Small business advice: How undervaluing your time can undermine your company

In the delivery business, you don’t want your drivers trying to complete their last handful of deliveries with the gas tank on empty. The last thing your company needs is for a truckload of flowers or a catered banquet to end up stranded on the side of the road.

Nevertheless, many business owners take a “running-on-empty” approach when it comes to time management, both with themselves and with their employees. Often, we fall into the mindset that staying productive means staying busy, but this denies business owners an opportunity to refuel mentally.

Doing the maximum amount of work with the smallest number of people in the shortest amount of time may be rewarded in the corporate world, but you don’t necessarily achieve this by cramming every second full of work. Instead, real productivity comes from leaving a little white space in your day.

You are not the Energizer Bunny

The problem lies in a failure to understand how much your time is worth. Business owners often know the dollar value of their employees’ time, but they devalue their own time. You need to identify what I call your “highest and best” use by carefully evaluating what it is that you, and only you, can do for the business.

Achieving your “highest and best” means you are effective, engaged, and fulfilled with the work you’re doing. The work you perform is a unique contribution — meaning only you can do it — and it’s work you find purpose in.

On the other hand, when work can be done by anyone and isn’t compelling, you’re headed for the “demoralized zone.” You find yourself there when you’re working like a maniac but spending your time doing reptitive busywork.

Learn how to manage yourself

You cannot manage time; you can only manage yourself, and most leaders fail to enforce their own good work habits. Here are several commonsense ways small business owners can achieve extreme effectiveness:

Delegate for results

If someone else can do it, pass it on so you can focus on other tasks. Employees are expensive, but they are not as costly to your business as lost revenue. Knowing how to delegate is just as important as knowing what and to whom to delegate.

To do this successfully, prepare, assign, confirm, avoid reverse delegation, and ensure accountability. Most managers only do one or two of the necessary steps when delegating, and they blame their employees when they’re not getting the expected results.

Eliminate time wasters

Being “busy” doesn’t always mean being effective. Figure out your time wasters and cut them out. This includes procrastination on social media, lack of focus when a task is difficult or unappealing, and not thinking things through. When we spend our time working effectively, our mindset and self-esteem are stronger.

Move beyond lazy thinking

I have coached many CEOs who gave orders and threw themselves into projects without first considering what exactly they wanted to accomplish. This approach consistently results in lost time, wasted effort, and, worse, missed opportunities.

When you are about to take action, it’s a simple yet challenging matter to think, focus and act. Too often in small companies, the reverse is happening, and the results can be disastrous.

Stop acting and start thinking

Thinking and focusing before you act on projects means actually taking the time to evaluate areas of your business where you waste your own and others’ mental energy. By making small changes in a few key areas, you can boost productivity and recharge:

1. Know yourself: Identify your highest and best use. For example, if you’re the primary source of generating revenue, make that your focus, and start slashing other time-sucking responsibilities off your to-do list.

2. Know your organization: Make a list of the responsibilities you can delegate, and note which employees have the skills and capacity to take on those tasks. Commit to making additional hires as needed to fill gaps.

3. Eliminate delay: I often see business owners who get flummoxed when they’re up against something scary. Too much delay leads to feeling overwhelmed, which freezes productivity. If you handle challenges with a courageous sense of healthy impatience, results move forward significantly.

4. Create space to think: It may seem impossible at first, but I counsel business owners to leave some “white space” in their day. This is unstructured time to let your mind wander and recharge. If you struggle with knowing when it’s time to take a break, make a daily appointment on your calendar and stick to it.

5. Be ruthless with chaos and clutter: These can be physical or mental. Create calm and order so you spend zero time on wasteful activities, like searching through your inbox to reference an email or finding a contract you need. Make a point to clear off your desk at the end of each day so you can start the next day without the clutter of yesterday’s mess.

Working until you are mentally and emotionally drained is counterproductive to business growth. A little “white space” is the key to refueling the mental tank and working smarter. If you learn to manage yourself better, your time and business will be more effective, and you will gain more enjoyment from the work you do.