By Pamela Phillips
Winter is our busy season. We are still catching up from a burst of activity in Autumn as clients come back from their summer holidays with exciting plans for their businesses. We are also gearing up for the personal tax return filing deadline in January. On top of this, the festive season reduces our working days as well as adding to the list of extra things that need to be done personally to get ready for Christmas.
We see this with our clients too. Lack of time is what is most often cited as the reason why those ambitious summer plans haven’t materialised, why they are behind on their admin, and why they are working at weekends just to keep on top of their client commitments.
Balancing family and personal interests alongside work can be stressful, even more so when you own your own business. It can all be overwhelming and with so much competing for attention it is difficult to know where to start.
In this blog, I’ve included some of my favourite time management tools which can help free up your time. Good time management isn’t just good for you, it is good for your business too. Companies that identify where employees are spending time inefficiently and make changes to improve this can reduce their costs as well as making time to do those things that add value to the business.
I realise there is some irony in me using my Sunday morning to write a blog about time management which is why I’m personally interested in revisiting some of the techniques I write about here.
Eliminate, Automate, Delegate
“Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined” Timothy Ferris.
Start by identifying the low-value tasks you do and decide whether to eliminate, automate or delegate them. It is important to review them in that order so as to not end up just delegating low-value tasks that could actually be dropped.
You will find some things you do that can be stopped immediately with no negative effects, these are your “quick wins”. There will be other things that you will need to think through and plan for before turning them off.
Often the tasks that you will identify will be very small activities that in themselves don’t take long to do, minutes even, but when you add up the time they take over the course of a day, week or month it can amount to a lot.
We’ve recently done a comprehensive review of the processes for a client and one of the quick wins we found was around how they do their bookkeeping. They currently manually enter purchase invoice data line-by-line into Xero. This step is unnecessary as the information is readily available by opening the invoice which is attached to the transaction in Xero. They have a lot of purchase invoices so by eliminating this task they will save around 1 day of bookkeeping time a month.
For those tasks that you can’t eliminate, consider if you can automate them. Embedding technology in your business will help you streamline processes and ultimately save money and create more time.
I have a couple of simple examples of this, from the same client I mentioned earlier. Firstly to start using the automation features in Receipt Bank better so that minimal human intervention is needed for processing bills. Secondly, to use repeating invoices in Xero so that regular sales invoices are automatically created and sent, again with no human intervention.
In our own business, for example, we use a tool called goproposal to create proposals which, once approved by our client, automatically creates an invoice in Xero which then uses gocardless to automatically trigger a direct debit mandate.
Calendly is another tool we use to automate the process of setting up meetings and to save time going back and forth with clients to find a time that is mutually suitable.
Delegating can be difficult at first but it can increase effectiveness by up to 20% according to the Harvard Business Review article ‘Make Time for the Work that Matters’. Work can be delegated internally to more junior staff or it can be outsourced.
Delegating work to more junior team members has the added bonus of being great training for them and also helps make your team feel more involved.
Returning to our client, the Managing Director was preparing detailed account performance reports each month to review alongside the account directors. The report was taking him 2 to 3 days to prepare before being reviewed with the account directors for just 30 minutes. By delegating the preparation of this report to the account directors and reducing its content to include just the key information, saves him 2 to 3 days.
Outsourcing is a great option when the work you are delegating is either low value or is not your skillset. Things to consider outsourcing include Virtual Assistants, Marketing, Bookkeeping and Accountancy, HR and Legal support.
As an example of where outsourcing can be beneficial,using the same client again, they currently have a very large number of employees and running the payroll is one of the main time drains for the finance function as it takes between 12 and 15 days a month to complete. As payroll process and systems experts, we are able to step in and advise on and implement a new payroll process and system that integrates with Xero that will save an estimated 10 to 12 days per month.
Deciding on what you will and won’t do is really important to help prioritise. Make time for the work that matters and either eliminate, automate or delegate the rest. A great tool to help with this is the Urgent-Important Matrix.
Start by drawing a 4 box grid with Urgent / Less urgent across the top and Important / Less Important down the side. Once you have done this, allocate your tasks to a particular box in the grid. Tasks can then be then prioritised like this:
Urgent and Important: Do these tasks first
Urgent and Less Important: Delegate
Less Urgent and Important: Make a plan to do this work
Less Urgent and Less Important: Eliminate this task and stop doing it!
Don't aim for perfection!
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook uses the phrase “Done is better than perfect”.
Spending time on something doesn’t always make it better. Chances are that you made the choice to run your own business because you are very good at what you do and take pride in delivering a high-quality product or service. It is very tempting to spend time perfecting work that would have had the same impact without the extra hours of tweaking (and I am trying hard to resist this urge myself as I write this blog).
According to the Pareto principle, 80% of the value comes from 20% of the effort, basically meaning that perfecting your work generally returns small value. This is not to say that you should never perfect your work, but you only should where it will make a big impact.
The big reason that you should not aim for perfection is that by choosing to spend extra time on one task you are choosing not to spend time on other tasks.
Time is your scarcest resource
By consciously thinking about how you spend your time you can not only reduce your involvement in low-value tasks but also free yourself up to focus on more worthwhile ones.
Consider how you allocate your time and effort, and give it all to the important work and don’t be a perfectionist about the rest!
If you would like to understand more about how we can help take your business to the next level, get in touch with our Xero accountants in Epsom today. We are happy to explain how we work with businesses using our proven processes and experience to ensure they are growing profitably. We would love to have you on board with us!