Top five tips for effective time management

Don't be a busy fool – make sure you and your business are performing efficiently, urges David Lewis. 


Don’t be a busy fool – make sure you and your business are performing efficiently, urges David Lewis. 

‘Are you busy making money or are you just a busy fool?’ This was a question a business mentor once asked me and it has changed the way I have done business ever since. As a business that has been around for over 40 years, LEWIS has often fought with accurately defining profit, capacity, forecasts and estimating. Every business wants to perform as efficiently as possible, but how can you avoid the projects that aren’t profitable, and make the most of those that are? Here are my five top tips to help you manage your time as effectively as possible.

Get the whole team involved in planning

As a business owner, it’s easy to feel as though every aspect of planning falls on your shoulders. However, if you involve the whole team in the planning process, it not only alleviates your own workload but can also be a great motivator for staff.

Let each team member take ownership over their role in any given project. Don’t feel restricted to certain processes because ‘that’s the way they’ve always been done’. Allowing everyone to contribute towards planning, best practice and improving skills and communication creates a shared sense of accountability in making the project the best it can be.

Since implementing a project management tool across the whole office, the studio team has become much more engaged with the entire production process. By being more transparent about planning, resources and income, everyone has a greater sense of responsibility for ensuring that projects are completed efficiently and profitably.

Track your time

Seeing your time broken down into units of an hour, half an hour or even 15 minutes can really alter the way you look at a project and how you measure its value.

Since we began tracking the time we spend on client work, we’ve all become more aware that our time is a commodity. This is particularly relevant for businesses that sell their expertise through time, but every company can benefit from accurately tracking where their hours are going.

Doing so can highlight issues such as whether you need to spend less time on client work and more time on self promotion, or where you could be delegating to other members of your team.  

Simply being honest about where you spend your time stops you from falling into the trap of being a ‘busy fool’ and is the first step in transforming you into a lean, agile and profitable business.

Manage projects effectively

One of the best moves we ever made was to create a role for a dedicated production manager eight years ago. His role within our team is to work closely with the heads of each department to ensure that the right people are allocated to each project and that the workload is shared fairly across the studio.

Whilst this may not be possible in every business, there’s a lot to be said for creating a long and short term plan of your workload. This is an easy way to see at a glance whether you have enough resource across each area to keep up with demand and deliver to deadlines.

If financially it’s not possible to employ someone as a project manager, there are tools out there that can save the day. Back in 2012, we started using a new project management tool that has completely revolutionised how we do business by allowing us to measure exactly what success is.

Previously, all of our project and account management as well as our finance processes were handled using Excel spreadsheets. It was labour-intensive, often inaccurate, and offered no reliable way of tracking how effectively we were working.

We’ve since boosted our business capacity to an average of 62 per cent against a 47 per cent level in 2013/14 and we now have a transparent record of our business actions, which is measured and adjusted daily.

Tools like these offer you the opportunity to balance creativity with financial astuteness, without having to dedicate hours to poring over spreadsheets and figures. It’s a considerable investment, but one that we’ve seen a major return on: our turnover has increased by around twenty percent year on year.

Assess which projects make you money (and those that don’t)

This sounds obvious, but many businesses continue to take on projects that simply aren’t profitable. As a small business owner it’s easy to feel as though you need to be grateful for every bit of business that comes your way, but this doesn’t mean that you should say yes to everything.

It’s important to have a way of tracking whether your projects are profitable. However, it can be misleading to look at each project on an individual basis as just because it wasn’t profitable first time around doesn’t mean that a similar project won’t be in future. Often projects can be influenced by one-off factors; addressing a skills gap, staff illness, changes in the brief, so it’s advisable to look at projects and assess them like for like with similar ones across a set timescale. This allows you to take a holistic view on profitability and make decisions based on that.

Identify gaps and fill them

No matter how hard you try to get adopt best practices, streamline workflow and implement the right systems, nothing will improve efficiency as much as identifying gaps in your company skillset and tackling them.

Whether you need to offer training to existing staff, look at freelance support or hire people to bridge the gaps, the investment will be worth it long term. As an agency we spend a lot of time analysing what our clients need from us as a business and trying to pro-actively address our resource capabilities.

David Lewis is managing director of design and digital agency LEWIS

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