Many small business owners spend the majority of their day putting out fires and dealing with the most pressing tasks at hand.
It’s no wonder a new survey from The Alternative Board found that only 31.9 percent of business owners spend their time actually working “on” their business — long-term goals, strategic planning — while 68.1 percent spend their time working “in” the business, tackling day-to-day tasks.
Effective time management is the key, but learning how to prioritize and to dedicate time to business growth are also crucial to achieving long-term goals.
- Eye on the prize. “Small business owners are letting the day-to-day tasks overwhelm them because they don’t have an intentional plan for allocating time for the more strategic activities,” says Dave Scarola, vice president of The Alternative Board, which helps establish peer advisory boards for business owners. Distractions come in many forms, the most common being emails; a third of entrepreneurs surveyed cited these as the biggest time strain on their business. The second most common distraction is administrative tasks, cited by a quarter of those surveyed.
- Value your time. “Most small business owners spend more than half their time working below their pay grade,” explains Steve Davies, president of the Nassau Chapter of The Alternative Board and TheTimeEdge.com, which provides time management solutions.
He encourages business owners to establish the value of their time. This has nothing to do with what you would get paid if you worked somewhere else, but rather the value of your time working on platinum activities — those that generate the greatest value for your business, says Davies.
Once you establish that value, look at all the tasks you do and determine the cost of having them done by someone else. Delegate those tasks falling below your pay grade.
Davies developed a concept that’s now also used within The Alternative Board called the “To Don’t List,” says Scarola. It’s writing down on a piece of paper all the activities you do daily that are below your pay grade. You may not be able to outsource all of these at first, but when the opportunity arises to do so you’ll have a better handle on your biggest time wasters, says Scarola.
- Carve out specific time. To make sure you work on strategic goals, set specific time frames that you can devote to them, advises Jerry Siegel, president of JASB Management, a Syosset management training and development firm.
“Too often entrepreneurs get caught in the trap of spending every day working in their business, which prevents planning and goal setting,” he notes. Yet, the latter two activities bring a higher payoff.
If you don’t have time during your workday, carve out time at home or in the office before staff arrives, he suggests. Businesses would be better served if they had five-year goals, which can then be broken down into annual, monthly and daily goals, says Siegel. “Start with the end in mind,” he notes.
- “Core competence.” Entrepreneurs must know their own strengths, address those areas themselves and outsource other tasks, he explains.
As Doug Sundheim of The Sundheim Group leadership consultant firm in Irvington says: Don’t do things that aren’t your core competence.
“For the first few years of my business I did my own books,” he notes. “It burned a few hours a month that were a total waste of time.” He eventually hired a bookkeeper. “It let me focus on what I do well, which is consult and write.”
- Cull. Beyond that, kill everything on your task list that’s been there for more than six months, he advises. If it wasn’t important enough to do in that time, you can probably forget about it.
“If it’s really important,” he says, “it will find its way back in due time.”
IF ONLY . . .
If business owners had more time, they would spend it on:
Marketing 32 percent
Strategic planning 24 percent
Product and service development 15 percent
Strategic partnerships 11 percent
Source: The Alternative Board