Top time management techniques for precast manufacturers.
By Bridget McCrea
Effective time management is a perpetual challenge for business owners and managers. Add a challenging economic environment to the mix and the manufacturer’s ability to balance limited hours in a day against a full schedule can slide pretty quickly. Left in its wake is an owner or manager who burns the candle at both ends in order to keep operations running, never mind growing and prospering.
Linda Henman, Ph.D., president at St. Louis, Mo.-based Henman Performance G roup, blames a lack of prioritization with creating time crunches, both at the operational level and on the plant floor. “Companies set goals and want them all completed on time, and perfectly,” says Henman. “This is an unrealistic approach that quickly leads to poor time management strategies; there can only be one top priority at any given time.”
The economy isn’t helping any, says Henman. With manufacturers scrambling to fill the gaps left behind by a shrinking customer base while at the same time grappling with rising raw material and operational costs, many are simply doing what they can to survive. “Everything that companies did wrong before, they’re doing frantically wrong now,” Henman observes. To top it off, customers tend to be unforgiving in poor economic conditions, she says, and intolerant of mistakes and tardiness.
“People expect the highest quality products at the lowest possible cost, and delivered on time every time,” says Henman. Meeting such demands can be a challenge for manufacturers that are being forced to do more with fewer human and financial resources.
In this type of environment, effective time management skills can prove especially valuable. Unfortunately, says Billie G. Blair, Ph.D., president and CEO at Los Angeles-based management consultancy Change Strategists Inc., too many firms get hung up on resolving single issues and ignore the need for effective time management.
“Managers and owners do a pretty good job of budgeting their money but not their time, which they think of as ‘free,’” explains Blair. “Most of them don’t know how to say no and end up getting sucked into all kinds of time-wasting situations.” A manager, for example, can quickly find half of his morning wasted by hovering over a piece of plant machinery that’s not operating properly, despite that someone else has the repair under control.
“If you’re the owner of the business, look at what new benchmarks, products and initiatives you’re bringing to the table – and what you should be contributing as the leader of your company.”
– Ray Attiyah, Definity Partners
“That manager’s time is critical and needs to be used to his best advantage,” says Blair. “In this economy, every minute is important.”
Back to basics
As founder and CIO of business improvement consultancy Definity Partners in Cincinnati, Ray Attiyah works often with manufacturing firms attempting to squeeze more production out of each workday.
Unfortunately, too many of them spend time in “run mode” rather than focusing on improvement and growth. A company leader or senior manager, for example, should be helping the company grow through new products, services and customers. “Too many of them spend their time on day-to-day issues and putting out fires,” says Attiyah. “They’re handling customer orders and making sure the daily tasks get done, and never really get to do their intended jobs.”
The good news, says Attiyah, is that there are specific strategies that precasters can use to break through those routines and get their workers to make better use of their time. For starters, he says, look at the most value-added aspects of every position in the company, and consider whether each person is truly delivering that value to the firm.
“If you’re the owner of the business, look at what new benchmarks, products and initiatives you’re bringing to the table – and what you should be contributing as the leader of your company,” says Attiyah. “Repeat the exercise with middle managers, who should be spending their time driving transformational improvements (such as the entry into a new, untapped market) rather than handling day-to-day tasks.”
Once you’ve determined each person’s role in the company, you’ll want to tie all of their activities to an overall, companywide strategy. “If someone takes part in an activity that takes time but doesn’t support that overall vision, then they shouldn’t be doing it,” says Henman.
Take the construction executive who recently worked with Henman. He was putting in 12-hour days seven days a week but wasn’t getting anything accomplished. Perfectionism was to blame, according to Henman, who immediately picked up on the fact that the executive took a great deal of pride in doing everything perfectly.
“He’d been raised on the philosophy that anything worth doing is worth doing well, when in reality, 80 percent is good enough in most cases,” says Henman. “Once he accepted that, he was able to more effectively manage his time.”
Another key consideration for precasters, says Attiyah, is that some workers may be afraid to work more efficiently, lest they put their jobs in jeopardy. “They don’t want to work themselves out of a position,” he says. To avoid this situation, says Attiyah, be sure to communicate company goals and plans to workers, and incentivize them to do their jobs smarter, better and faster.
Finally, Henman says simply saying no to requests that don’t align with your overall goals for the week or month can go along way in keeping your calendar free for more important tasks. “Don’t over-schedule yourself,” Henman says. “That could even mean saying no to a luncheon meeting that doesn’t support the goals you’ve set and/or your strategy.”
Measuring the results
Adding more hours to the physical clock may not be an option, but these specific techniques can be used to squeeze more productivity out of every day.
Sometimes all it takes to free up a significant block of time on the calendar is a switch to a non-perfectionist mindset, a strategically placed no, or the realization that company managers should be reallocated to business development tasks.
“Depending on the time management strategies that you’re using,” says Henman, “the results can be shorter work days to millions of dollars in annual cost savings, and everything in between.”
Sidebar: Take the Personal Approach
For those whose time management challenges transcend their workday and into their personal lives, the U.S. Small Business Administration offers these suggestions:
- Tackle your most worrisome tasks first. Start the morning, afternoon or evening with the most worrisome task that you’re facing. This will reduce your anxiety level for the next task.
- Complete deadline work early. Not only will this reduce stress and lighten your work schedule, but it will also give you more self-confidence about managing your time.
- Know your capacity for stress. When you are hitting overload, take the break you need (even if it is a short one) when you need it.
- Stay organized. Take time at the end of each day to briefly put your desk in order and make reminder lists of tasks for the next day or week.
- Take advantage of down time. Allow yourself some down time between busy periods to review your schedule and reevaluate your priorities.
- Get physical. Physical exertion such as walking, bicycling, swimming or organized sports activities helps to discharge stress. Stretching, yoga, jumping rope, sit-ups, playing with children or doing yard work are other types of therapeutic breaks you should consider during times of stress.
- Have fun. Be sure to have some fun while working or playing; a good sense of humor can keep most problems in perspective.
- Divide up your time. Decide how much time to spend on business development, personal needs, volunteerism and family. Start by allowing 25 percent of your time for yourself. Each time you make a commitment, set a timeline for your involvement. Remember that maintenance takes at least 25 percent of the time you spend on any project whether it’s business, marriage or serving on the board of a nonprofit organization.
Build flexibility into your schedule. Your availability to family and friends depends on the flexibility you put into your schedule. Female business owners and managers, for example, frequently have the primary responsibility for making sure family members are cared for when they are dependent or ill, so it’s necessary to leave some time in your schedule for emergencies or to have good backup resources. Get to know your neighbors so you know whom to call on for help in times of crisis.
Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers manufacturing, industry and technology. She is a winner of the Florida Magazine Association’s Gold Award for best trade/technical feature statewide.