Time is arguably a business owner’s most precious resource. Yet many small-business owners also consider it one of the most elusive and hardest to manage.
OPEN Forum asked two business owners and a personal productivity expert to identify business owners’ biggest time wasters and offer suggestions about how to manage them. Andreea Ayers is founder of marketing communications firm Launch Grow Joy in Fort Collins, Colorado; Ryan Naylor is founder and president of Phoenix employment website LocalWork.com; and Kory Kogon is author of The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity and global practice leader for productivity for Salt Lake City-based training and consulting firm Franklin Covey.
What are the biggest time wasters for business owners?
Andreea Ayers: One of the biggest is constantly checking email and social media, and always feeling like you have to be able to answer customers. If I start my day checking email, it’s guaranteed my day will be super unproductive. If I start off my day by tackling a task first and not checking mail, I not only get that task done, but when I do check email, I spend less time on it and go back to my other tasks faster. Feeling like you always have to check your email is a huge time waster.
Kory Kogon: That’s a very big one. Another time waster for business owners is not getting clear on what they should and should not be working on. It’s difficult for business owners to let go and let staff do the work. Make sure you’re working on the important things and not everything.
Ryan Naylor: Both those answers are spot on. In my experience, one of the biggest time wasters is meetings, especially out-of-the-office meetings. You have to look at travel time, introductions, casual how’s-the-the weather conversation—before you know it, you’re a couple of hours into the day and nothing productive has been done. You should only take a meeting if it’s going to help you accomplish one of your goals.
How big a problem is this? Do business owners really waste that much time?
Naylor: This is a big difference between an average company and a great company. I don’t have specific facts or figures, but I’d say in my history of starting several companies, the difference in staying focused and not wasting time is the difference of profitability. That’s really what it comes down to.
Kogon: In our ongoing 16-question survey [of over 350,000 businesspeople worldwide], we ask, “Where do you think you’re putting your time, attention and energy?” They told us they feel like they’re putting 60 percent of their time, attention and energy on important things and about 40 percent of their time on unimportant and irrelevant things. That tells us people feel they are wasting almost half of their time. The cost is an amazing number.
Ayers: I agree with what everyone has said. Say I’m working on writing an article for my website and an email comes in. It’s going to take time to switch to that email and reply and then it’s going to take time to go back to what I was doing before. I’ve seen that. When I have my email open and try to write an article, sometimes it takes me a whole day. When I close my email and set a timer, sometimes I can get it done in as little as an hour.
Andreea Ayers, founder of Launch Grow Joy
How can business owners manage time wasters to reduce their impact?
Ayers: Focus on one task at a time. The more you try to do everything, the more time you waste. There were days when I was feeling so overwhelmed, I’d try to do everything. At the end of the day, I was never able to complete the task I set out to do. I was busy but I didn’t get a lot of work done except to answer email.
Kogon: The best way entrepreneurs can do this is follow what the brain requires. It requires a framework. It requires a process to be very intentional about everything that comes in and make the highest-value decision. We always put forward Stephen Covey’s matrix, using “urgent” and “important.” Really intentionally qualify every email that comes in. Is this necessary for me to do this now, or is it a distraction? Am I just surfing the Internet, or am I being intentional about what I am looking for?
Naylor: From my experience, it’s all been about focus. I feel like when we are focused, we’ll naturally reduce waste. Setting up monthly goals and then working backward, seeing what I can accomplish this week that will help get me closer to my monthly goals and what I can do today to accomplish my weekly goals. Acting on those top priorities first eliminates a tremendous amount of waste.
Ryan Naylor, founder and president of LocalWork.com
How does the future look? Are we getting better at not wasting time? Can technology help or hurt?
Naylor: As the world gets faster and technology becomes more rampant, there are more distractions. It’s so easy to waste time. There’s more content and more blogs to capture our attention. The technology has learned what our interests are. You open one page and you’re going to be sucked in every time. There are going to be those who can’t cope with the distractions and those who lean on technology to help them be more efficient. Mobile apps like Wunderlist keep track of your tasks and to-dos and follow you from device to device. Those who become more efficient and don’t waste time will be leveraging tools like that.
Ayers: We’re going to get better if we start paying more attention to it. I agree that there is even more technology and distractions. If we are aware that this is an issue, we can use technology to make it better. If we’re not aware of it, it can only get worse.
Kogon: The potential to get better is there, and the competitive edge will be held by those who master the necessary mental skills of the 21st century. The paradox is that now it’s both easier and harder than ever to achieve extraordinary productivity. And it’s because of technology. If people are mindful and intentional, they can harness technology to help drive them to extraordinary productivity. If they just keep going through life as they are, they’re going to keep getting buried alive.
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Photos (from top): iStock; Courtesy of Miha Matei Photography, LocalWork.com