Do You Have a Minute?

How many times has someone popped into your office and asked you that seemingly innocent question?

“Do you have a minute? I just have a quick question...” You’re in the middle of something important – something you really need to get done – but you don’t want to be rude either. And since it’s only going to take a minute, you agree.

Of course, one minute turns into two, and then five, and then 15, and by the time you finally get back to what you were working on, you’ve completely lost your train of thought. Then the phone rings, and you answer it – almost instinctively – and ten more minutes are gone.

Finally you settle back into what you were working on, and then you hear it: the chime indicating new e-mail in your Inbox.

You can’t resist – you open up the e-mail program, only to find the normal collection of fake Rolex watches, refinancing offers, and on-line pharmacy offers.

Another five minutes gone, and this time, when you finally settle back into the important project you were working on, 30 minutes later, you can barely remember what the project was about, much less the exact point where you left off.

No, the reason most people don’t get the results they want isn’t because there’s too much to do, it’s because they allow other people to control their time instead of attempting to manage it themselves.

I should take a quick minute to clarify some things here. First, I don’t want you to think I’m living in a fantasy world. I’m not saying there’s not a lot of work on our plates – there is.

Most successful people take on more than they can handle. Certainly more than a “normal” person could hope to achieve. That’s actually a big part of what makes them successful in the first place.

In our own business, for example, we currently have eight major initiatives we’re scheduling. And it’s fairly insane to think we’re actually going to get them all done in a single year. But we’re going to try.

And that brings me to the second point: the only way we’ll have a chance at accomplishing any of this is if we guard our time with fanatical diligence.

Where Are You Spending Your Time?

Before we get into specific productivity strategies, we need to start with something far more basic. “Where are you spending your time?” It won’t be possible for you to put any of these techniques into place until you have a clear understanding of where all your time is going and how much of it is being wasted.

And once you do, you’ll start to see ways in which you can guard your time from “do-you-have- a-minute” intrusions; get things off your plate that you shouldn’t be doing yourself; and arrive at a place where you’re able to spend time on the areas that are truly important to your business – the things that only you can accomplish.

To get started, you’ll need some kind of time log. This can be as simple as a single sheet of paper with Monday - Friday written in columns at the top and “time of day” in half-hour increments in rows down the side of the page.

You just set a timer to go off every 15 minutes. You can use the timer on your watch or phone, or you can download an application that will put this functionality on your computer desktop.

(Download it at: http://freedesktopsoft.com/freedesktoptimer.html)

Whenever the timer goes off, stop what you’re working on and record what you’ve been doing for the last 15 minutes – either on the sheet of paper or in the free desktop timer software.

Yes, I know recording the information constitutes an interruption, but trust me – any slight reduction in productivity from doing this will be more than offset by the value of the information the process provides you.

Do this for a full week.

Then group the activities so you can see exactly how much time you’re spending on things like e-mail, meetings, conference calls...and meaningless interruptions.

What is Your Time Worth?

Next, and very important: you have to figure out what your time is worth. I’m not talking in a hypothetical sense, I mean the exact dollar value of what an hour of your time is worth to you and your organization.

If you’re an “employee” in the traditional sense of the word, then your first inclination will be to take your annual salary, divide it by 2,000 (the average number of paid working hours in a year based on a 40-hour work week and three weeks of vacation) and use that number.

This would be a mistake, for several reasons. First, this number represents just the “base rate” of your salary. There are many additional expenses your employer covers including vacation, benefits, and payroll taxes. And then, on top of that, there’s the overhead of providing you with an office, phones, Internet, and electricity.

All told, you should double the figure you computed to incorporate all of this.

But even that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Because the real question is: what would it cost the company if they had to replace you or outsource your job?

So you have to look at this hourly rate more in the sense of being an entrepreneur or business owner (yes, there is a difference).

In this case, you’re looking at this figure not in terms of compensation, but in terms of opportunity cost. In other words, what could you be doing differently with your time that would generate more revenue than what you’re doing currently.

Admittedly, this is not an exact science. My own figure is in the hundreds of dollars, and is somewhat arbitrary. But it is also an accurate reflection of my revenue goals, and keeps me focused on what’s truly important in my business...and what’s not so important.

To see what I mean, select an hourly figure. It doesn’t have to be the “right” one – any reasonable number will do for now.

Then take your category totals from the time sheet exercise, and multiply them by this hourly rate.

What Your Time is Costing You

If you’re like most people, the results will be shocking. You’ll probably discover that you’re spending $700 per week reading e-mail, or $1,400 a week in meaningless meetings, or, even worse, something like $600 a week organizing your desk.

But once you get over that, there are even more interesting implications. For example, you’ll likely find that you spent $150 to install a new software package that you could have paid someone $30 to do. Or that you spent $96 to drive to the airport when a taxi would only have cost $42, and would have given you the opportunity to work on your laptop during the ride.

Previously, you wouldn’t have spent that $30 for the installation or the $42 on a taxi ride because, well, why would you pay someone that much to do something you can do yourself?

Now, in the context of what your time is actually worth, those amounts almost seem like a bargain!

In the final analysis, it’s not how much something costs that should be the primary consideration, it’s the net gain you’re left with when all is said and done.

Do this exercise for the next week, and you'll be amazed at how you're really spending your time and what it really is costing you.