Improve Your Profit Margin by Using Your Time Wisely
“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”
Benjamin Franklin said, “time is money,” and spoke truth in doing so. But far too many businesses suffer because of the mismanagement of this invaluable resource. It’s the one thing that we can never replace and in an age of complexity, chaos, and competition for our attention, so we all need to be continually improving our use of it. The following discussion offers hope for devising means for doing exactly that.
When I worked for a corporate giant, it was never late enough in the day for me. I had a fixed schedule, a rigid job description, and a narrow range of duties. Time dragged. Bureaucratic rules limited my ability to contribute to the overall effort, and I knew that there were better ways of organizing for the accomplishment of our stated mission.
Wasted time means lower margins
My overall sense was that a lot of time and money was being wasted, meaning that the company’s profit margin was nowhere near what it could be. It was frustrating. Although I was drawing a good salary and had a great benefits package, those were not enough to keep me satisfied in my heart of hearts. I knew that the company I worked for could have been doing better, and it bothered me.
Time management and entrepreneurship
In my new life as a private business owner, my take on time is radically different. Rather than time dragging, it passes much too quickly. Now it’s always too late in the day. The problem now is how to get the most out of this valuable resource, and it doesn’t pause for me to catch up with its passage.
For that reason it became essential to adopt a “continuous improvement” program in regard to how I spend my time, and that’s true for just about anyone who wants to thrive in this competitive and chaotic economic environment. The problem is how to do so.
Developing time strategies
Like anything else worth doing in life, it starts with consciously committing to it. And that’s different from “intending” to do it. Commitment manifests itself in action, and to be effective, the relevant actions must display three characteristics: (1) They must be systematic, (2) they must be tangible, and (3) they must be energetic. Lethargic or haphazard approaches will yield no fruit.
The peril of procrastination
A friend of mine whose business was struggling because of the economic downturn attributed his problems to tough competition and excessive government regulation. The latter was keeping him form focusing on his primary business, which was electrical work.
“I’ve gotta put my time to better use,” he often lamented. My suggestion was that he adopt a systematic program to prioritize the demands on his time— as an old industrial engineer, I’d spent years in manufacturing dealing with the problem of organizing and coordinating work activities to maximize quality and minimize waste. And, after all, this fellow had already admitted up front that he needed to do things differently.
“I know I’ve gotta’ look into this time management thing,” he responded— “but I keep putting it off.” Procrastination is one of the most common and pernicious responses to the excessive complexity we face, and this guy had a bad case of it.
Procrastination feeds off of itself
Sometime back, I ran a seminar on time management for professionals at my local chamber of commerce. Of the 20 or so people that had registered and paid in advance for the session, all but two were late. These were all professionals who were committed to improving their effectiveness, but failed at the most essential foundation of success— being on time.
According to the research done by psychologists Roy Baumeister and Steve Berglas, procrastination is pernicious and pervasive. In their book, Your Own Worst Enemy: Understanding Self Defeating Behavior, they cite procrastination as one of the most common means of self-sabotage that destroys careers and ruins businesses. Commit to eliminating that beast, and you’re on the road to improvement.
Strategies for effective time usage
“Logistics” is the science of organizing activities to derive maximal benefit from efforts expended. Companies such as FedEx and UPS depend upon it to survive in the shipping business, but it can be applied to any area of human activity. Its foundations are (1) an enhanced consciousness of the time management problem, and (2) a thorough knowledge of the business you’re in.
It starts with commitment
Conscious commitment to a clear set of values is the foundation of any successful strategy, and it has to go beyond money. Wealth is only a symptom of success— it’s a lagging indicator that you’ve got a genuine sense of mission, a clear vision of where you want to be, and a set of values that you’re willing to act in strict accord with. Armed with these, it becomes much easier to start making more effective use of your time.
Begin with the end in mind
Every successful professional (or business organization, for that matter) has mastered the art of setting and adhering to specific and realistic goals. Realism is crucial— if you’re chronically battling with time management problems, there’s probably some way in which you’re either denying or distorting reality.
We all do that from time to time, but if you want to thrive, you’ll make a conscious effort to face that fact and humble yourself before it. Everyone who excels in their chosen field does so because they’ve consciously decided that their goals are more important than their egos.
Prioritizing: First things first
If you really want to improve your use of your time, you’ll have increasingly be a better manager of yourself, continually monitoring the relationships between your goals and your actions. The beauty of commitment to specific goals is that it sharpens your sense of the relationships between actions and their consequences.
Every day we see stories of people whose lives are ruined by losing sight of these. The professional athletes, movie stars, and politicians who run afoul of the law exemplify the need to constantly stay in touch with our goals and how our actions relate to them. The National Basketball association now has a special counseling program designed to keep young players in touch with the fact that actions have consequences.
Deciding what you’re not going to do
One reason people fail to improve their use of time is because they try to base their efforts exclusively on what they’re going to do instead of the elimination of destructive options and actions. The “don’ts” are often just as important as the “do’s”— sometimes even more so.
Again, all of this must be done in the context of clear goals and action plans for achieving them. Time management is simple in conception, but complex in execution, simply because we’re human— and human beings have always and will always be prone to error.
Confusing “urgent” with “important”
These two can be much more different than they may seem. If we do the truly important stuff on time, it never becomes urgent. Doing our taxes in January doesn’t lessen the importance of filing, but it does avert the sense of urgency that besets so many people in April.
On the other hand, if we procrastinate in paying a parking ticket, we’ve taken something minor and turned it into something that can become urgent. But if we stay in touch with our goals, prioritize sensibly, and act in accord with both of the above, we can eliminate a lot of the urgency and the stress associated with it.
Immediate vs. delayed gratification
The old Protestant ethic emphasized the importance of work and responsibility over the immediate pleasures of the flesh. It was based on the agrarian “Law of the Harvest”— you reap what you sow, and need to be diligent and patient in waiting for the payoff. In an age driven by advertising and entertainment that emphasize immediate gratification however, a very different mindset prevails, and it has consequences.
Time management = self regulation
There are 168 hours in a week, and we can’t change that fact. The truth is, rather than managing time, all we really can do is manage ourselves. We can’t control some of things that are bound to happen to us, but we do have options regarding how we respond to them. And on that we can count.
Accepting this reality is one of the foundations for improving the ways that we use the time we do have. And there is not a one of us who can’t do better, even if it’s only in small ways. As always, it’s a matter of self-awareness: Knowing our strengths and weaknesses, exploiting the former, and not allowing ourselves to be overly hampered by the latter. This is doable, to the extent that we’re genuinely committed to improvement.
The tools for getting more out of the time we have are available— they’re the very same tools by which we can get more out of ourselves. It’s up to each of us to be willing to make the sacrifices that it takes to pick up those tools and use them.
Dr. Richardson is the founder of Redwood Enterprises, a business consulting, training, and executive coaching firm that specializes in helping business owners make sure that what they do every day reflects sound strategic planning. He is available for speaking engagements on business related topics. Visit his company’s website at www.redwood-enterprises.com, or contact Redwood Enterprises by phone at 610.326.3670.