Mastering Time for Success
Designing Your Business
From Contributing Editor, Andrew Mitchell, director of MR. MITCHELL, Interior designer and founder of The Design Coach.
Time and money are the two most important metrics that can be used to measure the health of our business.
Andrew Mitchell, The Design Coach
The Design Coach
Andrew Mitchell of The Design Coach & MR MITCHELL
Most of us go into business so that we can be the boss of our own destiny, having freedom to work the hours that we choose, with our work life fitting in around our personal commitments. Quite often we escape the rigid structure of a corporate job to live the dream of running our own practice.
Unfortunately, the reality is often far from a dream, and more like a nightmare. Many small business owners end up being a slave to their business, working long hours and sacrificing important time with loved ones. Overwhelm feels like the normal mode of operation, with stress, fatigue and poor self-care potentially resulting in burnout.
While there are no simple solutions to the myriad of challenges that business owners face, learning how to effectively manage time is one of the most important foundations upon which all other healthy practices can be built. Seeking to improve personal time management will have huge benefits to an individual’s well-being and will also have positive flow on effects for their place of work. Business owners have a responsibility to create healthy frameworks for team members around management of their time (whether in the office or at working at home).
Time and money are the two most important metrics that be used to measure the health of our business. The financial health of our business can be measured through regular reporting and analysis, kept on track through forecasting and setting targets. The resource of time, as it affects the health of our business, is less easily measured, causing it to be overlooked and undervalued. The end result being an inefficient and unprofitable business.
Some indicators that time management may be lacking within your business include:
- Work hours (yours and your team) regularly extending beyond recommended healthy limits.
- Consistently failing to meet deadlines for projects.
- Underestimating the time it takes for you and/or your team to complete tasks, leading to a lack of profitability.
- Non-existent systems for measuring and tracking time.
- Regular periods of unfocused, unproductive work for you and/or your team (the recognition of which requires some form of time tracking and reporting).
- Constant feeling of overwhelm by you and/or your team.
Without a good understanding of where we allocate our time, sound habits for planning and scheduling can be hard to develop. Such behaviours become imperative once our business grows beyond being just us.
The good news is that managing time effectively can increase productivity, profitability and overall job satisfaction for you and your team, and the tools and techniques to master effective time management are available to everyone!
Personal Time Management
Managing our time at work starts with a healthy dose of self-awareness. Before being able to make improvements, we first need to analyse our strengths and weaknesses.
Consider the following questions:
- Do you regularly turn up to meetings early or on time?
- Are you good at estimating the time it takes to get from one meeting to another, factoring in traffic, parking, etc?
- Does the thought of being late cause you to feel anxious?
- Are you good at estimating how long it will take for you to complete a task?
- Are you aware of the time when you’re working?
- Do you have practices to record and measure your time?
- Do you forward plan your work week?
- Are you good at prioritising tasks?
If you’ve answered “no” to most of these questions, time management is unlikely to be one of your strengths! Whilst there are many other factors to consider, reviewing this list of questions will give you a good starting point for understanding your strengths and weaknesses around managing time.
Recognising our strengths and/or weaknesses around time management doesn’t make us right/wrong, or better/worse, but it does give us the information necessary to make changes. Changes that can contribute to healthier ways of working, a better sense of wellbeing and a greater sense of freedom.
The way we manage our time also affects others: friends, family, team members and clients. Consistently failing to meet promises with our clients around deadlines and deliverables will almost certainly cause a breakdown in trust and will often result in micromanagement. When we’re considerate of others’ time, we’re showing respect. Such respect fosters trust and loyalty which are paramount for all healthy relationships.
Managing Project Timeframes
From the first discussions with a client, before committing to working on their project, we need to have a conversation around timeframes. Time forms one of the 3 Pillars of a Project, with the other two being Design and Budget. Successful project outcomes require that we address each of the pillars across all stages, rectifying and adjusting our clients’ expectations along the way.
Before project commencement, understanding the clients’ desired timeframes gives us the opportunity to address unachievable expectations, allowing us to reframe those expectations, or ultimately giving us the option to turn down the project if we feel those expectations aren’t realistic and the client isn’t open to adjusting them. This is the first and most vital step in the process of time management on a project.
The process of analysing these timelines is in itself a form of time management. It requires the skill of accurately estimating the usual timeframe of a project of that scale/nature, considering the workload of your practice at that time. To do this consistently takes experience and practice, and is improved by diligently recording and reviewing past projects.
Creation of a Design Program that clearly outlines the deliverable dates for each stage of the project will provide you, your team, and your clients with Time Targets, creating accountability for all parties involved. When framed correctly, a Design Program also becomes an important tool for maintaining all-important project momentum. Clients should be advised of acceptable periods of time to revert to the designers with feedback or amendments, with delays causing a likely change to the completion date of their project.
As is the case with project budgets, project timelines will almost always change due to external influences, such as product delays, changes to scope, unexpected structural complications, etc. Our role is not to miraculously manage all of these influencing factors in order to deliver the project to the originally advised completion date. Our responsibility is to keep the client informed of changes to deliverable dates, if and when they occur, thereby managing expectations.
Top 5 Habits for Effective Time Management
Although some people seem to be born with an innate sense of time, most time management skills can be learnt. However, we can’t expect to master these skills overnight! Like most business skills, they’re refined and improved by implementing them consistently over time.
Creating healthy time management habits is the first step towards mastery. Here I provide 5 of my most effective habits for effective time management, starting with a tactic to help build awareness around your current use of time.
Habit 1: Perform a Regular Time Audit
A time audit is the process of tracking and analysing how you spend your time over a specific period (ideally 1 week). The goal is to gain insights into how effectively and efficiently you use your time and identify areas for improvement. It involves recording your activities and categorising them into your various work responsibilities, noting periods of “non-focused work” when no particular category can be assigned.
I recommend performing a Time Audit once every 6 – 12 months.
Habit 2: Managing Distractions
Distractions are the enemy of time management. At the bare minimum, during periods of focus, put your phone on silent and remove notifications. Check emails 2 – 3 times daily (schedule in designated timeslots for doing so) and then close your emails down in between.
For more advanced distraction management, you can download programs (such as Freedom) that block access to apps (especially social media) and limit access to non-productive websites.
Habit 3: Program Your Projects
Implement a structured Design Process (Don’t have one? Download our TDC 9 Stage Design Process free e-Book) that follows clear stages. When programming your projects, reference past projects and estimate the time each stage will take based on the hours allocated as per your Fee Estimate.
Share these timeframes with your clients in the early stages of the project as a Design Program and keep them updated with changes as they occur. Use the Design Programs from all projects to plan the priorities for your week and schedule time for your team members. Due dates can also be used to estimate cash flow when tied to a payment schedule that follows your stages.
Use Project Management software, like Programa to improve efficiency and aid in the programming of your projects.
Habit 4: Plan Your Week
Use the information from your Design Programs to form the basis of your work priorities for the week. Schedule time for yourself and your team based on the due dates for each stage of each project.
Use Time Blocking to plan out your week/s ahead of time and ensure that priorities are not overridden by unimportant distractions. Also use time blocking to schedule important personal and wellness activities, such as gym or dance classes, or school pickups and regular social activities.
Habit 5: Keep Records
The only way we can analyse the effectiveness of our time management is through the review of records. Ensure that you and your team are tracking time (for billable and unbillable work) to provide you with the necessary data to assess your efficiency and profitability.
Few people love time tracking, so find ways to incentivize your team so that it becomes a habit that they look forward to (eg: bonuses for most consistent time tracking each month). Your reward as a business owner is greater efficiency and higher profitability!
If time management is your Achilles Heel, consider joining our Premium Group Coaching Program, where we provide a framework for focusing on advanced skills and healthy habits, with the added advantage of a group of dedicated design professionals lovingly holding you to account.
To find out more about Andrew and The Design Coach:
Book a Discovery Call here .
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