….to free up time.

Here’s a common business catch-22: you know you could free up a whole lot of time, if only you could find the time to take action and implement some changes.  But you’re just too busy with day to day responsibilities.

We often see this at small and medium sized enterprises (“SME”), with improvements to business processes and technology to support and automate those processes. Perhaps you’re manually updating a group of Excel spreadsheets on a daily (or weekly) basis. You know that this could probably be automated, which would save you 7 or 8 hours a week, every week. But the time needed to identify and implement the necessary changes to process, and the relevant software, takes time that you currently just don’t have. So the status quo is maintained.

So how do you get out of this trap? The solution will differ from one company and person to another. Here are some ideas, all of which I have either personally used, or personally observed at (successful) customer implementations:

  • Make a written list of how your time is spent on a daily / weekly basis, and identify any areas which could either be suspended for a few weeks without causing too much harm, or delegated to a temporary hire for the duration of a business improvement project. (Interestingly, some activities, when written down, seem less important than when you’re actually doing them.)
  • Identify other individuals, either internal or external, who could spearhead the business improvement project on your behalf.
  • If your business is seasonal, plan in advance to focus on this project during the slower periods – if you’re prepared ahead of time, you’ll use the time more productively.
  • Enlist the help of your employees / peers / supervisor to work out the best time management strategy – they may be more objective than you can be about the relative importance of the things you do.

Whatever time you are able to set aside for a business improvement project will get gobbled up real fast. So to maximize the benefit and give yourself a real chance of success, you should establish the real, measurable improvements that you expect (or hope) to achieve.

Too Many Balls to Juggle

With limited time comes limited reach. The inertia that drags many business process and software implementation projects to a halt is often characterised by an unrealistic number of “requirements” or goals. For example, trying to match possible ERP software vendors with a list of 130 requirements may be quite workable if you are focused on this project full time, over an extended period of at least several months. However, the typical SME will never be in that position, and trying to “cover all the bases” almost always results in a project that never reaches a conclusion. There’s even a name for this condition – “analysis paralysis” – where you free up some time, spend it on detailed minutiae, and end up making no changes at all.

A better approach is to set a limited number of desired results that will provide the highest positive and measurable improvements. It’s better to focus on a project with the 4 or 5 main objectives that will provide the best return (biggest time savings) and just get it done, as opposed to trying for perfection and never getting to implementation.