Have you ever found yourself spending a lot of time in less-than-productive meetings? Or answering any number of non-essential emails? I know I have; especially when working in Corporate Britain.
And when you sit back at the end of the day and think about what you’ve achieved or review your ‘To Do’ list – do you often find that there are days when you seem to accomplished very little?
The consequence of your focus going to waste on ‘non-valuable’ tasks means you have to fit your essential work in at other times, which often means working very long hours. But have you ever wondered why Father Time seems to slow down completely, when you’re running late for that all important meeting and you’re waiting for a train or bus? Or why the hours seem to fly by as you hurtle towards an impending deadline? Sometimes it can seem as if there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
But that was when you were in the corporate world right?! And now you’re running your own business so things are different right? You can manage your own time much more effectively now right?
So why do so many entrepreneurs find themselves working much longer hours when they make the switch and start their own business?
Working hard Vs working smart
According to Julian Birkenshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School, entrepreneurs and small business managers could save themselves as much as 8 hours per week by delegating more effectively and outsourcing tasks to a virtual team. Speaking in a recent Harvard Business Review podcast, Birkenshaw cited a study commissioned by a call handling company called Penelope, which showed owners of micro-businesses in the UK work on average 63% longer than a typical British employee. And guess what…
At most you’re only 33% efficient!
That’s quite a shocking statistic isn’t it?! Tom Evans, author of a fascinating book called ‘The Zone’, suggests that most people are only 33% efficient most of the time. According to Evans, our minds can only really focus on one thought at a time and if we’re distracted while we’re trying to work, then we immediately lose that focus. Thinking about something that happened in the recent past or about the future in any way, takes us away from our immediate surroundings and means we simply aren’t focussing on what we’re aiming to achieve. It’s easier than you think to waste time and operate at far less than optimal efficiency.
How do we claw back time?
Birkenshaw is convinced that we can gain back 8 hours over the course of a single week by doing the following:
- Review your diary for the next two weeks
- List out every single activity you have to carry out
- Ask yourself what could you easily delegate to a member of your team, like your virtual assistant for example?
For the tasks that are left on your list ask yourself the following for each activity:
- How valuable is this really?
- Does it contribute to the overall success of my business?
- Could any of these tasks also be delegated?
The tasks left on your list will be there because you believe they are genuinely important to your business and can only be completed by you. However, it might help to ask yourself one final question:
- If you had a family emergency but the work still had to be completed, would you ask for help and delegate it out?
In the majority of cases, when it comes to the crunch, we will ask someone else to help us complete the work we need doing. The biggest reason why time slips through our fingers is ourselves and our unwillingness to let go and to delegate effectively.
Most tasks will take much longer than we anticipate and sometimes having a full inbox can be gratifying – it shows people are interested in us! Going to meetings provides a social component in our working lives, which can be very enjoyable, especially when the majority of our time is spent at home in front of a computer screen. But sometimes it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, in the interest of your own work-life balance and the future of your business.
Getting out of your own way
The key to clawing back time is recognising that multi-tasking can often be a false economy and that you need to have your priorities in order. Regardless of how brilliant you are at juggling lots of different projects at once, the fact remains that when you stop one task and start another there is a period of ‘switching time’, which inevitably slows you down and hampers your progress.
Switching time is the period in which your brain does its best to refocus from taking on one task, to dealing with another. Sometimes the switch might be quite easy and you won’t lose much time refocussing but often it can take 20 minutes or longer to really tune in to a different undertaking. So if on a normal day, you are juggling anything between 4 and 6 projects, your switching time will probably account for at least an hour of your time and possibly much more. Multiply that wasted hour over 5 working days and you have lost 5 hours in a single week.
Buying time by staying focussed
Whether 5 or 8 hours a week of lost time feels like an over or under-estimation for you, most of us can benefit from planning our working lives with a little more precision. Unexpected tasks might have to be tackled at short notice but generally we are more efficiently productive if we plan ahead and maintain our focus, one task at a time.
Coach Hazel McCallum from ‘Moving on up Coaching’ recommends diarising your tasks, so in effect you’re giving each job a chunk of your time. Sticking to these plans once you’ve made them will always be the hard part, but the more you can find ways to focus on completing a single task without switching, the more time you’ll save and the more effective your overall efforts are likely to be.
Give it a go, claw back some of your precious time and let me know how you get on in the comments!