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 his magazine. A 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, you must manage your time well.

Move around

I talk to small-business owners across the country, and I’ve noticed most of them spend most of their time on tasks they’re comfortable performing, which isn’t surprising. We like doing what we do well. This becomes a problem, though, when we neglect important tasks simply because we don’t like performing them.

If you have an accounting background and enjoy working with numbers, chances are you spend too much time on accounting and finance and too little time on everything else. Don’t confine yourself to one or two areas because if you do, the neglected areas of your business will suffer.

Where does it go?

There’s a recipe for success, and there’s one for failure too, and one of failure’s ingredients is ignoring areas of your business. Even if your business is small, it has lots of areas:

▪ Accounting

▪ Advertising

▪ Customer service

▪ Finance

▪ Human resources

▪ Marketing

▪ Operations

▪ Quality control

▪ Research and development

▪ Sales

If you want your business to be as effective and efficient as possible — meaning it will realize its potential — you have to spend time in each area, even if you have employees managing those areas.

It starts here

I don’t plan my week on Sunday. I plan it on Friday before I leave the office, when what I need to accomplish the next week is fresh on my mind. I also write my goals down. If something unexpected happens and it’s not an emergency and not in line with my goals, I put it aside. In addition, I spend 30 minutes each morning planning my coming day.

Planning gives you an opportunity to look things over, anticipate problems and find solutions if problems arise. You also troubleshoot better when you’re relaxed and free from distractions, and not in the midst of a crisis.

What’s important?

With so much to do, you have to focus on what’s most important. 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 you can 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; 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 get sidetracked with low-priority tasks such as answering e-mails.

Beware, though, of continually pushing low-priority tasks aside for new, high-priority tasks. They may never get done. Or, you may push them aside so long they become problems you can’t fix.

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 then 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 for only a short time. And that it’s a poor substitute for sleep.

Get with the times!

Few things frustrate me more than hearing a small-business owner 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 (though its premium package is $9 per month) and shows in percentages what tasks you spent your time on. ManicTime, Paymo, Project Hamster and Toggl are also popular time-measuring applications.

Do not disturb

You’re going to have interruptions, so schedule time for them. Have an open door policy, and set aside blocks of time to be available, so when employees knock on your door, they won’t be interrupting you. I also suggest the same for e-mails and messages. Rather than respond to them when they come in, which is throughout the day, set aside two or three blocks of time and respond to them then.


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 tasks merely because you don’t like performing them. An uncompleted task may become a problem, and an unsolved problem may become a crisis. If it becomes a crisis, you may not be able to fix it.

Marvin Carolina Jr. is a vice president for JE Dunn Construction. He can be reached at