Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Time: The Great Equalizer

April 9, 2008
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Time is the only resource you can’t buy more of.” This quote is attributed to Sam Walton, who when he died at the ripe old age of 72 was the richest man in the world. Sam very likely had more money than you or I, yet we all share one key number with the founder of Wal-Mart. I call it the magic number: 168. That is the number of hours available to each one of us every week. Each of us gets to choose how to invest, spend and/or waste those 168 hours.

These 168 hours have special meaning for you, since time is incredibly precious for an entrepreneur. In fact, if you are an owner-operator trying to build your business dynasty, every minute counts during your critical early years. After all, there is only one of you and those 168 hours – or 10,080 minutes – per week can sneakily slip through your fingers so very easily!

The biggest time challenge is what I call “Displacement Activities.” All of us, me included, have been and are guilty of this business sin. Invariably, there are some tasks in your company that are distasteful at best and others that you truly fear and loathe. You put them off, ignore them and even try to forget them…and yet that little voice called “your conscience” just keeps nagging away. So your subconscious mind, out of sheer desperation, invents a Displacement Activity, or DA, to allay your guilt over not following through on this unpleasant job.

Simply put, a DA is anything you insert into your schedule to put off doing something of greater value to your business. These DA errands/tasks/activities may very well be productive. But the subtle danger lies in what they allow you to postpone. Even worse, all too often DAs let you fool yourself into thinking your efforts are valuable to your business growth; nothing could be further from the truth.

For example, you know you should be calling those 60-days-and-over past due accounts. And yet, you dread the confrontational phone call (why is it we are afraid to get in people’s faces that owe us money?). So as you slowly trudge like a condemned man toward your office you suddenly note that your plant is disorganized and filthy. Whoa! This sad state of affairs is intolerable and cannot continue! So you grab a broom and start cleaning and organizing. Three hours later your shop is beautiful, you are filthy, tired and feel great and you still haven’t called those accounts! That’s right, you once again have fallen victim to a DA and by so doing have squandered your time.

Of course, in order for you to wisely invest time you must first decide what you wish to accomplish with your business (and your life). Yes, I know this is heavy stuff to meditate on. But if you can’t or won’t focus on your life goals, who will? Far too often I see honest and hard-working carpet cleaners become slaves to their business because they don’t have a clue what they want out of life. Remember this: the only reason your business exists is to help you achieve your life goals. Period. So today, tonight at the latest, sit down and reflect on your desires, ambitions and dreams. Then plan out how your business can help take you there (don’t forget to include your family in this goal-setting exercise.).

Now that your business is focused on supporting your life goals you can plan your time for maximum return on investment. Simply put, anything you can reasonably delegate off to someone else you probably should. Of course, the concept of delegation is in the eye of the beholder. Once, after I attempted to “delegate” an unpleasant task to a subordinate, she looked me square in the eye and asked, “Steve, are you ‘delegating authority’ here or just shirking your responsibility?” Ouch! That one hurt!

The best way to evaluate what to delegate (and avoid DAs) is by constantly asking yourself, “What is the ‘highest and best use’ of my time and effort in my business?” This is the same process we use when we make financial decisions. But for some reason we forget that our time is much more valuable than any amount of money; once our time is spent it is irretrievably gone forever! So here are some common DAs and possible solutions on avoiding them.

Production. There is nothing wrong with you actually cleaning carpets long-term if you don’t want to grow your company beyond owner-operator status (I just loved putting on a show for the customer as I cleaned their carpets!). However, remember that sooner or later that scrub wand just isn’t going to look quite as appealing as it did 20 or 30 years ago when you started your business! So if your goal is to “get off the truck,” remember that each minute you spend on the truck is actually just a well-compensated DA if you have a higher and better use of your time. For most small-business owners, the highest and best use is in two areas: personal sales calls and building systems in the business. Of course, in your start-up phase, at least some personal production time is inevitable. But try very hard to delegate…

Errands and shopping. I call this the minutiae of living; all the mundane and yet necessary parts of life. Everything from picking up the dry cleaning to buying groceries to a stop at your local carpet distributor – all needed and much of it enjoyable, especially if it serves as a DA to avoid a business task you don’t really want to do! Avoidance strategies: Delegate this stuff to other family members. Use the Internet (another potential DA!) to do more shopping online. Take advantage of local company’s delivery services. Many times the delivery is free and always better than you personally driving across town. And speaking of driving…

Drive time. When I poll cleaners on what chews up their time during a typical day, driving invariably comes in second right behind production. Obviously, time spent in transit is inevitable. But try to schedule your work geographically for maximum efficiency. If you are forced into a long commute listen to business books, magazines or business courses on CDs (local libraries usually have extensive collections of audio business books they lend out free of charge.) Then, if you find a book that you just have to own, go for it! But don’t stop by the bookstore. Instead, buy it on the…

Internet. Talk about a double-edged sword. Online ordering and the support/advice network of other cleaners on Internet discussion boards can be a huge help and save valuable time. Or you can find yourself frittering away days watching stupid YouTube videos and/or engaging in silly Bulletin Board bickering over who charges higher carpet cleaning prices (And let’s not even talk about the Internet porn out there!). Set firm Internet time limits for yourself, especially during “prime time” productive business hours. Remember even useful business tasks can serve as DAs …

“Organizing.” Another area with great potential for good or bad. Sure, it is great to have an organized workspace with everything neatly stacked, labeled, etc. But if the cash isn’t flowing or the checking account balance isn’t there to make payroll, your beautifully equipped truck and clean office won’t count for much! Once again, it comes down to priorities and immediate business needs, not your personal “wants.”

Family. Not all DAs are bad. For example, your family needs and deserves your time and attention. But especially if you work from home your close accessibility promotes easy nibbling away at your time. The welcomed “Hey, Dad, come look at this…” can easily lop off a half hour from your prime working hours. Even worse, it can be hard to transition back into the business function you were focused on. So encourage your family to share non-emergency issues with you after you “get off work.” (Of course, you need to be balanced and actually program in special time just for your family, instead of working 24-7).

Don’t forget that DAs serve a useful purpose. All of us need time to recharge our batteries. And if you can do something useful for your family or business while in this re-charge mode, so much the better. DAs can serve as useful personal motivators. Once you have completed a business chore you have been dreading, reward yourself with a fun DA! The danger enters in when you do not recognize DAs for what they are. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are contributing to the growth/profits of your company when in fact someone else could be performing this DA task.

So go ahead: program in your Displacement Activities. But realize they are just a time to recharge yourself physically and emotionally before you charge back into the fray of building a future for you and your family.

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