Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bicycle Races and Time Management

Spinning your wheels is a great idea if you are in a bicycle race. But when those spinning wheels take precious time out of our day, we feel robbed and ineffective…and rightly so.
A dear friend of mine had an exceedingly frustrating experience this morning. He was working on a proposal for a new client, and had assembled a quantity of necessary information provided to him by his business partner. He spent a great deal of time crunching the numbers, listing the cost of products and labor required for the project, and finalizing a professional presentation for the client. At the last minute, realizing that he could include a couple more pieces of information in order to make the proposal even more comprehensive, he made a few calls…only to discover that his entire proposal was inaccurate by quite a large sum. The problem was that he had counted on the information provided by his partner to be accurate, but it was not. In the end he had to research the project data himself, revise the cost estimates, and completely re-write the presentation.
Do you hear that tell-tale whirrrrrrrring sound? That is the distinctive sound of tires spinning. My friend heard it this morning as he realized that the hours of work spent on his original proposal were for naught, that his new client’s proposal had to be re-done from scratch. It’s not a pleasant sound. The odd thing is, his partner’s day went on as if all was as it should be; he did not realize the valuable time his lack of attention to detail had stolen from my friend.
Now, spinning your own wheels and having someone else spin them for you can be two different problems. But in both cases there are clear opportunities for solutions to this two-wheeled dilemma that so easily takes us off-road: 
  1. Basic time management demands that we account for our time, how we spend it, and whether that expenditure is actually beneficial to our business. Activities that very strongly affect daily business success (I call these “high-return endeavors”) are simply more crucial than activities that will make little difference even if they are ignored for a time (I call these “low-return endeavors”). Becoming mindful of “where the time goes” helps us to identify areas where we may be using time unwisely or spending it on low-return endeavors that could be set aside in favor of high-return endeavors. This is particularly important for the entrepreneur who faces a multitude of various daily tasks all aimed at increasing or promoting their business.
  2. Planning our necessary activities, with sufficient time allotted in order to allow for the successful completion of each one, gives us a “blueprint” from which to work. When we feel distracted or lose our focus, we remind ourselves to simply “stick to the plan” and get back on track. Keeping a datebook and making lists are helpful tools.
  3. Prioritizing our tasks assists us in focusing on “first things first”. The most important tasks of the day are given priority over less critical tasks that can wait until another time without negative repercussions.
  4. Schedules, appointments, and deadlines are noted and provided with a cushion of time to ensure they are adhered to. If a project absolutely must be completed by a certain date, perhaps we schedule ourselves to complete it the day before…just in case we end up needing extra time for those finishing touches. Plan to be early for appointments, and even if you encounter unexpected traffic or other delays, you have a good chance of still being right on time.
  5. Avoid over-committing! Commonly referred to as the “Superman complex”, the habit of over-committing leads to taking on more than we can handle and sets us up for almost certain disappointment. We do not have to leap tall buildings in a single bound when just getting through the stack of paperwork on our desk will suffice. There is a lot to do when running a business…but we cannot do it all at one time. This is a great time to review #3 if over-committing is a problem for you. Leave the cape and tights at home, there is no bonus pay for Super-Heroes at the office!
  6. Learn to delegate. We absolutely cannot afford to nurture the attitude that says “if I want this done right, I have to do it myself”. We simply cannot do everything ourselves, and it is sound business practice to share the load when you have others working with you who can shoulder some of the weight.
  7. Respect your time…and everyone else’s. As we apply these principles to managing our own time, we can develop sensitivity to those around us as well. Their time is as precious as ours, and no one enjoys being treated as though their time is of no value.
I’m sure my friend would have appreciated his partner taking the time to check his information for accuracy before asking him to compile a proposal based on that exact data. Time lost cannot be retrieved and business relationships are often hindered by a seeming lack of respect shown for other people’s resource of precious time.
Our “Time Account” and it’s checkbook:
Think of the hours and minutes in your day as a sort of checking account, one that holds the balance of time allotted to you for that day. You can spend that time in any way you choose, but you must spend it all by day’s end…there is no such thing as a savings account for time. Others may try to dip into that checking account on your behalf, either with or without your permission. You have the choice of allowing them some of your time, or closing your checkbook until they explain to your satisfaction the exact purpose of the withdrawal they are requesting. No matter what, if someone uses a portion of your time foolishly, you may very well feel as though you have been robbed…and rightly so.
Bear in mind that everyone else also has this same checkbook full of a day’s worth of time, and you do not want to be the inconsiderate thief who steals their resources, just as you do not want them to steal yours.
At the end of the day, assess the activities of your day and decide if there is anything left over that was not completed as planned. If so, that item should be at or near the top of your list of things to do tomorrow. Congratulate yourself on the tasks you did complete, and remember that tomorrow you will have a fresh start. With a little practice, you will lie down to sleep in peace and quiet…without the sound of spinning tires to bother you.

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