asianefficiency.com http://www.asianefficiency.com/case-studies/time-management-case-study-busy- business-people/Time Management Case Study: Busy Business Peopleby Aaron Lynn · 2 commentsA really common question that all productivity consultants get, is “well, that sounds great in theory… andit would probably work if I didn’t have all these other things to do… but Jim/John/Mary/Sarah, I have abusiness to run – I don’t have time for all this. What can you do for me?” This time management casestudy addresses that very question: how do you increase the productivity and efficiency of busybusiness people – without creating major disruptions throughout their business?This case study is a little different in that it’s not about a specific person (company in this case), but isbased on a presentation that was given to a small business in a non-Internet/non-tech service industry.They have about 25 employees distributed across 4 cities and as far as I know, no-one in the companyis a productivity nerd.We won’t be looking at specific strengths and weaknesses within that company, but rather, productivityconcepts and applications that can be applied across all small businesses, with minimal fuss anddisruption. These concepts are targeted mainly at a business’ founders or partners, but we’ll discusshow to implement them across the entire employee base as well.Principles of Productivity
The general principles of productivity are the same, whether applied to an individual or a company.Here are the important ones for a busy business person.Touch it OnceThe touch it once concept is the notion that each piece of paper, each activity, email or task should onlyhave to be handled once. Realistically, twice if you have to assign it to someone or if you need to file itfor actioning later. But the concept still holds. And the simplest application is this: avoid filing things “forlater” into an overflowing physical in-tray. Deal with them as they arise, and either: 1. Do it. 2. File it away for actioning at a specific time. 3. Delegate them to someone on the team.No Meetings, Only WorkshopsDon’t hold meetings. Meetings are the biggest time wasters in the business world. The allure of ameeting is that it feels like you’re getting work done… when really, it’s just a big session of mentalmasturbation. You discuss ideas, draw pretty flowcharts… and walk away with everyone “informed” andsome “meeting minutes” that no one ever looks at again.Instead, hold workshops. Workshops are essentially super-powered meetings. They start on time. Theyhave a specific purpose in mind (“create a solution for claiming unpaid invoices”), and they have a timelimit. It’s fine if the solution isn’t completed by the end time. You can always schedule another workshop.If you absolutely must have traditional-style meetings, borrow a page from military field command – holdthem standing up. You’ll waste a lot less time.No MultitaskingThis should be obvious but business people ignore this principle all the time. Multitasking is doing twoor more things at once, or within close chronological proximity (i.e., within a few minutes of each other).A really common example is typing a document, chatting with a team member over Skype, and thenanswering the phone when it rings. Or compiling a spreadsheet, then stopping when someone appears
at your office door.Killing multitasking completely will yield unheard-of productivity increases everywhere. Even in abusiness where you have walk-in clients, as a director/partner/founder, you have the luxury of having areceptionist asking people to wait. It makes your time seem more valuable (because it is), and it allowsyou to take what you’re currently working on, tidy it up so that you can easily restart it at a later time, andthen talk to the client.Eat That FrogAE Thanh has the authoritative article about this. The short version: do your most important task first,especially if it’s the one you really don’t want to do. This could be accounting, this could be reviewinglegal papers, it could be firing that one employee who’s causing trouble. Do it first, and the rest of yourday/week/month will be much better. See more in the section on rituals and health below.Uptime, Downtime, Full EngagementWhen you’re at work, you’re in uptime. You are fully engaged in what you are doing. With theexception of real-life emergencies, you do not break this state. You keep at it, and you keep onworking.When you’re off work, you’re in downtime (normally). Do your best not to think about work, or to takework calls. Really try to engage in your time off – it’s recharging your concentration and motivation andself-control levels, which you’ll need at optimum for when you’re back in the office.No News MediaThis is a pet peeve of mine. I hate – absolutely hate – when people forward non-work-related emailsto my work address. Like pictures of the royal wedding. Like pictures of cute kittens. Like pictures of(insert today’s internet meme here). Your work time is your work time – it’s not time to be reading thepaper, Cosmo/GQ or looking at YouTube videos. That’s all for downtime (and even then, I wouldsuggest minimizing the presence of news media in your personal life too).You should be able to work out the exceptions – like if you’re in publishing, you have to read certainperiodicals and blogs. Business people should also read their industry’s trade periodical.Create Future BusinessDan Kennedy calls this “priming the pump”. I prefer the term “future business”. It’s essentially a way toset yourself up for future success. Every day (and I do mean every day), do something extra that couldresult in future business. Whether it’s emailing a client to see how they’re doing, whether it’s posting ashort blog entry to the company website, whether it’s giving a pep talk to a discouraged team member– give away something of value that can result in future business (and profits).Health and Fitness
If there’s one thing that will increase the productivity levels across your entire business, it’s the healthand fitness of your team members.Simply put: Happy + healthy team members = productive team membersAs a business owner, you must lead by example. This doesn’t have to be complicated – some exerciseor physical activity suited to your age and physical condition, a proper diet and some rituals to put it alltogether.Think of other high-performance organizations, like sports teams or the military. They spend most oftheir time training and practicing for a game or operation. In the business world, you have to do thesame – the game or mission is your work, that is when you perform. And one of the largest factors forsuccess is your health and fitness.Also, remember to get at least 6 hours of sleep a day. Preferably 8.RitualsTwo rituals are extremely useful for businesspeople.The first is your morning ritual on days where you work. You should include the basics upon waking up: 1. 500ml of water. 2. Hygiene/make yourself presentable. 3. Some movement to get the blood flowing. 4. Personal email/Facebook if you must. It is better to defer these to the end of the day. 5. A proper breakfast. Coffee and a bagel as you walk into the office is not breakfast.
6. Once at the office, look at your plan for the day, make changes if necessary and then start with your most important task.The second is what you do before you leave the office – you want to clear to neutral. Essentially, youwant to review what you completed during the day, plan what you’re going to do the next day, and layout all the materials and resources that you will need for a running start the next morning.Email ManagementWe’ve written extensively about email management before, but here’s a slight twist on the standard AEemail management system that works better for busy business people who get a lot of email, and whouse email to manage their team on a daily basis.In general: Separate personal and business email accounts. This should be obvious. Check email twice a day – once at noon, and once before you finish up for the day. If you don’t think this is enough, put in 2 more checks at even intervals (for example, 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm). Don’t leave Outlook/Mail open during the day. Close it when you’re not using it. Turn off any new mail notifications or reminders. Any incoming email should either: 1. Be replied to or actioned if it will take less than 5 minutes. 2. Filed if it doesn’t require actioning or follow up. 3. Left in the inbox for later, if it involves someone having to get back to you on something, or if it’s something that will take more than 5 minutes to action.The reason that this system deviates from the standard AE email management methodology is that alot of businesses still use old POP3 servers, which makes storing items in separate folders inefficient.I’ve also found that teaching the concept of Inbox Zero to business people a large exercise in futility –most are in the mentality that the Inbox is a holding box for things that need to be worked on.Instant Messaging
If you use IM (Skype, MSN, AIM) to communicate with your team, create a separate account where thecontact list is only your team. You can leave the application running, but set it to NOT notify you whenyou have an incoming message. This is usually the Do Not Disturb or Busy status.Treat IM like email – deal with it in batches, at specific times.The PhonePut your cell phone/mobile on silent, but within visual range.Never take phone calls immediately – train a receptionist to take messages, and set aside time toreturn calls in batches.Door PolicyThere is to be no open door policy. People who want to see you should make an appointment,including your own team. There is nothing worse than trying to solve the crisis-of-the-day than trying tosolve the crisis-of-the-day while being constantly interrupted by employees wandering in to askquestions that they could look up on Google.The only time anyone should interrupt you is in an emergency – if the building’s on fire, and even then,only if you need to evacuate.Getting Work DoneIn concert with the closed door policy, create your own interruption-free time by usingtimeblocks/timeboxes. This is essentially an appointment you make with yourself, where you work onone specific task or project.The pomodoro technique is perfect to use in concert with timeboxes.
The pomodoro technique is perfect to use in concert with timeboxes.Set it for a 50 minute work period with a 10 minute break, where youphysically get out of your computer and move around. Whether it’swandering over to the kitchen to get some water, or poppingdownstairs for some fresh air, you must leave your desk during thebreak. This is what a timebox looks like.Task ManagementIf you are super motivated to improve your productivity, take a look at our OmniFocus series.For everyone else, I would suggest that the simpler the better. The AE primer on Simple TaskManagement is ideal.What you do is create a simple task list on paper or in a Word document, which then carries forwardday-to-day.From this list, pick the 3 most important things for the day, do a quick analysis of which is apriority, and do that first. At the end of the day, carry all remaining tasks to the next day. Any informationor notes should be at the bottom of the list.An adjunct to this is to use the task functionality in Outlook, or in iCal. Both are super simple taskmanagers that can work very well for busy business people. If you’re going to use either of theseprograms, having a legal pad or notebook nearby to store information is also a good idea.TechnologyDecisions in the company that involve technology or computers should be made on the basis not of“what is the latest and coolest”, but on the basis of “what makes work easier”. When you are makingarchitecture or buying decisions, think “developing world”: what is the simplest and cheapest solutionthat works. As an example, yes, online storage and redundant RAID arrays are nice and fancy, but a$100 USB hard disk works just as well for file backups.Some advice from my mentor Jim: If it costs you less than $500 and makes you more productive, buy it.Business SystemsEvery successful business owner knowsthat the long-term profitability of theirbusiness lies in systems. Systems arewhere you meld habits, people, technology
and processes together to create a profit-making machine.You should be constantly investing insystems that let you and your team workfaster, better and more efficiently. Note: if you are a business owner or starting a new business, we have something super cool for you. Just email either of us introducing yourself (a simple hi will do) and we’ll talk.ImplementationEverything that you’ve read in this case study is not hard to implement. The hardest will be theprinciples and mindsets at the beginning. Everything else, is something you can use right away – howyou handle your email, turning off your IM client during the day, timeboxing your day.The thing about habits is the more you do them, the easier they become. It will be difficult at first, but thepayoff from implementing more efficient practices is far greater in the mid-to-long term.These are things that can be taught to employees and team members too. The best way of teaching isthrough leading by example – show them how you are effective, and they will naturally follow.Most business owners I know are already quite determined and disciplined – they know the value ofputting in the hours and work. That’s all you need to implement this.Photos by: Dan Zen, mikebaird, zieak, dsix, valeyoshino, Alex E. PoimosYou might also like: 1. Time Management Case Study: Michael 2. Time Management Case Study: Florian 3. Time Management Case Study: James 4. Time Management Case Study: Tetsuo 5. Time Management Case Study: Daniel