Digital Library > Building and Inspiring an Organization > Time management"Time Bandits"

Learn to catch those pesky productivity culprits that steal your day.

The trickiest part of time management is capturing time bandits — the productivity killers that, if left undetected, can run off with your efficiency. You may not realize how aspects of your daily routine — from holding staff meetings to scheduling business lunches — can rob you of your ability to do more in less time.

Once you surpass 70- or 80-hour workweeks, there's no direct link between the number of hours you work and your effectiveness as a leader. You must ruthlessly apportion your time to focus on issues that drive your company's growth.

That means setting priorities — and following through — so you don't become a victim of time thieves.

Act, don't react

The top time bandit is reacting to events rather than deciding at the outset how to produce the greatest payoff for your effort. Assess your choices for where you should channel your energy and attention — and rank them in order of importance.

"I'm running scenarios all day where I ask myself, 'What will be the end result of this?'" says Wendy Wahl, co-founder of TraceDetect, a Seattle-based technology firm. "I'm always facing multiple demands on my time so I'll think, 'OK, I have to do the following things. Of those, what's a we-can't-live-without?'"

Acknowledge those high-priority tasks that you dread. If you don't want to confront something that's urgent but unpleasant, such as terminating an employee, you might squander time on lower-grade activities that make only a negligible impact on your business.

Time bandits are more prone to strike if you lack discipline. You place yourself at greatest risk for wasted time if you tend to put out fires all day without reserving time to plan or implement preventive measures.

For example, if you habitually convene overly long "emergency" meetings or rush to a series of hastily arranged off-site appointments that require extensive travel time, you may end the day without accomplishing what mattered most.

Set the direction

As leader of a fast-growing business, you must set the direction for your employees. You and your management team need to identify what your staff members should work on and then communicate this vision with clarity and force.

Yet many hands-on business owners get locked into a timerobbing routine where they lose control over their day. They not only define what their employees should do, but how they should do it. The result? Their best-laid plans become bogged down in minutiae.

It's easy to understand why this happens. Entrepreneurs started out doing everything themselves. It's only with the rapid growth of their firms that they begin to realize they must pull back and delegate to employees.

Beyond lack of delegation, sloppy decision-making can steal your time. When you face a hard decision, think of two words: outcome and timing. Identify your desired outcome — the result you want to achieve — and your reasons for choosing to confront this decision at this time. In some cases, you can save time by postponing a decision rather than forcing yourself to make it immediately, especially if future events or additional fact gathering can help you plot the best course of action.

Writer: Morey Stettner, a management writer and trainer in Portsmouth, N.H., is author of "Skills for New Managers" (McGraw-Hill, 2000). stettner7@bigzoo.netGreat Ideas: Productivity Boosters

Making lunches pay off

Craig Caryl runs T-Bone Films, a film-production company in Santa Monica, Calif., which he co-founded in 1994. Sales doubled every year through 1999, and the firm continues to thrive.

One of Caryl's biggest time bandits revolves around lunch. Even though "everyone in Hollywood loves to do lunch," Caryl takes a cold, hard look at his return on investment when dining out with industry people.

"I manage time by comparing how much of it will be used to do something and how much money I'll make as a result," he explains. "With lunches, I can spend 45 minutes to get there, 90 minutes there and 45 minutes to get back. And nothing usually comes out of it."

The solution? Caryl invites studio executives to his office for a more structured meeting: "In an office setting, we can get to the point immediately, and there's less kibitzing that way."

Caryl applies the same focus to managing his employees. He realizes that part of his job is to listen to their personal problems, but he can only spare a limited amount of time to hear about their travails. "I'm always willing to listen to employees and be there for them," he says. "But I tell them to come to me with solutions — not just problems. Otherwise, it can take a lot of time without getting anything accomplished."

Control tech tools so they don't control you

R. Charles Murray knows the No. 1 time bandit is also the No. 1 timesaver: technology.

Murray, CEO of PPI Technologies Inc. in Sarasota, Fla., has led the company to an average annual growth rate of 25% and $15 million in revenues last year.

"All the electronic aids we use — from the Internet to cell phones — must be managed correctly if you're going to control your day," he says. "Otherwise, they can become a nightmare in terms of sapping your time."

To manage his incoming e-mail, Murray sets aside three specific times each day: 7:30 a.m., noon and 4:30 p.m. That saves 10% to 15% of the time he used to spend checking and responding to e-mail throughout the day.

He also keeps his cell phone activated so customers can reach him "round the clock" and tells them to treat the cell phone as his primary line. "That way, there's no backlog of cell-phone calls to return," says Murray. "I don't even give out my land line to customers."

Divide, conquer and thrive

Rick Kohen admits that his tendency to micromanage employees robs him of precious time. So he applies the "divide and conquer" method to delegate tasks.

"If I give someone an assignment, I don't want to re-supervise that employee and look over their shoulder the whole time," says Kohen, co-founder of Connections Ticket Service Inc. in Whitefish Bay, Wis. "I'm learning to be satisfied with an employee's performance, even if I'd do things differently."

Launched in 1996, Kohen's company now exceeds $3 million in annual sales. To save time, Kohen reserves one hour a week to meet with key employees to discuss specific business issues. For example, every Friday he confers with his assistant for an hour to review requests from charities for ticket donations.

"My assistant organizes all incoming requests," he says. "Thanks to her ability to prepare everything so well, we can sift through 20 or more requests quickly. She condenses 20 hours of work into one hour for me!"

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Articles in our Entrepreneur’s Resource Center appeared in print and online newsletters published previously by the foundation. More than 1,000 articles can be found in the categories below, addressing timeless challenges faced by entrepreneurs of all types.