Have you ever wondered why other companies outperform your firm in profitability and achieve a higher quality of work with a faster turnaround? The answer might be that they are more skilled at managing their time.

As we age, we go through different phases of life. While I call myself semi-retired, I have a number of projects that keep me busy most of the time. For example, I often have to create and deliver seminar outlines and seminar material to clients by a certain deadline. Many times, I have trouble meeting the deadline because of poor time management. Although I do not have employees working for me on a regular basis, I still interact with others daily by email and phone. At the end of a week, I often think, “Where did all the hours in the week go?”

Recently, I started making lists of tasks I need to work on and even set dates to meet certain goals. At the end of each week, I study my time report to see where I have spent my time. I have found that posting tasks and deadlines on a master calendar is a great help.

I also started keeping a list of time wasters-tasks that consume time that should instead be applied to more meaningful pursuits. The list goes something like this:
  • Too many trips to run errands that could be consolidated or even done by others
  • Following world events and news that I have no control over
  • Playing with high-tech tools, including the Internet
  • Not scheduling blocks of time to work on an item and finish it
  • Being interrupted by phone calls and text messages that interfere with completing work items
  • Reading a lot of junk mail that has no benefit to me
  • The inability to say “no” to items that are of no interest or benefit to me
  • The inability to stay focused on a long-term project
The second-to-last item is a tough one. For example, I often get requests to do land surveys for people. I am not currently in the survey business and do not want to compete with full-time survey companies, but it is difficult to tell some friends “no.” A friend of mine gave me a good solution to this problem; he just tells people he doesn’t have any survey caps, so he can’t survey because it is required by law that he set caps on survey corners.

While these are my problems, I don’t think they’re unique. Whether you’re a business owner or an employee, it can be easy to fall into the trap where there is “never enough time.”

Here are eight tips that you might be able to apply to your personal life and business to gain more time:

1. Economize errands. With the high cost of vehicles and increasing cost of gasoline, consider posting a sign-up sheet for employees who need to run errands so that trips can be consolidated. Rather than having people run to the courthouse whenever a deed is needed, try to access the data online or call the courthouse staff to have them email a copy. Even if they charge a fee, it may be cheaper than sending an employee who could be working on other tasks.

2. Chill the chit-chat. In many companies, way too much time is spent talking sports, politics and world events. As owner or manager, don’t be afraid to speak up to employees abusing break time limits or their lunch hour. The companies that are profitable require their employees to work hard or be replaced.

3. Curtail email.I recently read that most employees spend two hours or more each day answering emails. In the surveying profession, our profit margins will not support this kind of activity. Email is an important business tool, but make sure it is being used properly.

4. Prioritize online protection. Make sure all computers with Internet access are protected with up-to-date antispyware and antivirus software, change your passwords frequently, and take other appropriate steps to ensure the security of your personal data. I recently had my email address book raided, and the hackers sent out an advertisement for weight loss products to more than 600 people using my email address. Responding to an attack takes time. Protect your data and survey products by using a firewall or separating them from computers with Internet access.

5. Cut the calls. More and more businesses are not allowing personal cell phone calls during working hours. Text messages are a little harder to control. And in some cases, texting can actually be a good thing. For example, text messages are an excellent tool to keep in contact with the office when traveling. Texting charges from a foreign country are a fraction of the cost of a phone call.

6. Delegate mail duties.When the mail is delivered, have a designated employee sort through it and dispose of junk mail. As the owner or manager, make sure it doesn’t get delivered to your desk; it can take your focus away from more important items that need to be addressed.

7. Say “no” more often.Don’t be afraid to turn down requests that are not in the best interest of your company, like calls looking for donations. The best way to handle this is ask them to send information and say that the company will consider the request at the next end-of-the-year meeting. This is a skill you learn over time.

8. Sharpen your focus.The use of lists and schedules can help keep everything on track. Make sure you share these tools with employees. People tend work hardest when trying to meet a deadline; every survey project should have deadlines, including partial deliveries.