As a business owner, how you view and allocate your time plays a major role in the success of your business. When your to-do list is unending and new tasks keep popping up left and right, you may find it difficult to intentionally plan out where you want to devote your time. However, upgrading your use of time can be just the key to unlock greater business growth and personal satisfaction in your work.
To help the ever-busy business owner, we’ve broken this down into four steps to make better use of your work day: 1) determine your one number to measure, 2) embrace delegation, 3) identify your highest-value activities, and 4) restructure your work days. Read on to learn more about each of these steps!
Determine Your One Number to Measure
The first question to ask yourself is: What is the one number to measure that determines the outcome of your business? If you are just starting out, that number might be how many potential clients you are talking to on a weekly basis. If you are focused on learning, it could be how many classes you’re taking or how many hours per week you spend on developing your tax planning abilities.
If you have existing clients who you are looking to transition into value pricing and monthly maintenance packages, the one number to measure could be how much you are earning monthly from maintenance plan revenue. Another universally valuable number is how many tax plans you completed this month.
This number can change from time to time as your business grows and evolves—the key is defining the number that matters most to the phase you’re in today. Start by determining the most important number to reach your immediate business goals and then use this denominator as your benchmark going forward.
Now that you’ve determined your “one number to measure,” the next step is to refocus your time and energy on what you can do to improve that number. This will reveal the most valuable role you can play in your firm. Don’t be distracted by the fallacy that “the more work you do, the more money you’ll make.” Success is not always about doing more work but getting better work.
Focus on upgrading your use of time by identifying what you do that creates value. As a business owner, chances are that you spend a good portion of your day doing work that is not connected to your top priority and that can actually be completed cheaply. For instance, if you are the only one in your firm who can do tax planning and you make about $1,000 per hour from that, you have no business doing anything that generates less than $1,000 an hour. Some business owners will say that they cannot afford to hire a bookkeeper, but if that bookkeeper charges $30-50 per hour, and you make $1,000 per hour on a tax plan, you can’t afford not to hire a bookkeeper. For your business to thrive, you need to outsource that activity—whether to an internal employee or by hiring a contractor—or get rid of that activity altogether.
Delegating is often the smartest business move you can make to free up your time to focus on actual business growth.
Identify Your Highest-Value Activities
To shift your use of time, you can leverage this simple system for classifying every activity you do for your business:
- Start by drawing four columns on a sheet of paper and labeling the columns “A, B, C, and D” from left to right.
- Jot down all the things you do in your business whether that’s preparing tax returns, answering the phones, returning emails, problem solving, consulting, bookkeeping, etc.
- Classify each of the activities you listed in either the A, B, C, or D columns based on this criteria: For every activity, think about how you feel when you are doing the activity and what the quality of your work is.
A = Activities that energize you and that you excel at. Even if you need to do research in order to do the activity effectively, you love the process.
B = Activities you excel at but that you would not want to do all the time. You may even be an expert at these tasks and may not mind doing them, but you would not want to do it every day.
C = Activities that you are competent in but do not particularly enjoy.
D = Activities you do not enjoy and are not particularly good at doing.
- Lastly, quantify each of these activities to see what percentage of your time is being spent on the A and B columns vs. the C and D columns.
The immediate goal is to free up at least 5 hours per week that can be reallocated to A and B activities. This will amount to 250 hours a year that is redirected toward adding significant value to your business. In the long run, if you can focus 80% of your working time on items in the A and B columns, you will feel much happier, and your business will really grow and expand.
If you are looking for items to delegate, turn to the C and D columns. There may even be items on the list that you can eliminate completely if they are not necessary to the business. Here’s an example of how to free up time: Let’s say you wrote “confirming appointments and sending reminders to clients” in the C column. What if you set up an automatic drip campaign in your CRM (customer relationship management) system so those emails now go out automatically? A little investment in a new setup or new technology could save hours of your time down the road.
Experts in work and productivity have observed that there are some tasks we do just to soothe ourselves when we’re experiencing mental fatigue. When we’re exhausted, we may do mindless things to numb out or feel like we were productive when this was not truly the best use of our time. Restructuring our time toward energizing and truly productive tasks can be a much better strategy to address fatigue while also building up your business.
Restructure Your Work Days
Lastly, you will need to intentionally structure your week so that time is blocked off for A and B activities. You can designate certain days as “push days” and others as “focus days.” On a push day, the goal is to simply get tasks done and out the door. For example, you may need to review someone else’s work to ensure they can keep making progress on a project. This can include any remaining C and D activities that simply have to get done. On a focus day, you block off your time for A and B activities. You can break up your time into 90 minute sessions to improve your productivity and avoid distractions. For those 90 minutes, don’t look at anything except the task at hand. Keep a notepad at your side to jot down notes on anything that distracts you.
You can also create a prime work block. When do you do the best work? Early in the morning? Later in the afternoon? When are you most productive and focused? Once you have identified this prime work block, figure out how to protect it. For example you can create a visual signal, so your coworkers know when you are doing heads-down work or when you are available for interruptions. Let’s say you have a glass door to your office. Try installing a set of blinds. The rule can be that if the blinds are up, you’re available, but if the blinds are lowered, you are in the midst of a focus day—don’t come in because you can’t afford the interruption!
Your time is your most valuable resource, and while operating reactively may seem necessary to the hurried business owner, proactively managing your time is an investment that is sure to pay dividends. Identifying your top priorities and creating space for these activities is how you can bring the most value to your business. For in-depth training on everything from new tax legislation to managing your small business, apply to become a Certified Tax Planner today!