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Making Best Use of Your Time

Howard Scott |

PEMBROKE, Mass. — Time—how do you manage it? Seems like a pretty basic question, doesn’t it? “I go in, ready the store, see a few customers, and then go from one matter to another until the day is over, and I have a few minutes to pay bills or call customers before I go home.”

It's possible your time could be managed better, more efficiently, more economically. Perhaps you could squeeze out an hour every day for reflection, future strategy, and employee education. Wouldn’t that be something!

At the end of a workday, review that day's actions. What portion did you spend profitably? By profitably, I mean that your time spent contributed to the flow of your concern. What portion of the day was spent unprofitably? What portion was spent doing the work?

That is, did you press for two hours, relieve the cleaner for two hours, and work the counter for an hour? If so, five hours out of eight or nine was spent on the assembly line. Maybe 60% of your time is spent processing.

That leads to this question: What would you do if you didn’t have to devote five hours a day to processing? How could your time be profitably employed? Or to put in another way, could those five hours be put to good use trying to get more business, studying your drop store's lack of profitability, developing a route or investigating equipment purchases?

Today, map out your time spent at work, then look for activities that could be eliminated or shortened. For instance, if the first thing you do in the morning is open up the Internet and respond to e-mails, then perhaps you might cut that out. After all, most of the back-and-forth correspondence is time-wasting. End that bad habit. Replace it with another activity in the morning, and only allow yourself to go on the Internet after lunch.

If you find yourself spending two hours a day repairing equipment, then perhaps you should question that time usage. Those ten hours a week could be spent more productively. Most likely, it is time to replace several older machines. If that is not possible, then consider hiring a mechanic to do more of the repair work. Yes, that costs money, but you need to free up some of that time spent as a mechanic. If you devoted that time to managing the enterprise, you would most likely recover any maintenance expenditure, and then some.

If you spend the morning pressing clothes, you might question that time expenditure. Even if you enjoy the activity (it is calming, you like the process of getting garments crisp and foldable, etc.), it is not the best use of your time. Yes, it contributes to the processing, but it demands too much of your time at a low-level function. You could easily find a replacement, and you could spend that time in more profitable pursuits.

You may spend three hours a day behind the counter dealing with customers. Interacting with customers is certainly part of your job, but mindless interaction is not contributing significantly. Yes, it is keeping up, but are you learning anything Are you talking home any lessons that gives you customer insights or help you work smarter? If not—it is just social interaction—then perhaps you should limit this activity to one hour a day. Relieve your counter staffer for a half-hour in the morning and a half-hour each afternoon. Change up the time slots so that you serve a wide number of clients. In other words, make your time count.

In the dry cleaner of my youth (Rosenthal’s Cleaners), Mr. Rosenthal spent several hours every day delivering his orders. Because my father was a traveling salesman, Mr. Rosenthal brought my mother a box of white shirts, as well as other articles of clothing, every week.

Once inside, he talked with my mother. He talked and talked. As much as 15 minutes would go by before he left. Then he went onto the next customer and talked some more. Was this a good use of his time? He believed so, because he liked to talk. But it kept him a small, solo operator with one or two staffers all his life. He would have been better served hiring someone to make deliveries so that he could spend his time figuring out ways to generate commercial volume and grow his business.

Possibly you can rearrange your daily schedule to become more efficient. If you do the hard work of solving customers' problems at the end of your day, maybe you could switch that activity to the beginning when you are more alert and energetic.

If you spend time searching for lost garments later in the morning, when everyone in your store is busy, perhaps you should do that task first thing, before staffers arrive, so you will be able to face the unpleasant job without interruption and noise.

Then figure out what you can do with saved time that will make your company more profitable. That is the necessary second step to making your time more streamlined, more efficient.

Can you:

  • spend more time cold calling to win customers?
  • seek out new-resident information at town hall and knock on their doors?
  • figure out how you can take in commercial volume and seek business that will fill up your slow production slots?
  • go out with the home delivery route driver and solicit to nearby homes as he’s making deliveries?
  • check out the competition, with an eye to learning something new?
  • devote time to interviewing talented industry, as well as non-industry, people who might be future employee prospects? (It never hurts to have a queue of eligible candidates.)
  • devote an hour a day to better training? (Watch a presser, and give him suggestions. Observe a counter staffer from the back room, then offer pointers how to improve customer transactions.)

The point is, the ways in which you spend your time are not etched in stone. Your scheduling can be done more efficiently and purposefully so that you become a much more capable manager.

About the author

Howard Scott

H&R Block

Industry Writer, Drycleaning Consultant, and H&R Block Tax Preparer

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant, and an H&R Block tax preparer specializing in small businesses. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359.

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