISE WILL PRODUCE SURPRISING RESULTS:
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#1 Start today and have a look at currently scheduled activities in your diary for the day + week.

#2 Edit each calendar entry for the week by adding how long you think the activity will take you to complete e.g. Meeting with Edward (150 min or 2hrs 30min) – include preparation time, travel time + actual meeting time.

#3 Decide how will you track your time e.g. pen + paper, excel spreadsheet or time tracking app. Don’t spend hours researching all the time management apps available, it defeats the purpose!

Keep it simple by downloading our time tracking template (in Excel) or sign up for the free version of Toggl or TrackingTime.

I personally use Toggl and it took me less than 5 minutes to sign up and get started. It tracks activities in real time or if you forgot to start the timer, you can later add the time manually. Both desktop and smart phone versions are available.

#4 Track your time daily for at least one week to get a grip on your time patterns. Work in 30 minute increments.

Don’t get hung up on tracking exact minutes when you do it manually – rough estimates are fine. You might be off by minutes but certainly not hours, which is still better than not tracking your time at all.

#5 At the end of a day compare what you’ve planned to do and the time you’ve allocated for the activity VS what actually happened.

Now we can start making informed decisions and tweak your behavior daily for better results.

 

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EXAMPLE TIME TRACKER IN EXCEL

 

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 PICK UP THE TRENDS

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Once you tracked your days for about a week it’s easy to spot trends in how you spend your days.
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CLARIFYING QUESTIONS

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By looking at your results over the last week:

  • On a scale of 1-10 how happy are you with the way you spent your time?
    (1 = lowest, 10 = highest)
  • Where was time wasted? 
    (note the times + the specific activities)
  • When were you super focused and got a lot done in a short period of time?
    (note the times + the specific activities)
  • How much did you stray from your planned activities?
    (hardly at all, only a few times, all the time)
  • What were the main causes for this to have happened?
    (distractions, firefighting, admin, staff, operations, procrastination)
  • Which activities didn’t get done at all?
    (reasons for this)
  • What will you start doing next week?
    (changes to improve)
  • What will you stop doing next week? 
    (changes to improve)

Answering the above questions will help you become aware of your energy cycles and the tasks you love to do and avoid to do.

This will help you to plan your days around your most productive hours where you do your best work in the shortest period of time and help you start noticing the tasks you dislike doing or procrastinate on doing.

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WHAT TO DO NEXT
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  • Create blocks of 1-4 hours of uninterrupted work-time every day around your most productive hours.  Use this time to focus on high level business activities that bring in money, tasks that require problem solving or creative output and important meetings.
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  • Leave low level activities that require less intensive focus like admin or website updates for low-energy times.
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  • Identify major distractions (staff walking in with questions), unplanned crisis (IT failure) and time-wasters (checking social media) and create processes or systems to help you better manage your time.

Once you start recognising and replacing bad habits, you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes to your working week, your levels of happiness and to your bottom line.
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QUESTION:
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What was your biggest realization when you started tracking your time? Leave your comment below.
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#smallbusinesssuccessskills

Alicia-MenkveldAuthor: ALICIA MENKVELD  Creator of: BUSINESS CONFIDENCE ACADEMY Alicia Menkveld is an award-winning entrepreneur for the last 17 years who loves to travel and lived on three continents to date. She is an international speaker, author and a trusted adviser to small business owners and leaders. Alicia is an authority on business strategy, mindset and productivity for individuals and teams. Streamline your business to support your lifestyle.

6 Bad Habits That Kill Your Time Management

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As people, we have good intentions but temptations, short attention spans and bad habits get in the way of our time management and overall business and life success.

// Have you ever been a diet but ended up eating a tub of cookies + cream ice-cream (my vice) on the first night?

// Have you ever signed up at the gym and then found a good (normally work-related) ‘reason’ not to go?

I have… and it’s the same in business…
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We have good intentions BUT bad habits keep us from being productive, more organised and getting things done.

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And we can only improve our bad habits once we’ve identified our blind spots.

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“Live less out of habit and more out of intent.”  

~ AMY RUBIN FLETT

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6 Bad Habits That Kills Your Time Management

The first step to discover which of your bad habits are killing your time management, is to track your time at work for a few days but ideally for 1-2 weeks to pick up trends and repeat offenders in your habits.
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Use a simple time management tracking system to track your days in 30 minute increments e.g. 

1. pen + paper

2. an excel spreadsheet (download ours on this page) or

3. a time tracking app like Toggl or TrackingTime.

I personally use Toggl; it took me less than 5 minutes to sign up and get started.

It tracks time management activities in real time or if you forgot to start the timer, you can later add the time manually. Both desktop + smart phone versions are available.

For instructions and the full exercise to track your time at work, see the blog post I wrote here.

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Once you start tracking your time, you’ll quickly discover where you leak time, energy + money… every day.

And like most business owners you might be shocked by how little time you spend on high impact activities that move the business forward.

Here’s an example analysis of a business owner’s day with an explanation of the six most common habits that kill your time management and productivity.
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BAD HABIT #1 – OVER-SCHEDULING WITH NO BUFFER TIME

In nearly every incident described above, a failure to allow sufficient time to get things done will severely hamper your business’ success, your health, your integrity and client relationships.

No other habit ruins your day and time management quicker than not planning enough time between appointments.

It’s like dominoes falling with a knock-on effect on your day that can’t stop e.g. doctors’ practices running late, and once the first domino fell it’s a run-away train you can’t stop.

Life will happen – from traffic jams, accidents and sick kids to a coffee spill on your shirt. Be prepared and plan your days better to stay in control and keep your stress levels as low.
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HOW TO BREAK THIS HABIT
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If this happens often, start scheduling buffer time before and after each meeting + activity.

Allowing 30+ minutes before and after appointments will help a great deal with unforeseen circumstances like meetings running over, traffic jams and presentations or computers not working.

Scheduling extra time will significantly lower your stress levels, make you a happier person and help your time management immensely. You’ll move from an overflowing calendar to one with breathing space.

Luckily it’s also easy not to waste any time while waiting for someone else as most applications are cloud-based, so you can:

  • check your email
  • login to accounting or project management software and update tasks
  • listen to a webinar or podcast
  • post to social media
  • do planning or
  • simply sit and enjoy a coffee.

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BAD HABIT #2 – CHECKING EMAIL FIRST

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It sounds so obvious but checking emails first thing in the morning or when you get to the office, is very bad for your time management.

In this example, the business owner didn’t factor email checking into the initial plan but gave in to the temptation, and they were already running late.

If they didn’t check their email, the staff meeting would’ve started on time and possibly ended on time too.

It also sets a bad example for your team when you seem to care more about your emails than keeping an appointment with them.

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Remember, what you see in your inbox dictates what you do next NOT what you planned to do.

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Non-urgent emails are a dangerous distraction and it’s also one of the most difficult temptations to resist once you’re in your inbox.

Low-level emails steal time from high level money-making activities like supporting your team, keeping organised and on time, reducing office stress and solving customer problems you get paid to do.
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HOW TO BREAK THIS HABIT

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  • Decide on 2-3 dedicated times to check your email during the day and do not check it in between e.g. 8am, 12pm and 5pm
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  • Add a notification to all your outgoing email to inform the sender by when they can expect to hear back from you
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  • Include instructions on what to do and who to contact in case of an emergency
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  • Learn to delegate email checking to staff or a virtual assistant who can scan your email and only let you deal with the important issues
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  • Set up standard email templates so your staff or a virtual assistant can easily answer various email inquiries correctly and up to standard
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  • Ruthlessly unsubscribe from and delete non-urgent email.

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BAD HABIT #3 – UNPRODUCTIVE MEETINGS

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In the above example, all the meetings overrun that day which definitely indicates a bad habit, and nothing kills time management and productivity like long and unproductive meetings.

The example meetings could have overrun for a number of reasons:

  • They started late and therefore ended late
  • They didn’t follow an agenda
  • There wasn’t a time limit set at the beginning of the meeting
  • A lack of preparation – things that could have been sorted via email or other means was left for the meeting.
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Once you start tracking all the time around a meeting it’s easy to see how expensive meetings are in terms of cost per hour and how little time in a day it leaves for productive work that matters.

This includes: meeting preparation time, the actual time spent in a meeting, travelling time to and back from a meeting and emails around the set up.

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HOW TO BREAK THIS HABITblog-image-key-ideas1
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Try the following tips to have more meaningful meetings:

  • Determine the importance of all meetings
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  • Determine the duration of the meeting ahead of time
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  • Decline ad hoc, last-minute meetings without an agenda and reschedule to a time that suits you better
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  • Allocate days of the week to have all your meetings
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  • Try ‘walk + talk’ or standing meetings – it keep things short and fresh air is good for creativity and your health.

It’s said that the Queen’s weekly audience with her Prime Ministers throughout the years have always been between 20-30 minutes – if a country’s issues can be discussed in such a short time, I guess the rest of us have no excuse!

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BAD HABIT #4 – NOT GETTING THE RIGHT HELP

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Spending time on any issue outside of your zone of genius when you’re already running late, is silly and a waste of precious time.

You know yourself better than anyone, so when ‘it’s not your thing’ stop thinking that ‘poking around’ will help to fix the issue.

Immediately ask yourself:

// Do I absolutely need to do this right now?

// Is there another way of solving this?

// Who do I know that can help me?

In this example, preparing for the client meeting without the presentation would have been far more beneficial to the business than wasting 20 minutes, getting stressed out and not doing preparation.

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Practicing your sales pitch always trumps a having presentation to win and keep business.

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HOW TO BREAK THIS HABIT
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  • Check presentations on different technology at least 4 hours to one day ahead of meetings
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  • Get an expert or (tech-savvy) team member to create and load presentations, is a must and a huge time saver
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  • If you have to choose between preparation + presentation, ditch the presentation and practice your pitch + listening skills
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  • Always delegate specialised issues to experts!

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BAD HABIT #5 – SKIPPING MEALS

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In this example, no time was lost but running a successful business requires you to be healthy and energetic, which you won’t be if you continue to skip breaks and meals.

Sugar levels and energy levels drop dramatically and it’s normally your clients, your team and family who suffer the most from mood swings and added pressure when you’re off sick.

Looking after yourself is key – factor it into your time management for the day.

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HOW TO BREAK THIS HABIT
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  • Don’t skip meals and breaks – they make you more effective and productive
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  • Always keep snacks in your office or car for unforeseen circumstances e.g. raw nuts, protein bars, protein shakes, fruit etc.
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  • Stay hydrated with water (not coffee!) to keep your brain in peak functioning condition
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  • Take regular breaks – 5-10 minutes for every 50 minutes of work e.g. stand up, stretch, stand outside, walk around the block.

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BAD HABIT #6 – NOT CREATING PROCESSES

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Things change and we need to stay on top of changes to keep our clients happy and our businesses profitable.

We need a process to help us stay on top of things and in communication with our clients.

// How do you let clients know you’re running late?

// How do you ensure they get the message?

// How do you ensure you or clients don’t miss out on important developments when you’re not in the office or have time to check email?

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Create a process to keep communication flowing.

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HOW TO BREAK THIS HABIT
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  • Tell people how you preferred to be contacted (call, email, messenger, text) with a message regarding urgent issues that need immediate attention
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  • If they can’t get hold of you, tell them to what to do next e.g. call the office and leave a message with a staff member or an answering service if you don’t have staff. Document the process and leave copies with all relevant people.
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  • Use driving or travel time for client calls or call-backs to stay up-to-date and save time. It’s also a great time to catch up with suppliers, family and friends.
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Clearly the poor business owner in the example had a terrible day filled with stress, frustration, anxiety and disappointment. By the end of the last call they are completely drained after a long day of stress and no food.

They were rushing all day and didn’t give anyone their best, including themselves. Now the last domino will fall with partner and/ or family demands waiting for them at home.

If this sounds like some of your days, it’s time for a change.

Better planning and the discipline to execute the plan will help you break these bad business habits once and for all.

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QUESTION:

Which of these six bad habits is the main culprit in killing your time management and productivity? Leave your comment below.

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#smallbusinesssuccessskills

Alicia-MenkveldAuthor: ALICIA MENKVELD  Creator of: BUSINESS CONFIDENCE ACADEMY Alicia Menkveld is an award-winning entrepreneur for the last 17 years who loves to travel and lived on three continents to date. She is an international speaker, author and a trusted adviser to small business owners and leaders. Alicia is an authority on business strategy, mindset and productivity for individuals and teams. Streamline your business to support your lifestyle.