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 that affects how productive we are at work.
The livelihood of your business depends on you being able to estimate how much time you and your team spend on work tasks.
Most humans can’t estimate their time accurately. This is why enjoyable events seem short and the boring ones seem to last forever.
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.
“Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed.”
~ PETER DRUCKER
Businesses have feast and famine cycles because business owners don’t know how long things take them to do, which makes them less productive than they can be.
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:
- 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.
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.
Let’s say you want to sign up 1 new client per week.
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.
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?
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 how productive are you at work? Where do you spend your time – is it on firefighting, admin, managing staff, operations, procrastination or business development?
Let’s find out.
Track Your Time At Work
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.
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.
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.
THIS EXERCISE WILL PRODUCE SURPRISING RESULTS:
#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!
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.
PICK UP THE TRENDS
Once you tracked your days for about a week it’s easy to spot trends in how you spend your days.
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.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
- 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.
- Leave low level activities that require less intensive focus like admin or website updates for low-energy times.
- 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.
What was your biggest realisation when you tracked your time? Did it make you more productive? Leave your comment below.
Author: ALICIA MENKVELD | Alicia Menkveld is an award-winning entrepreneur for the last 21 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 and sales for individuals and teams. Streamline your business to support your lifestyle.