Despite all of mankind’s advancements we’ve still not found a way to add hours to the day, be two places at once, or stop time to get a few more things done. Most small business owners long for these breakthroughs. But as they don’t appear imminent, here are some non-science fiction approaches to lengthen your day. The trick is to work smarter, not harder.
We’ve written in the past about using a master schedule, but it bears repeating. A master schedule breaks each week into blocks of time dedicated to certain tasks—marketing, administrative work, time to see clients, etc. And also non-work blocks—time for family and friends, exercise, hobbies, errands and house cleaning, and so on. In short, each thing that needs room in your schedule is assigned a specific spot or spots.
The master schedule ensures pre-planned room for everything you need to get done or want to do. It takes the guesswork out of trying to juggle all the balls you’ve got in the air. Instead, you can concentrate on the one your schedule says to, setting the others down without worry. And for those of us with the procrastination gene, it means a structure for productivity.
Use do dates
Without a master schedule so many great ideas—marketing projects, new services, a nice handout on Busting the Dominance Myth—are wistfully pushed off to “someday, when I get a chance…” With a master schedule, you simply assign your great ideas to the next open marketing or project time slots in your calendar. These are do dates. So much more effective than traditional due dates, which cause stress as they approach and guilt as they pass, do dates allow you to get things done in the specific blocks of time assigned for them.
For example, we write dozens of articles a year for various journals, newsletters, and the like. If you were to look at our calendar you’d see the due dates in very small letters—almost not noticeable. But look a couple weeks ahead of each of those and you’ll find the do dates for each article in large type. Thursday mornings are writing time in our master schedule, so at the beginning of each year the needed Thursday mornings are blocked out to produce articles. We never have to worry about when they’re going to get done, or suddenly realize the day before that we’re up against a deadline.
Take time off
Seriously. Do it. You have to. We’re not made to run 24/7. There’s no such thing as a perpetual motion machine. We often ask, when lecturing to dog pros, for a show of hands from the audience—how many of you have two days off every or most weeks? It’s not uncommon to see five hands go up in a room of 200 or 300 people. Ask about one day a week and you may see a dozen or so arms raised. That’s not tenable, not sustainable, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
Part of using a master schedule is building in the downtime. The only way to get days off is to take them. Cross them out in your calendar and then don’t schedule over them. It’s easy to fill our lives to the point of overflowing. The only way to stop it is to call time-out. The earth will continue turning, we promise.
Creating a master schedule may force you to confront what you’ve long suspected—that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week to do everything you have on your plate. It’s time to make some choices. And they get made whether you make them deliberately or not. In our business coaching work, we’ve heard many dog trainers, dog walkers, dog daycare operators, and the like lament the lack of time for their own dogs, or for the exercise regime they promised themselves this year, or for more time with family—or just time to do nothing at all.
It’s often the most precious things that get cut when we try to stuff more into our lives than can actually fit. Taking a hard look at everything you do allows you to make conscious choices about what to set aside. There may not be anything you’re happy about letting go, but putting off the decision doesn’t mean it doesn’t get made. It means that more important things fall by the wayside. It means a lack of balance between work and home (some of us lean toward working too much, some of us toward not enough) and a path toward eventual burnout.
There are fewer hours in the day than we think, and fewer minutes in each hour. It’s like eating at a buffet and never failing to put far too much food on the plate. We think we can squeeze a bit more in, take on another project, say “yes” to one more request. And everything takes longer than it seems like it should. Part of successful scheduling is making peace with this. There really are only 60 minutes in an hour and they go by fast. There are only 24 hours in a day and we sleep and eat our way through quite a few of those. We might as well accept that everything will take longer than we think and plan accordingly.
At dogbiz we plan emergency and flex time into each day and week and project. We assume that things will come up, that clients and colleagues will make requests, that there will be unanticipated opportunities we’ll want to pursue, that our best-laid plans will occasionally have flaws. The extra time built into the schedule keeps everything on target when the unpredictable-but-inevitable shows up.
Start by building an overflow or catch-all block into your weekly master schedule. For example, a two-hour spot that you can toss any miscellaneous tasks into or use when something else goes over its allotted time. When you’re planning something larger, such as a new marketing project, give it several more blocks of time than you expect it to take. If you finish early you can move the next project up or even treat yourself to some extra time off.
And then practice saying “no.” Go back to the step where you set your priorities and check any new requests or opportunities against them. It’s hard sometimes. We think we should do things just because we could, because we’ve been asked. But is there truly room? Does it serve your central goals? Is it worth neglecting something else? If the answers are no, take a pass.
Schedule your clients
Don’t hand clients the keys to your business by asking questions like “When would be good for you?” when scheduling appointments. Remember that having a master schedule means having set times for everything. This includes client appointments. Choose the times that you will see clients, preferably keeping them the same each week and clustering them for efficiency. Then offer clients your open slots to choose from. (And watch those geographical boundaries—don’t lose time unnecessarily in the car.)
Stand firm when potential clients say none of your times work. Simply offer them what you have open the following week to give them more choices. Do not bend if they request a day or time that’s not on your master schedule. Tell them kindly and confidently, “I’m sorry; I don’t have appointments at that time. It looks like our schedules may just not be a match. I can offer you a referral to a colleague who may better be able to accommodate you.” (You can leave that last sentence out if there isn’t anyone you can refer to.) We’d be willing to bet (and we can back it up from years of experience coaching dog pros on this) that 9.9 times out of 10 they’ll suddenly find room in their schedules for one of your pre-set times. Confidence breeds confidence. When you don’t seem to need their business you’re suddenly that much more desirable. Professionals (think doctors, lawyers, etc.) don’t ask clients what days and times are good for them; they offer set appointments.
We know the protest—“I can’t afford it.” Our comeback, always, is “Can you afford not to?” Let go the stigma; you don’t have to be wealthy to hire help. Let go the fear; the $10 you pay someone else frees up an hour you could use to make $75 or $100 training, or to work on a marketing project to bring in more pet sitting or boarding clients. Spending money really can make you money. If you’re stretched so thin that you truly cannot fit in the time to see more clients or work on pushing your business forward, how will you break the impasse if not by bringing in some assistance to free up your time?
Start small if you feel unsure or the budget is tight. Even five hours a week can make a significant difference. Choose some things that weigh on you, that you either dread or feel are a taking up needed time. Hand them over. They could be business tasks such as administrative work, accounting, cleaning your classroom or daycare space, printing and organizing handouts for classes, returning phone calls, etc. Or perhaps help at home would free you up—some babysitting, dog walking, or house cleaning.
Stop the hamster wheel
If you’re in so deep that you can’t see where the time would come from to sit down to take these steps, it might be time for a shut-down. Take a day—a week if you can—and turn it all off. No phone calls or email or client appointments. Use the time to catch your breath and create your master calendar. To take a look at all the balls you juggle and decide which to let fall and which to protect. To look at where you might want help and take steps toward finding it. To set do dates so you know what you’re going to be able to accomplish and when. To make any other changes you need to allow you to move forward refreshed and with a new plan in place.
If you’re already scheduled to the hilt it may be difficult to find this time. Your first step, then, is to look forward just far enough that there’s a day or week not already full. Block it out. With a fat Sharpie pen. Protect it. Resist the temptation to schedule anything over it; there’s nothing that can’t wait. Because there isn’t anything as important as achieving a sustainable schedule—your business’ success and longevity depend on it.