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Archive for the Time Management Tips Category

Is There Really a 4-Hour Workweek?

Tim Ferriss made the 4-hour workweek a popular concept in his 2007 book.  But is there such a thing, and more importantly, can business owners like you and me cash in on it?  As the last of the Baby Boomers approach retirement, the topic of working less while making the same or more income is popular.

Here are five ideas to help you work fewer hours while making the same or more income.

Active vs. Automatic Revenue

Some business models allow you to generate automatic revenue.  Automatic revenue is revenue you can earn and leverage over time by doing something only once and not over and over again.  Active revenue is earned while doing something over and over again.  Showing up for a teaching job with a live audience is active revenue while producing and selling video recordings of the same teaching is automatic revenue.

A goal of a 4-hour workweek concept is to increase automatic revenue while reducing active revenue.  You may have to think out of the box to do this in your industry, but the payoff can be huge.

Delegation and Outsourcing

One traditional way to move to a 4-hour workweek is to have others do the work.  Hiring staff frees up your time and allows your business to become scalable.  When it runs without you, it’s more salable too.

Time Batching

If you have a lot of distractions in your day, you can easily double your productivity by learning time batching, which is grouping like tasks together in a block or batch of time and getting them done.  For example, if an employee interrupts you with questions multiple times a day, train them to come to you only once a day to get all their questions handled at one time.  Take your calls one after the other in a group, and then stay off the phone the rest of the day.  Do the same with email, social media, running errands, and all of your other tasks.

Automation and Procedures

New apps save an amazing amount of time. List all of your time-consuming chores and then find an app that helps you get them done faster.  For example, a scheduling app can reduce countless emails back and forth when setting meetings and appointments.  To-do list or project management software can cut down on emails among you and your staff.  And apps like Zapier can connect two apps that need to share data, reducing data entry.

Leverage

The key to working less is to embrace the concept of leverage.  How can you leverage the business resources around you to save time, increase staff productivity, and improve profits?  It takes discipline and change, two difficult goals to accomplish.  But when you do, you will be rewarded.

Eight Ways to Save Time You Might Not Have Thought About

Time is money as they say, and if you can save time, you’re also saving money. Since your time is limited to 24/7, both personal and business time saved is profitable. Here are eight ways to save time (and money) for your consideration. Go through all of them with an open mind, and see which one might work best for you.

1. The trip to the grocery store

If you’re making several trips to the grocery store throughout the week, this one is for you. Cut down on those trips by taking inventory of your kitchen and seeing what you’ll need for the week (or longer). Shopping once a week will save precious time throughout the week.

Better yet, have your groceries delivered. Some shops will also pick and bag your times so your selections are ready for pickup. Even better, hire an assistant to shop for you so that your refrigerator and pantry is stocked when you get home.

2. Appointment scheduling

Automate your appointment scheduling and you’ll free up weeks of admin time for either you or your staff. There are dozens of apps, many industry-specific that can help you save time making appointments. Once you’ve set it up, send the link to the people you’ll be meeting and voila, it will appear on your calendar.

Here are a few to check out:

For field service companies in the home repair or maintenance industries that serve commercial and residential customers, Google “field service scheduling” to get the right software for your business.

3. Office supplies

Order your supplies online and have them delivered.

4. Email interruptions

Turn off automatic send and receive in your email software to get rid of that nasty interruption. Mark your calendar to check and answer your email three to four times a day. You’ll go home happier and feeling more in control of your work with this one change.

5. The commute

If you can manage it, working from home one to two days a week can save you commute time. You may also be able to avoid rush hour by altering your work hours if you have some flexibility. After all, it’s your business.

6. Those errands

Batching your errands all into one day will save precious start and stop time on your other work days. Better yet, choose one day a week for outside errands and personal appointments so that you can get into the habit of this for the long term.

7. Takeout

Do you go out for lunch every day? You may need the break or you may need to have that power lunch with a new business partner or client. But on days you don’t, have takeout delivered so you don’t have to waste time ordering and standing in line.

8. The bank

Are you going to the bank constantly? If so, you can avoid it in a number of ways:

• Take credit cards, and have clients pay online.
• Ask your bank about remote or mobile check deposit options.
• Hire a company to transport your cash deposits – Google “Cash logistics” to find companies with armored car services. It won’t hurt to find out how much it costs and you might be surprised.

Did you get an idea on how to save time? If so, it’s your turn to implement and reap the benefits.

What’s Your Hourly Worth?

Time is the most precious resource on the planet, but sometimes we don’t treat it that way. In our businesses, it’s important to get everything done, but we can also get overwhelmed with all the little things that need to be done to take care of customers. One of the big differences between highly successful entrepreneurs and less successful ones is how they manage their time: the more successful simply value it more and treat it as the scarce commodity it is.

A great exercise to bring this home is to track what you do in one day. You can write a diary as you go through the day or simply recall what you did at the end of the day. List the tasks you did; then write the hourly market rate of each task you did next to the task.

Did you spend time on low-level tasks such as email cleanup, filing, order-taking, order filling, or handling routine customer questions? Or did you spend time calling up power partners, dreaming up new products or services, or restyling your marketing message so that it’s more impactful and reaches more customers?

What was the average hourly rate of the tasks you did today? Multiply that by 2,000 hours and compare it your gross revenues. If your gross revenues were higher than the value of the tasks you did today, then your revenue might be stagnant. If your annualized day was worth more than your gross revenues, then congratulations; you’re moving up and giving yourself a raise. Your business is likely growing.

If you’d like a raise, then the first thing to do is to start delegating the lower level tasks that are eating up all your time. They might be a comfortable way for you to pass the time, but they could also be keeping you stuck, overwhelmed, and moving toward burnout.

We all have the same amount of time each day. If we can free up our time to focus on more powerful action items that move our business forward instead of the chores that clog our progress, then our success will accelerate.

Is There an App for That?

The technology side of the accounting industry is rapidly changing and expanding.  Literally hundreds, if not thousands of new companies and new software applications have sprung up to help small businesses automate their processes and save time and money.

The best way to profit from all of this innovation is to first identify where you can best use the technology in your business.  Here are three places to look:

1.     Paper Chase

What business tasks are you still using pen and paper for?   Look what’s on your desk or in your filing cabinet in the form of paper, and that will be your next opportunity for automation.  For example, are you still hand-writing checks?   There’s an app (or two) for that.

Sticky notes and to do lists have been replaced with Evernote.  Business cards you collect can go in a CRM (customer relationship manager).  All of your accounting invoices and bills can be digitized and stored online.

Make a list of all the manual and paper processes you do every day and look for an app that can make the task faster for you.

2.     Fill the Gap

Take stock of what systems you already have in place.  The opportunity to fill the gap is where you might have systems that should talk to each other but don’t.  If you need to enter data into two different places, there may be a chance to automate and/or integrate the systems or data.  For example, your point of sale or billing system should integrate well with your accounting system.  A few other examples include accounting and payroll, CRM and accounting, inventory and accounting, project management and time tracking, and time tracking and payroll.

The more your systems integrate and work as a suite, the better.

3.     Mismatched

It could be you have your systems automated, but the systems are not the best choice for your business requirements.  If your systems don’t meet many of your business requirements, it may be time to look for an upgrade or a replacement.

If you are performing a lot of data manipulation in Excel or Access, this might also signal that your systems are falling short of your current needs.  Look where that’s happening, and you will have identified an opportunity for improvement.

Look in these three areas in your business, and I bet you’ll not only find an app for that, you’ll also find some freed up time and money once you automate.

Shortcut Your Management Time with Exception Reporting

Do you spend a lot of time reviewing stacks of reports each month so you can get the information you need to make decisions?  Do you find out after the fact that something went wrong in your business and that if you had known about it sooner, you would have made different decisions?

If so, you might benefit from a special type of reporting called exception reporting.  Exception reporting highlights red flag areas that you need to take action on.  It contrasts with regular reporting, which lists lots of data that you may or may not need to take action on.

Here’s an example:  How often do you check your bank balance?  You probably check daily or even more, right?  Do you really need to?

Ask yourself when do you really need to know about your bank balance?  You need to know when it falls below a certain amount, or when you don’t have enough to cover imminent bills, right?  Why not stop checking your balance all the time and replace it with an alert that will send you an email under the conditions and criteria you set?  This will save you time.

Some exception reports are already built into some accounting systems.  A couple of good examples are the A/R aging report which shows past due invoices that have not been collected and the inventory re-order report that lists inventory items that reached their re-order points and need to be re-ordered.

There are many ideas to generate exception reports:

  • Missed and upcoming deadline tracking such as project due dates, tax forms due, and payroll due
  • Employees on vacation
  • Bills overdue
  • Expiration date tracking like end of lease and insurance policy renewal dates
  • Large variances in budget to actual reports

To take advantage of exception reporting, here are a few steps:

  1. Identify the reports you currently receive that you review but take no action no matter what.  Do you really need them?  If not, throw them out.  If so, ask yourself what trigger would have you taking action and change the regular report into an exception report that reports on that trigger.
  2. Think about what data you access all day that is not in a report or easy to use format.  Can you create an exception report or alert out of it and save yourself time?
  3. What information would you like to start receiving that you don’t have now?  It should be something that you would take action on if you knew about it.  Can you create an exception report for these new information needs?

Try exception reporting, or take it to the next level of implementation in your business, and watch your time free up and your management decisions sharpen.

Summertime Strategies for Your Business

Summer is a great time of year for most businesses to pause for just a little while to take stock, congratulate yourself on what you’ve accomplished so far this year, and make big plans for your future.  Here are five summertime strategies to help you regroup, reassess, and rejuvenate your business.

1.     Mid-Year Review

If your business runs by the calendar year, 2014 is already more than half over.  This is a perfect time to stop and reflect where you’ve been, what you’ve accomplished, and where you want to go next.  You can make this process as informal or formal as you want.  Some firms hold complex retreats; you may simply need some quiet time on a weekend where all your family is busy doing something else.

If you’ve never done any planning and feel like you need a guide, consider the book, The One-Page Business Plan written by Jim Horan.

2.     Take a Vacation

There’s nothing better to rekindle your creative juices than to get away from the business for a while.  Summertime is when most people take vacation, so if your business is not having its busy season, this might be a good time to go away for a while.

If you’re anxious about being away from your business, you’re not alone.  In your annual planning process, plan for and block out your vacation time way ahead of time.  Book the reservations with no refunds several months in advance so that you won’t chicken out at the last minute.  There is life beyond your business, and you will be a better business owner when you take regular breaks away.

3.     Celebrate

Take time to pat yourself on the back and congratulate the people around you for the goals you’ve reached and the efforts your team has made on your behalf.  We all could use more praise and more celebrations in our lives.  Perhaps you can organize a party, or if you are not the partying type, a quiet word individually with your team can go a long way, maybe more than you know.

4.     Prune Your Projects    

Is your plate too full?  Most of us would say “yes” to that question, so the next step is to ask yourself what you can afford to stop doing that doesn’t make sense.  Is there a project or two that can wait?  If so, decide to stop stressing about not getting it done and give yourself permission to put it on the back burner for now.

5.     Focus

Ask yourself what one thing you could do today that will make all the difference in your profits, revenues, goals, or simply peace of mind.  And get that thing done.

Try these five summertime tips to rejuvenate your business.

The Fine Art of Prioritization

Running a business usually means putting in over 40 hours a week.  In fact, if you’re the typical entrepreneur, you have more ideas you want to implement than you have time for!  That’s when proactive, strategically executed prioritization can make all the difference.

So Hard to Choose    

If you have lots of ideas in your head or on your “to do” list that are not getting done, you’re certainly not alone.  Here’s a process for helping you decide what to do first, next, and not at all.

Step 1:  Write down all your ideas, tasks, “to do’s,” projects, and even items you need to do on a daily basis.  Use a spreadsheet and list each item in a row by itself.  Later you’ll want to be able to sort the list, so we recommend using Excel or another spreadsheet software.

Once you have everything down on paper, you will be amazed at how much this unclutters your thinking.  You will also have all your great ideas captured so you don’t forget them.  You might also get very overwhelmed, but don’t stop now.  Relief is on the way.

Step 2: Add some information about each item, creating four additional columns:

  1.  Is this item about working IN your business (client work, overhead, etc.) or ON your business (new products or new services, developing procedures, hiring more staff, marketing, creating new partnerships)?
  2. Is this item revenue-generating?  Or will you lose revenue if you don’t get it done?
  3. Can you delegate this task or does it have to be done by you?
  4. If you were to hire someone to do this task, how much would it be worth per hour?

Step 3:  Analyze your choices.  Once you have these additional items filled in, you can go wild with opportunities.  Here are some very cool eye-opening activities to try:

  • Separate tasks that are working ON vs. IN your business.  There is never enough time to work on your business, so force it by blocking out a few hours or a half-day a week and do it, no matter what.  It might be the best way to make progress in your business.
  •  Sort the list by how much revenue the task could generate or how much potential it has, and decide how to prioritize from there.  If you need help calculating the ROI, return on investment of an idea, we can help you calculate that.
  • Take a look at what you marked “not able to delegate,” and ask “why not?”  Does a procedure need to be written?  Do you need more staff?  Does your staff need training?  Or do you need to learn to let go?  Whatever it is, and especially if there are a lot of these items, get these roadblocks tackled so you don’t become the bottleneck in your own business.
  • Sort the list by “column D” above, the market value you recorded for the task.  Then ask yourself what your hourly rate is.  How many tasks are you doing that are below your hourly rate?  Hiring someone to do your lowest level tasks could very well be another item you need to add to your new “to do” list!

This last one is really important, because it can so strongly affect the profitability of your business.  The last thing you want to do is go backwards and give yourself a demotion with a pay decrease, but that’s exactly what you’re doing each time you do a task yourself that’s at a low market rate.

Step 4:  Prioritize with confidence.   With all of this information in an organized spreadsheet, you will gain the clarity you need to make some powerful decisions about how to spend your time.

Time

There’s nothing more precious and scarce than our time.  Every day, we have a choice about how to spend it, but too often we get caught up in the urgent, but not important, daily fires.  This exercise helps us take a step back and look at what’s important instead of what’s urgent.

Five Email Productivity Tips

Is email taking up too much time in your workday?    If you’re looking to spend less time on email, here are five quick items to test your existing knowledge and fine-tune your organizational skills.  We’ll talk specifically about Outlook®, but if you use another package, you may be able to find the same features there.

1. Folders

We all start with several default folders in our email software, such as our inbox, drafts, sent, and deleted email, but if that’s all you use, then this tip might save you time.  Consider creating additional folders to file or organize your email.

For example, under your inbox, you could have “hot,” “warm,” and “cold” folders for tasks that need to be done right now, in a few hours, and later today.  You may also want to create folders by clients, employees, business functions, products, vendors, important documents, or some combination of the above.

It’s especially useful to group certain emails together so you can work on a string all at once and not as they come in.  That way, you can minimize interruptions which can improve your focus throughout the day.

In Outlook, you can find the Folders command as a menu item with many tasks to choose from.

2. Rules

Once you’ve gotten those folders setup, you can create rules to automatically “file” emails that come in.  One great example is all those social media emails we all get.  Create a folder called “Social Media,” then create several rules to file those emails directly into that folder.  For example, all emails from LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites you have profiles on can go straight into that folder to be read later.  It keeps your inbox much cleaner and lowers that feeling of overwhelm too.

Look for the task bar item, “Rules, Create Rule” to get started.

3. Signature Files

If you haven’t already, create a signature file that looks professional and does a little bit of marketing for you as well.   At a minimum, include your name, company name, phone and website address.  Consider a short description line about what your company offers, especially if it’s not clear from your company name.  Finally, include a very short description about the type of client you’re looking for, a complimentary offer you have, or a brief phrase to encourage referrals.

One more thing to consider:  include your full signature on both new emails and replies, just to make your phone number and contact information all that more accessible for prospects and clients.

To get started or to edit your existing signature, go to the File menu, choose Options, Mail, and then locate the Signatures button.

4. Multiple Email Addresses

A great way to cut down on overwhelm is to have at least two email addresses.  The second, extra email address can be for email you don’t need to read as often as your client and employee email.  Send that email to a completely separate box that you only open once or twice a week.  Assign those social media emails, list emails, meeting notice emails, and other subscription emails that just don’t need immediate attention.

You can also use multiple email addresses for special tasks such as hiring.  Direct applicants to send their resumes to the separate email account.  When you are ready to review the resumes, they will be all in one place with no other email clutter.

5. Categories

A further tool to sort and organize emails is the Categorize feature in Outlook located on the tool bar.  You can create categories to group emails that are all in one folder, such as your inbox.  Categories might include functions such as accounting or sales, clients or type of clients, urgency, employees, or another grouping that helps you keep related or similar emails together.

Bonus Tip:  That Distracting Bell

When new email comes in, does your computer interrupt you and make a sound?  Worse, do you stop what you are doing and read the new email?  If you do, you will get a huge productivity boost by simply turning off the automated send/receive email feature.  Instead, schedule the sending and receiving of your email manually two to three times a day.

In Outlook 2010, go to File, Options, Advanced, Send/Receive, and uncheck “Schedule an automatic Send/Receive every __ minutes.”  After you have changed this setting, no more email will come in until you manually click the Send/Receive toolbar button under the Send/Receive menu bar item, so you are now in total control of when you want to be interrupted by email.

You will be shocked how much more productive your day is by implementing this one bonus tip.

Try these tips to boost your productivity with email.

Five Places to Find More Profits

It’s always a good idea to be on the lookout for ways to increase your profits, and luckily, there are many ways to do that.  One way is to focus on cost-cutting, and here are five places that are good to periodically review for cost-cutting possibilities.

Telephone

Re-negotiating with the phone company every one to two years is a really good idea.  Many telecommunications companies will often bargain with you or offer you a new deal just for checking in with them.

Has your business changed?  Do you need all those extra features you are paying for?  Could you do without those extra lines?  Would another phone plan save you money on long distance or international calls?

The risk is low:  one quick call will let you know if you can save money in this area.  It’s worth it to give it a shot, and while you’re at it, you can call your smartphone provider too.

Travel

Travel is always a great area to look into for possible ways to save.  Are all trips necessary and profitable?  Are there any meetings that can be done virtually instead of face-to-face?  Virtual tools such as GoToMeeting can make travel unnecessary.

What trips can be cut this year?  Can the number of people sent per trip be cut?  Can travel arrangements be made early to save money?  Are booking dates flexible so you can compare and find the lowest rates?  Is a taxi or rent car cheaper?

Dues and Subscriptions

Paying our annual dues for the club or association we’ve belonged to forever may be a habit, but is it beneficial for your business?  We might enjoying seeing everyone once or twice a year at the meeting, but we may not necessarily have to have a membership to do that.  Sometimes paying the guest rate is more affordable than the member rate if we are attending infrequently enough.

Review a list of organizations and publications you and your employees are part of, and choose which ones you are truly benefiting from.   If being an officer in one of your organizations is not getting you any new business, then you may eliminate a time drain by bowing out and letting someone else volunteer.

Labor

As your business grows, it can be a challenge to decide who to hire next.  The first place to look before you decide should be your existing employees.  What tasks are they doing that you are paying them too much for?  For example, do you have a manager doing clerical work?  If so, you may be able to piece together an administrative job that frees your current staff from all the clerical work they are doing.

It’s worth a look to see where your current employees are being overpaid and find someone to do those parts of the job.  You’ll save labor costs and come out ahead in the long run.

Fixed Assets and Equipment

Another place to save money that can be significant is purchases of large items such as furniture, automobiles, and production equipment.  It’s a good idea to get three bids from reputable vendors so you have a choice.  Going with the lowest bid is not always a good move; going for the highest quality is.

Look in these five places, and let us know how much you find to increase your profits.  As always, if we can help, let us know.

Planning for an Awesome 2013

For businesses with fiscal years that coincide with the calendar year, the slate of revenues and expenses will be wiped clean on New Year’s Day.  Starting with a clean slate gives us a chance to reflect on our 2012 results before we enter 2013 and experience the hope that comes with a new year.

Hindsight is always valuable, and we can learn important lessons from our past mistakes that we can now more objectively look back on.  We can take those lessons and incorporate them into our plans for the new year so that we can continue to learn, grow, and prosper.

To create your plans for an awesome 2013, here is a list of questions and documents to consider in your business.

Revenue Plan

We can make budgeting more fun by looking at the revenue side first.

  • Are you happy with your 2012 revenue levels?
  • What new product or service lines can you roll out in 2013?
  • Are there any product or service lines you should close in 2013?
  • Should you raise prices?

A revenue plan is useful because it can feed into your annual budget as well as drive your marketing plans.

Staffing Plan

Business is more fun when you have the right team to support your vision.

  • Is your current team sufficient to support your business goals for 2013?
  • In what areas do you need more help?  Should you hire or outsource?
  • Are there any team members that are not pulling their weight?
  • Was there a turnover that you would have rather not had?  How can you retain your best talent?

Master Budget

Your revenue plan and staffing plan can feed into your master budget, which can be loaded into your accounting system.  Tracking actuals against plan and prior year numbers will help you determine how you’re staying on track throughout the year.

Special Projects Plan

What special projects should you consider for 2013?  This might include a move, new fixed assets, or replacing systems and processes that you are outgrowing.

Disaster Recovery Plan

Each year, we watch the news and see people and businesses that were affected by extreme weather events, fires, theft, or other disaster.  Are you protected?

  • Is all of your data backed up to a remote location that is away from your local area?
  • Do you have the necessary insurance coverage for all areas of your business?
  • Are you comfortable with the risks you are taking in business and are you prepared for the worst-case consequences of those risks?  If not, take action to reduce your risks.

Planning for Awesome

Planning helps you become more successful, and it reduces the risks of doing business.  There are many more types of plans, and it’s up to you to decide which ones will benefit your business.  If we can help out in any way, please reach out and give us a call.

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