Are You Always Fighting Fires in Your Contracting Business?

MANAGE YOUR TIME. Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? You decide what’s important, and then you do it.

If only it were that easy. The reality is that managing your time is hard work. First you have to figure out what’s worth spending your time on, then you have to master the discipline that enables you to spend your time and energy there instead of on the trivial and meaningless.

Few people actually manage their time well. Author Stephen Covey grouped the various ways people spend their time, or tasks, into four quadrants. The quadrants are based on how urgent or important the tasks are. Quadrant One includes activities that are both urgent and important: deadline-driven projects, meetings, the things that have to get done now. Opposite that is Quadrant Four. Quadrant Four activities are neither urgent nor important. They’re “busywork, e-mail, time-wasters.”

According to Covey, 90% of most people’s time is spent in Quadrant One. They move from crisis to crisis. But when they’re not in Quadrant One they segue immediately into Quadrant Four, where they keep themselves busy doing nothing. It’s a self-renewing cycle.
Covey’s point was that because so much time was spent going back and forth between Quadrants One and Four, people rarely spent any time in Quadrant Two, where what happens is important but not urgent. Quadrant Two activities include planning, preparing, building relationships, getting people trained. The thing is, if you spend more time in Quadrant Two and less in Quadrant One, you’re far more likely to accomplish your goals and you won’t have to deal with nonsense problems.

BREAKING OUT OF OLD ROUTINES
We as contractors tend to do the things we feel comfortable doing. Sometimes those are not the important things that need to get done. For instance, if you come out of a production background you might spend a significant amount of your time out there with the roofing or remodeling crews. You justify it by telling yourself that it helps get the job done efficiently. And that may be true but the real reason you’re there is because it’s what you know. And it can cause problems. Say you’re not real good at selling and you decide to spend the balance of your time in the field as a way to avoid running leads. One day it comes to your attention that you’ve worked your way through the backlog and there’re no jobs scheduled. Now you’re putting the fire out, losing money buying work to keep crews busy.

Or, another common situation, what about if you really took to selling, became good at it, and spent half or more of your time doing it? What happens is that other areas of your business are neglected because you choose to devote your time to a task that can easily be delegated. Same thing with marketing. Not every contractor is good at it. It may be the part of the business that interests you the least so instead of making people responsible for the parts of a smoothly running marketing operation, you pay relatively little attention to it. Suddenly there’s no work scheduled and the leads dry up and you’re in crisis mode.

DISCIPLINE AND FOCUS
One thing I’ve learned from reading a few books on the subject of time management is that if you’re stuck in crisis/collapse mode and want to shift out of that, you start by asking the right questions. For instance, what’s the most important thing you can do today? What’s the next most important thing you can do? Then focus on what you’ve defined as important rather than getting immersed in all the minutia.

Jones Loflin, who spoke at the CCN owners summit in Denver last year in June, suggests dividing your daily tasks as a business owner into two categories: Important Things and Everything Else’s. Start with your long and short-term goals for the business and use that as a context for determining what the Important Things are today and how you want to accomplish them. Focus your energy and attention on those, and systematically rid yourself of the Everything Else’s that suck up so much of your time. It takes discipline, which is the ability to make yourself do something whether you feel like doing it or not. But discipline comes far more readily to those with defined priorities. What you’ll find in the long run is that your company is managed more efficiently, your people are more involved and productive, and your goals—both personal and professional—are largely being met. I say personal and professional because ultimately this is about the quality of your life, your relationships and how you spend your time, inside and outside the business. The owners that are good at managing their priorities, and their time, tend to be the ones that are highly successful in good times and bad times, and who have a whole other life outside of the business. Isn’t that what we all aspire to?

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