14 Jun 2016
Why business owners should go back to school to help manage their time!
Written by Doug D'Aubrey

School may be a distant memory to some of us, but it might be worth recalling one aspect of your school days for a moment, to see if it can help you in your business.

I’m not talking about what you studied here, but how you studied…

Have you ever considered what a momentous task it is to get thousands of children through the school system, teaching them everything they need to know on the set curriculum of the day, sticking fastidiously to the same working hours each week?

When you stop and think about it, you realise how crucial timetabling is to a school’s success – and this is where we should take a leaf from the school book!

We may call it scheduling in the workplace, rather than timetabling, but it amounts to the same thing. If you have a lot of work to get through, setting out a regimented timetable and following it to the letter really can help you manage your time effectively.

More importantly, it can give you that all important start and end time to your working day, keeping you productive when you need to be so you can stop and enjoy home time when you want to!

Here are my ideas on how you can adapt the school timetabling system to help manage your workload and time more efficiently in your business:

Physically draw out your timetable

Whether you do this on paper or online, make sure you have your working week represented in diary format, where you can mark up allocated chunks of time to specific jobs. Having something visible is essential to make this work, don’t just vaguely set times in your head. You might need to work a timetable over a fortnight, or month, to fit everything in. Think about how this can work best for your workload.

List the different aspects of your work

I don’t mean the smaller daily and weekly tasks here. Think about this like writing a job description for everything you have to cover in your working month. It may include things like administration, accounts, operational duties, client meetings, sales activity, marketing etc. Try and keep it as generic as possible, so you can work your timetable into a recurring pattern.

Allocate times to your listed jobs

As accurately as you can, allocate time-spans to this list of jobs. You may know, for example, that you are currently spending your first hour every day on administration – checking and responding to emails, tying up paperwork etc. – so, allocate 5 hours per week to administration. You may set yourself the target of spending two hours per week on sales calls – so write this down under sales activity. This is a fantastic way to also see if your job list is achievable! If your tasks add up to a 60 hour working week, for example, more needs addressing than scheduling your time.

Think about working productively and efficiently

Before you start marking up your timetable, look at the list you’ve made and evaluate the time you’re currently spending on certain activities. See if you can streamline any of your tasks. The idea of this exercise is not to document how you do things now, but to work it to your advantage so you can be more productive and effective. Perhaps, for example, you might get more done in a day if you didn’t spend your first hour on administration. Setting aside a 3-hour block at the beginning or end of the week to focus on administrative tasks, so that the remainder of your week can be free for other work activity, might be more advantageous.

Chunk your time

After evaluating and amending your job list, start to fill in your timetable by chunking time slots for specific tasks. Start with repeating tasks that you know have to be completed by a specific time – like month end accounts. Block out the time on your schedule when this needs to be done. Work your way down your list. If you know you always have a certain amount of client meetings each week, set aside Tuesday and Thursday afternoons for meetings etc.

Don’t let others dictate your timetable!

Once you’ve drawn up your timetable – stick to it! One of the biggest mistakes businesses make is, they let others dictate their timetable. Change your mindset! Don’t ask what availability your client has for a meeting, tell them ‘I’m available Tuesday afternoon or Thursday afternoon for a meeting’. Next time a client calls to ask for a job to be completed, tell them ‘I can set aside Wednesday morning to complete this for you’. Time management is often about managing expectations, so you’re not setting yourself unrealistic deadlines then burning the midnight oil trying to reach them.

It may seem simplistic, but it’s a proven, successful model. Schools offer us the perfect operational example! Try it for a month and see if the timetable can work for you.

Timetabling is one of the exercises I often do with my clients to help them define their working week, allocate time to jobs and schedule their workload more effectively. If you would like advice or support on helping you manage time within your business, give ETC a call on 01384 355 444.