Time Management Tactics for Busy Businesses

We know you’re short on time, so we’ll be brief.

As a jewelry retailer, you’re juggling customers, ­employees, a business, and even—could it be true?—your family and personal life. If only there were a few more hours in the day. That’s not going to happen, so your only ­alternative is to better manage the hours you do have in order to increase your productivity, profits, and personal time. Here are some time management tips from ­successful business owners and experts in the field. Breaking a large project into small tasks can give you a sense of accomplishment, says Michael Levin, associate professor of marketing at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. He also suggests crossing off finished tasks and leaving them on your list for a day or two “so you can see your successes.”

Wixon Jewelers’ Hope Wixon

At Wixon Jewelers in Minneapolis, co-owner Hope Wixon maintains a three-page to-do list (two pages are action items; the third is a list of delegated tasks so she can follow up with employees if necessary). She crosses off completed items, adds new ones electronically, then reprints the list every few days when she needs a tidier copy. Wixon distinguishes urgent items by bullets so she can quickly see what she needs to tackle immediately. Bigger tasks get pushed toward the bottom; when she gets tired of seeing them, she works on them. The only way to accomplish that is to chip away at them in 15-minute increments here and there, she says.

According to Levin, the key to optimizing a to-do list is knowing when you’re at your best. Allocate time for bigger jobs when you’ll be motivated to tackle a meatier task, be it first thing in the morning or at day’s end. Small chores can be done in five or 10 minutes between meetings. But simply adding something to the list is the start of getting it done, he says. “There’s a sense of perceived ownership.”

Armen Darakjian, co-owner of Darakjian Jewelers in Birmingham, Mich., uses his electronic calendar as his to-do list. He puts general items at the top of a day’s calendar, then jots down other things at different hours so an alarm rings on his phone (and his computer and iPad), reminding him what needs to be done at that specific time.

Set Aside Blocks of Time

Darakjian Jewelers’ co-owner Armen Darakjian is a fan of the electronic-calendar to-do list.

As a business owner, you spend much of your life working in your business, but you also need to allocate time for working on your business and for your personal/family life. The simplest way to ensure you devote sufficient attention to all your priorities is to schedule time for them and stick to the plan.

If you don’t set aside time to work on your business, rather than in it, your company will never grow and improve, says Sherry Smith, business mentor at The Edge Retail Academy, a retail jewelry consulting company in Henderson, Nev. “If your full day is spent in your business, doing small things, who’s looking at the big picture—sales, inventory, and so on?”

The simplest thing, she says, is to go into your office one morning half an hour early to work on what’s most urgent: “If that becomes part of your schedule, you treat it like an appointment. Then you can move it to an hour or to two days a week.”

Rhonda Jacobson, co-owner of Cumberland Diamond Exchange in Smyrna, Ga., typically holds a morning off-site breakfast meeting with her husband, Mark (Cumberland’s co-owner and founder), and her general manager. They all come prepared with a bulleted list of exactly what they’ll discuss.

Delegate Work

Worthmore Jewelers co-owners Harris and Geri Botnick with greeter Snorkel Sam

When Harris Botnick recruits new employees for his Worthmore Jewelers stores in Atlanta and Decatur, Ga., he’s looking for people who’ll be able to take on responsibility. That’s because be believes in delegating—both to free up his own time and to empower his employees. “I tell everybody I’m giving them the power to do this and here’s the worst-case scenario.”

In addition to freeing up your schedule, delegating helps your employees feel invested in the business—which often means your top performers stay with you, Jacobson says. Not only do you save money by not having to continually train new hires, but you also preserve the relationships your customers have built with longtime staff.

But bear in mind that delegating successfully is a way of life: If you do choose to hand off some of your tasks to your employees, you need to be consistent, Wixon cautions. “If you only give staff random projects here and there, you’ll never get into a rhythm.”

Once you have identified employees who are underutilized, figure out how you can use them, Wixon says. Ask them point-blank what they’re good at and offer some projects to make use of their skills. “They then feel good because they’re in charge of something and feel their jobs are safer.”

Many business owners balk at delegating because they worry about how much time it will take. But Linda Henman, business consultant and the author of Landing in the Executive Chair, says business owners need to be willing to absorb the “temporary pain” of putting this key management tool in place. “People aren’t thinking long-term enough,” Henman says. “They’re thinking of minutes today rather than hours over the next year.”

Manage Your Email

Cumberland Diamond Exchange’s Rhonda Jacobson favors early-morning off-site meetings.

Studies show office workers are interrupted—or interrupt themselves—roughly every three minutes, with distractions coming from people and the digital world. Once you’re distracted, it takes about 23 minutes to get back on task, says Gloria Mark, professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine.

One of the biggest distractions is email. If monitoring your inbox seems to have taken over your work life, it’s time to regain control.

There’s a simple rule about email, says Kwin Peterson, creator of the Control Email series on Vimeo.com. “The more email you send, the more you will receive.” Instead, pick up the phone, he suggests, but don’t resort to texting, which is even more distracting than emailing.

Since avoiding email completely is impossible, Peterson says to send better emails. Be precise in what you are asking, and include all questions and details to minimize back-and-forth emails. He advises sending an “if…then” message, such as “John, did you order the bracelets? If not, then please do so,” which can save four or five exchanges. “It takes a little longer up front because you have to think about what you really want out of this and what questions the recipient might have.”

But the easiest way to control email interruptions, Peterson says, is to turn off your email notifications, and tell anyone with an urgent message to call or text you.

Wixon typically checks her email three times a day and at other times has alerts turned off to minimize distractions. She’s created a separate email account for employees and other significant contacts, so they can reach her immediately with critical issues.

Darakjian has different mailboxes set up in his email program. His emails pour in all day long, but depending on which box they go into (one is for staff, while top clients get their own box), he can decide whether to open an email or wait until later. By the end of the day, he typically has a backlog, so he goes through his inbox in the evenings. “If there’s anything important to respond to, I save it as unread, I get rid of the junk, and the next day starts fresh.”

Santa Barbara, Calif., jeweler Calla Gold checks her email three to four times during her workday. She first reads through all her messages, filing low-priority emails at the bottom of her inbox so she can handle them later. She then takes care of three or four of those filed items and deletes them. If an email is urgent, she puts a star next to it and works on starred items at the beginning and end of the day and on Saturday to be sure she stays on top of everything.

Corralling time is no easy feat—some might say it’s impossible—but the key, experts advise, is to recognize the benefits of simply trying.

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