Jim Rohn said it best, “Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.”
Business owners know this fact very well. Sure, capital is a big enabler of growth but the reality is that time will always be the biggest limiting factor to growth. How many entrepreneurs out there have sat down at the end of a long day and thought, if I only had another 4 or 5 hours in a day I could get to all of the things I need to do in order to grow this business… I’d say most if not all.
One solution is simply to work more hours. Get up at 4 am and get a few hours of uninterrupted time to knock out tasks, work a long day, and maybe even work into the evenings. You could also add Saturday and Sunday to your work week and I’ve known many business owners that do exactly that. The main problem with this approach is that long days are not sustainable and burnout is inevitable. I would also argue that the frame of mind that results from long day after long day for weeks on end makes you so much less productive at times that it counteracts the extra hours you are investing in the first place.
The alternative to working ridiculous hours is to “Buy Back Your Time”.
As our businesses evolve and grow, we make decisions on how to allocate our most precious resource, our time. We determine what is most important, what is most necessary, and what drives the success of our business and we allocate our time accordingly. But the problem is, most owners don’t allocate 30% of their available time or even 70% of our available time, they allocate 100%. Many times they even do this to point of committing hours they don’t even have.
If you think about time allocation like drawing water from a well or withdrawing cash from your bank account, you would hopefully never withdraw every penny or empty every drop of water before considering how to replenish those resources. So why then do so many business owners allocate every available minute of their time right down to where they have no time left available before figuring out how to replenish this incredibly valuable resource? The short answer often is passion and drive. Most entrepreneurs are so passionate about their business and driven to make it successful that they lose sight of how their most valuable resource is being spent.
When we coach and advise our clients on how to “Buy Back” their time we start with a few key things:
Are they currently operating in a reactive or proactive mode? In general but also by specific tasks.
Which activities and tasks have the highest value to the business in terms of return on investment?
Which activities and tasks can be automated, delegated, or outsourced without sacrificing the quality of work or having a negative impact on other parts of the business?
When it comes to being proactive vs. reactive, this is a very common thing that we need to work to overcome as business owners. It is so easy to fall into the habit of just putting out fires or jumping from task to task as things appear on our radar that need addressing. The problem is that the longer you operate in that reactive mode, the harder it is to transition out of it to proactive. It’s like quicksand to your productivity. Being proactive means having a structured plan that is well thought out and continually tweaked and adjusted as things evolve and change with the business. It also means having the discipline to stick to the structured plan as much as possible.
As far as working on the highest value tasks and activities, that really boils down to going through each and every task and activity you are handling in a given day and starting to pare that down based on value. This is an exercise that you should be doing on a continual basis. In the early months and years as a startup, this should be something you are doing at least once a week. Basically it is creating and updating a list of each and every task and activity that makes up a given day. Apply a value to each based on how that item is directly related to revenue growth, increased profitability or improved efficiency. If you spend the time to be detailed enough with this process, you’ll soon find the items that don’t directly drive any of those three factors. Are those things necessary? Chances are that they are if you were doing them in the first place but is it necessary that they are done by you, chances are the answer to that is NO.
Now that we know that parts of our day that we need to pare down in order to buy back our precious time, we have to look at what can be automated, delegated or outsourced. We always have clients start with automation. If you can automate a process, task or activity successfully, you not only buy back time in your day but you probably end up with a much more consistent process than you had for that area in the first place and you’ve most likely eliminated human error and other failure points.
Things to consider when looking automation:
What is the cost / ROI involved? Not all automation makes financial sense and delegation or outsourcing may be a better option.
Will automating the process or task negatively impact other parts of the business or reduce the quality of the work to an unacceptable level? Not everything can or should be automated.
Is the task something that you enjoy doing?
Is it something that brings other value to the business and would you still be able to get that added value with an automated process?
If automation is not the best option but it is an item that you still need to move off your plate, delegation to other employees is a great option. However, for many "solopreneurs" and startup owners, there isn’t anyone else or the skillset needed is not a match. If that is the case delegation to a third party, outsourcing basically, can be a great approach.
The concept of “Virtual Assistants” continues to evolve and has become a very viable option. There are many sites out there that can connect you to resources and handle all of the payments, job scope, and agreements. A couple of keys to successfully utilizing virtual assistants are a very clearly defined scope and keep your expectations in check. Don’t expect miracles if you are looking for the lowest-cost labor. Our advice is to find someone in the middle of the price range that has a solid track record with reviews.
That last piece of advice when it comes to buying back your time is to always set aside 10-20% of your day as a buffer. I have seen over and over how that extra time carved out can be incredibly valuable. It also keeps you in a strategic mindset and a proactive mindset vs. tactical and reactive.