As a small-business owner, you may feel as if you've got endless amounts of work to do. Problem is, you may also have employees who need your help answering questions, putting out fires and dealing with problems. Can there ever be enough hours in the day to be the boss but still get your own work done?
For most of us, the problem may boil down to the “Manager vs. Maker” dilemma, as explained by Paul Graham. A manager’s job is to meet with people, which can be done in short chunks of time and may often take up the entire day. A maker, however, needs longer chunks of uninterrupted time to make things—whether that’s coding a website, building an armoire or writing a proposal for a client.
As a business owner, you're likely both a manager and a maker. How can you reconcile the two roles? Try these steps.
- Pay attention. Consider tracking your time for two weeks, or however long you need to get a representative sample of your workday. Note what you spend most of your time doing, when you get interrupted and what types of interruptions happen most often. For example, you may notice you're trying to do your “maker” work in the afternoons—but that’s when employees tend to come to you with questions.
- Create a schedule. By reviewing these patterns, you may be able to develop a better plan for using your time. If you’re like most small-business owners, this will have to be a pretty loose and flexible schedule. One of the most important parts: Set aside some time for making. This might have to be early in the morning before any of your employees arrive at the office, after hours or even at home. That’s just the reality of entrepreneurship.
There may be only so much you can do to manage your time on your own, so the next phase in getting things done consists of making it easier for your employees to get things done without you.
- Develop systems. Every business may need some type of operations manual or process guides that can help employees deal with situations that arise. This may help your business in many more ways than just giving you more time. If you haven't already written down systems and procedures and shared them with your employees, now may be the time.
- Use project management tools. There are tons of project management systems out there, from the simple to the complex. Choosing and using a system that has all the features your business needs (but isn’t so complex your employees won’t use it) can help streamline everyone’s jobs and keep track of tasks so you won’t have to run interference.
- Share knowledge. Consider creating a “knowledge base” of information and solutions to common problems that can arise in your business. Your project management system may have this function, or you can just create internal documents your team can access. A knowledge base can help serve as an adjunct to your operations manual and help employees find solutions without running to you every time.
- Step back. Does the president of the United States spend hours a day researching foreign-policy issues or the state of the U.S. military overseas? No—he gets daily briefings from experts to stay up to speed. Think like the president: Focus on the big picture instead of the small details. Don't try to project manage yourself; consider having others handle the day to day and brief you on the important stuff.
- Empower employees. If you want more time to get your work done, you may have to empower your employees to make more decisions on their own—something that will probably thrill them. Who doesn't want more responsibility and a bigger role? Many small-business owners may micromanage employees, preventing them from developing their skills. As you step back a bit to make more time for your own work, make sure your employees feel empowered to make their own decisions.
- Talk to your team. It might sound like I’m suggesting you should become some sort of recluse, peeking out your office window only on rare occasions. On the contrary: If you want more time to get your work done, you may need to engage with your employees at a more intense level. Consider setting up regular but brief meetings where employees can ask questions or bring up issues in a group, so they don't have to come to you one at a time. You can also hold one-on-one meetings with employees (again, keep them short) to deal with any issues. Finally, you may want to involve your employees in the development of your new time management plan from the start. Explain the problem you're having and how you’re thinking of dealing with it, then get their input and suggestions.
If you're worried about taking time away from managing to work on your own duties, think of it this way: You’re a role model. Business owner or employee, we all run into plenty of interruptions and distractions that can keep us from getting work done. By walking the walk and managing your own time more efficiently, you may inspire the rest of your team to do the same.
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