Talking Business

Marvin Carolina Jr.: Where do you spend your time?

As a small-business owner, you know this all too well: Everyone wants your time. An unhappy customer wants to tell you one of your employees was rude, an advertising representative wants to know whether you’re interested in advertising in their magazine, a supplier wants to explain why your order will be a week late, the repairman wants your authorization so he can order the part your copier needs, and your weekly meeting is about to start.

It’s no surprise, then, successful small-business owners manage their time well. With so many tasks and people and events competing for your time, as a small-business owner, you must manage your time well and spend time in every area of your business.

Move around

From talking to small-business owners across the country, I’ve noticed most of them spend most of their time on tasks they’re comfortable performing. This isn’t surprising — we prefer doing what we do well — but it presents a problem: We neglect a lot of important tasks.

If you have an accounting background, for example, you’re comfortable with numbers, so you probably spend too much time on accounting and finance and too little time on everything else. Don’t confine yourself to one or two areas. If you do, the neglected areas will suffer.

Where does it go?

If there’s a recipe for success, there’s one for failure too, and one of failure’s ingredients has to be ignoring areas of your business. Even a small business has lots of areas:

  • Accounting
  • Advertising
  • Customer service
  • Finance
  • Human resources
  • Marketing
  • Operations
  • Quality control
  • Research and development
  • Sales

If you want your small business to be as effective and efficient as possible — realizing its potential — you have to spend time in each area, even if you have employees managing these areas.

It starts here

I plan my week on Sunday, and I decide what my goals are for the week. If something unexpected happens and it’s not an emergency and not in line with my goals, I put it aside. I also spend 30 minutes each morning planning my day.

Planning gives you an opportunity to look things over, anticipate problems and find solutions. You troubleshoot better when you do it ahead of time, free from distractions.

What’s important?

With so much to do, you have to make the right decisions. If your business has 10 areas, for example, and each area has three tasks that need to be completed, you have 30 tasks. How do you decide which to work on first?

If you’ve planned, you know what you want to accomplish, so focus on the tasks that will help you achieve that day’s goal. Tasks in line with your goal that need to be completed immediately are high priority while those not in line with your goal and that do not need to be completed immediately are low-priority. It sounds simple and it is, but it’s easy to waste time by getting sidetracked with low-priority tasks such as reading emails.

Don’t overdo it

When I talk to small-business owners who boast about working 60- and 70-hour weeks, I always wonder how much of that time is productive. If you work long hours, consider this: You can spend too much time at work. According to the Law of Diminishing Returns, after you’ve worked a certain number of hours, your quality and productivity diminish. So work eight hours — when you’re fresh, focused, and productive — and go home.

In addition, don’t underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep. You may think you can get by on five hours, but sleep experts disagree: They recommend adults get at least seven hours of sleep. You may turn to coffee for an energy boost, but the experts say caffeine keeps you alert only for a short time. And they add it’s a poor substitute for sleep.

Get with the times!

Few things frustrate me more than hearing small-business owners say they don’t have time to learn how to use technology. Perhaps they fail to realize technology is designed to help them save time, making them more efficient.

If you want to know where you’re spending your time — and you should — there are applications that will show you. RescueTime is free (its premium package is $9 a month) and shows, in percentages, what tasks you spent your time on. RescueTime isn’t the only time-measuring application: ManicTime, Paymo, Project Hamster and Toggl are also popular.

Do not disturb

Since everyone wants your time, you’re going to have interruptions, so schedule time for them. Though some are urgent, some can wait. If you have an open-door policy — and you should — set aside blocks of time to be available, so when employees knock on your door, they won’t be interrupting you. I also suggest setting aside blocks of time to respond to emails and messages.

I can’t emphasize this enough: Spend time in every area of your business. What you accomplish each day and each week is obviously important, but what you fail to accomplish is equally important, so don’t avoid uncomfortable tasks. An uncompleted task becomes a problem, and an unsolved problem might become a crisis. And some crises can’t be fixed.

Marvin Carolina Jr. is a Vice President for JE Dunn Construction. He can be reached at