Starting your own business is great. You’re you own boss and you finally have the opportunity to turn your dreams into reality. You’re motivated and hard working, but as time goes by, you start to feel that you’re moving the needle slower and slower.
Why is that happening and how to prevent it?
Let’s take a look at what the most common time sinks. Keep in mind that most of these affect big businesses alike, but the effects are more felt in a small environment where people tend to wear more hats than one.
No Clear Plan
It’s actually disturbing just how many businesses don’t have a clear vision and understanding of their goals and milestones. Sure, you maybe know that you want to grow sales by 10% or acquire 1000 new users or optimize an algorithm to work 1% faster. But, how are you going to get there? What is your strategy? What are the tactics you are using?
More often than not people come to work and then try to find something to do. This is a dangerous time waster. First, you often do a set of unrelated tasks to the big picture, and second, you’re losing valuable time while you actually find what you’re supposed to do anyway.
Best practices that work and show results are to have a team meeting and the beginning of the week and specify the goals for the week. Then have each team member plan his week accordingly. If some team members have a tough time with time management and organization, have the team leader help them plan ahead.
This way, whenever you get to work you’re ready and set to blast through the work and beat the schedule.
This one is the most common of them all. Meetings about this, meetings about that. Soon enough, all you did over the week is meet, meet, meet. This is how no work gets done.
Now, meetings are important for aligning the team with the current business goals or brainstorming, but without proper guidance and planning they can become one of the biggest hidden time-sinks you have.
Step 1: Only purposefully meet
Is that meeting really needed? Is it something that can’t be easily resolved over the phone, or via mail?
Many meetings are organized because of habit, when in fact they could be avoided completely. And avoiding meetings lets you focus on the things that truly matter.
Step 2: Determine discussion points in advance and notify all the attendants
Think ahead about what you want to discuss. Then create bullet points for each topic and send them to all the attendants. This will allow them to prepare in advance and will greatly shorten the length of the meeting. Another pro tip is to send them excerpt for each bullet point with your point of view and questions related to that, so they know in what direction to go.
Step 3: Time everything
Tracking time allows you to confine each topic into a timeframe. This is a psychological trick that will allow your team to bring faster decisions over time. Also, it would give you a clear idea about just how much time some topics need, so you could plan for the future accordingly.
Step 4: Have a moderator
Having someone to lead the meeting allows the discussion to go in the right direction without wandering off. Moderator can track time, ask questions and que them in an organized fashion. He can close down the topics if the discussion is leading nowhere and can bring order into messy meeting rooms.
Moderators should have good communication skills, paired with organization and time management skills to boot. Sometimes, you can have team member with said skills lead moderate the meeting as well as participate in one.
Too Much Distraction
Whats Up, Viber, Slack and don’t forget – email. And a dozen more apps that we use daily.
Some research shows that chatting while doing work can prolong it by as much as 70%. Even if you’re using a different type of app, think about how it affects your focus. You get into a certain mindset when you do things and each time it gets harder to come back into focus when you break it by habit. It can take up to 25 minutes to get into the work focused mindset after a simple distraction. That’s a HUGE time waster.
So, what could you do?
Set a time out for yourself. Every day, from 9 am to 12 pm you’ll turn your phone notifications down, you’ll stop mindlessly checking email and you’re going to focus on work. It’s also good to communicate this with your clients and colleagues so they know that you are not ignoring them on purpose and that they don’t disturb you unless something is urgent.
Don’t check emails in the morning. This goes in hand with the previous tip. Simply skip the email checking after the mother load of work gets done. Email is a time sink and the kind you don’t notice. An email here and there and 2 hours have passed and no real work has been done. So leave the mail for the later parts of the day. If something is urgent, your phone is going to ring anyway.
Not Delegating Things
Ah, the founders’ dilemma. Who ever can care for the business and work with the same dedication as he?
This get’s especially true when the business founder becomes CEO. Instead of focusing on the skillset used to create the business, now you need to focus on so many different things – finance, HR, logistics, etc. The day becomes too short for everything and you need to delegate.
This goes well for hires with complimentary skill sets. If you’re a programmer and you need someone to manage finance, you’ll find a good employee and he’ll manage the rest. However, when you need to pass on the torch to the new Development Lead, things get hairy.
Don’t keep on looking over someone shoulder, you’re just smothering them and creating a bad setting. Let them work and have faith in them and their way of doing things. If it gets results, does it matter if you would have maybe done it differently?
Lack Of Automation
Payrolls, invoices, meetings, and even sales. Many small businesses still do these things manually. Even though you’ve done something a thousand times and you only need a couple of minutes to do it, you’re still losing time and focus on it.
Why not use the power of technology to automate things and clear your schedule a bit.
We’ve already discussed how you could automate your small business here, so go check it out and save yourselves a ton of time.
No Real Organizational Scheme
Having a flat organization can speed things up. It gives employees more freedom on how to do things and overall it generates growth faster. However, over time your business grows, you start hiring more people and suddenly, no one is sure about who is in charge of what.
Having a clear structure saves you from unnecessary communication problems (or worse, bad business decisions). If people know who they need to ask if a problem arises, or who has the proper clearance to make certain business calls, then they won’t get confused when the time comes. Also, it’s good to have someone who can make a decision for times when the team is split between ideas. Just make sure you don’t go overboard with bureacracy.
Under Utilizing Outsourcing
Let’s face it. You often need something your team is not qualified for or you just need it short term (a project, an event, etc). Many business owners still try to save a bit of money by delegating an unqualified team member on the task, which results in losing more time (and money) than if they just outsourced a professional.
With the rising number of freelance services today, you can pick and choose the one that fits your budget. And don’t just outsource for the bigger projects. Some small mundane tasks are better outsourced than wasting your time on them.
In the end, time sinks are everywhere. It’s up to you to create a plan of approach and focus on the things that move the actual needle. Get to the next level, and then focus on the fluff.
What are your biggest time sinks? How do you solve them? Let’s share best practices in the comment section and further this list.