You’re the head of a family, and also the proud owner of a tradie business. You’ve built a promising enterprise with the potential to earn yourself a steady flow of passive income, and yet you continue to play a central role in operations, finding it nearly impossible to even imagine leaving it to run by itself for longer than a week.
Better still, you attend to emergencies during your free hours, leaving you with precious little time to spend relaxing, interacting with your family, and generally being apart from a business that’s begun to feel a bit like a jail cell.
If that struck a nerve, you’re in good company.
This article will take you through the nuances of time management in the context of a tradie business. Here, you’ll learn how to diagnose your time management problems, prepare for the future by putting the right systems in place, delegate both repetitive and complex tasks, and adapt to changes on the fly.
The problem with time management
Unnecessary tasks abound, such as:
- having to sort out problems and mistakes that come up while you’re away
- taking calls at odd times to answer questions
- reinventing your workflow every other week, and
- checking in far more often than you should.
All of these problems and redundancies tie back to time management: your ability (or inability, as the case may be) to come up with business solutions that let your tradie business run itself.
Note that we made no mention of effective scheduling, or whittling away at tasks in record time. This is because time management takes on a different meaning for employers; rather than managing the work passed on to your by your company, it means managing your company in a way that leaves you with as little work to do as possible.
Honestly, you’ll wish it were as easy as using a cute egg timer to learn better focus.
No, achieving better time management as an employer in the trades is a multi-layered process. You won’t earn back your time by running a single solution at a time, such as training your staff to be more independent or hiring the perfect manager. The answer you’re looking for involves a broad set of impactful solutions.
This article will talk you through the steps to better time management, beginning with an assessment of how you spend your time at present. This diagnosis is followed by the three critical steps we’ve identified: preparation, delegation, and adaptation.
Preperation, adaption, and delegation
Preparation is the process of setting up an ironclad system, investing in the right tools, and taking on the right people.
Delegation is the act of training your managers to be sharp, decisive, and independent.
Adaptation is the ability to devise quick and lasting solutions to unexpected problems as they occur.
Problems addressed by our 3 crucial steps
|Time management step||Problem/s addressed|
|Preparation||Unexpected calls for help.
Constantly shifting workflow
|Delegation||Checking in too frequently|
|Adaptation||Dealing with mistakes|
On a final note before we dive in, there are options in the market that do the work of troubleshooting and optimising your systems and processes for you. Finding a reputable organisation to help you improve your own can be very rewarding, but as we’ve said, it never hurts to broaden your own perspective.
Diagnosing your time management problems
1. Map Out Your Weekly Routine
Big problems are easy to spot, but smaller ones can easily slip by unnoticed if you aren’t careful. We recommend starting with a bird’s eye view of your weekly routine, and watching out for activities that one of your staff members could take over.
Lay out your schedule for inspections and meetings, noting the frequency at which you plan to drop by. There’s no golden rule as to how often you need to touch base with your staff, but regular interactions help with projecting enthusiasm and maintaining accountability.
Next, track the frequency of your emergency visits and calls. While these are a necessary feature in the early days of a small business, they should happen less often as time goes by.
2. Tag Your Problem Areas
Do yourself a favour, and call a spade a spade. Small business owners can be too generous when assessing problem areas; they see repeated interventions as difficult learning points, accept burdens too willingly, and overdo their roles as nurturing founders.
This kind of mindset is an excellent way to make yourself the wrong kind of indispensable: vital to keep the business running, rather than a figurative (and financial) pillar holding everything together.
A better approach to evaluating your schedule would be to organise your tasks in order of priority. Measure urgency however you like: in dollars, deadlines, or how much of a pain they can be when left unfinished. Then, note down whether these tasks can be delegated to a member of your staff.
Once you have your schedule sorted, it should give you a much clearer idea of tasks you can cut, conduct less frequently, or delegate to someone else altogether. In the table below, we’d recommend having daily team meetings on a weekly basis instead, and delegating nightly inventory and sorting receipts to the right employees.
|Task||Urgency||Can I delegate?|
|7:30 am – 8:00 am Daily team meeting||3/10||No|
|6:00 pm – 7:00 pm Nightly inventory||6/10||Yes|
|7:20 pm – 7:40 pm Sorting receipts||8/10||Yes|
|7:40 pm – 8:00 pm Studying reports||6/10||No|
6 Common problems that waste a tradie boss’ free time
- “We’re understaffed!”
- “This customer has a question I can’t answer!”
- “A tool is missing/broken!”
- “Someone’s had an accident.”
- “I need you to sign something.”
- “How do I use this again?”
3. Spot the Roots of Your Problems
It’s easy to mistake a symptom for an illness. We’ve consulted for businesses that spent months struggling to fix their cash flow problems by seeking new clients, when the simplest and most effective solution was to cut costs in certain key areas.
By setting aside time to get to the core of your problems, you have the advantage of knowing precisely which solutions are worth pursuing—and you avoid making costly band-aid fixes along the way.
Using your list of tasks that can be delegated or done away with, figure out the challenges that would come with doing so. This takes some perspective and forward-thinking—delegating tasks can come with problems that are hard to spot until the damage has been done.
|Daily team meeting||
Finally, make a thorough assessment of your staff, noting down the tasks they currently handle, the tasks they should handle, and their individual areas for improvement. Naturally, you want to keep this honest and confidential.
|Redundant task||Present tasks||Ideal tasks||Improvement points|
4. Draft a Wishlist of Solutions
There’s wisdom behind ending on a constructive note. After a few hours spent thinking about the myriad reasons why things aren’t going well, it’s good to leave yourself with a positive and forward-looking impression. There’s also no better time to try and solve a puzzle than when you can see all the pieces; use your newly refreshed perspectives to come up with direct and lasting solutions.
Start big, then work your way down. Assuming cost weren’t a limiting factor, list down solutions that tackle the root causes of your challenges. You can cut and replace details of these dream fixes until you arrive at something more realistic—just be sure that every new version of your idea is aimed at the root causes of your challenges rather than their ill effects.
For example, let’s say you’ve identified your marketing as a big weakness, and want to design a solution that lands you more clients. Your ideal solution might be to hire a reputable (and expensive) marketing firm to do the job for you.
Since you lack the funds to make it happen, you then pick the idea apart to see why you opted for it in the first place. Perhaps you need someone to take over the work for you, since you lack experience in the field. At this point, you have a clearer idea of what features you’re looking for in a solution to your marketing problem: expertise.
From here, it’s easier to generate more realistic solutions that still point towards the root cause of your problem. You could hire a smaller firm or a single consultant, or spend time learning the skills you’ve been missing –effectively starting from the biggest, most ambitious solution, and arriving at one that achieves a similar impact for a more manageable cost.
If you get stuck at any point along the way and can’t come up with an affordable or impactful solution, try reframing your problem: rethink the approach you’re taking, or the facet of the problem that you’re trying to attack.
You won’t arrive at a winning formula by stopping here, but you should have a crystal clear idea of how and why you’ve been wasting your time as an owner. The rest of the job, as we’ve mentioned, is a matter of preparation, delegation, and adaptation.
Step 1 to better time management — preparation
To be specific, preparation involves:
- Charting roles that account for all vital tasks
- Choosing the right tools for any eventuality
- Developing a workflow that simplifies things for your staff
There’s a fine line between being understaffed and keeping too many people around. Revisiting your organisational structure is one way to keep firmly to the centre of that line.
Take stock of the various milestones that your business has to accomplish in a given time period, essentially combining your schedule with everybody else’s.
Go through your daily tasks, then your weekly ones, and finally ones that take months or whole financial quarters to complete. These include work done for your clients, inventory, staff meetings, tax and administrative duties, and steps towards growing your business.
You definitely went through a similar process when you first set up shop. This time around, you have the benefit of hindsight and experience to help you spot gaps and redundancies in your workforce. If time management is your primary issue, and if reports about the staffing preferences of modern small businesses are to be believed, be on the lookout for the former.
Finally, it’s important to have a clear picture of the types of skills it would take to accomplish the milestones you’ve listed, and whether these can be trained. When revisiting your list of necessary skills, feel free to compare them against the strengths and weaknesses you’ve observed in your staff.
Track your insights with a flow chart, or whatever device helps you reference both the ideal roles you have in mind, and the skills needed to perform them, all while keeping the hierarchies of your organisation in mind.
Choosing the Right Tools
You get what you pay for when you invest in a set of tools. The amount of money that you spend on a tool corresponds to the value you can expect out of it. Cheaper tools are likelier to break or malfunction–which is why prices generally indicate dependability.
Our suggestion is to invest in the tools that you know will get you most mileage. If majority of your projects demand the use of a nail gun, for instance, you’re better off spending much on a quality brand than wasting time and money replacing sub-par knockoffs.
Since you’ve been running your business for a while, you should have a clear idea of which tools see the most use; you should spend on the ones that are likeliest to break from wear and tear, and save on tools that are less likely to break on the job.
It also goes without saying that proper care and maintenance are vital to making the most out of your tools. Don’t let the day end without having all your tools cleaned and stored the proper ways.
We highly recommend your business to get with the times by investing in productivity software. The market is full of programs and apps that save you time and money in the long run, allowing you to take on more projects. From project management applications that let you track each of your tasks in progress to digital signature collection tools, you’ll find no end of options to make your core business processes as simple as tapping a screen.
Digital tools are invaluable to have around the workplace–that is, as long as you make sure that all your staff members know how to use them. Treat them how you’d treat any of your other tools and work them into your training procedures.
You can find the best (free!) productivity tools here.
Developing a Workflow
Optimising a workflow is vital to running a smooth business. Your employees might be wasting as much as time as you do, which is why you should take a step back and break their present workflow into parts.
Find and eliminate redundancies, and plan their daily routines in a way that keeps them at peak flow over the course of the day. It also helps to use what you know about their working habits and skills, or better yet, involve them when drafting their schedules.
In the end, you want to aim for a good balance between accomplishing your daily tasks, and keeping your staff motivated.
Now, part of keeping a workflow in top shape is making sure your employees comply with it. This is where your weekly reports come in handy–you can spot how well your people are keeping up with day-to-day expectations, and address them accordingly.
It pays to have a set of clear, personalised guides to running your business. Arrange them into sections according to time period (ex. a different layout per day, per week, and maybe even per month) and distribute them to your team so they can use them to get into all the necessary habits.
Laying a strong foundation for your business is the best way to minimise the number of times you have to pop by, and to pre-empt your problems before they start.
Choosing the right tools guarantees smooth sailing as far as your equipment is concerned. Setting clear expectations for your staff and sending them into each work day with a clear and reasonable schedule keeps things unambiguous, and keeps your business moving at a steady (read: profitable) pace.
At the end of the day, your business should be well equipped to run itself.
Of course, this is bound to leave you with some undesirable tasks (such as regular oversight) that don’t necessarily fit any of your employees’ job descriptions. This leads us to the next section of this guide: delegating some of your own tasks to managers.
Step 2 to better time management — delegation
Understanding the Boss’ Job
At the end of the day, there are only a handful of tasks that a tradie business owner should feel the need to concern himself with.
The first is to collect and study reports that your employees turn in at whatever period you’ve decided works best. These can be daily sales reports, weekly operations reports, or, if you really trust them to keep everything running like clockwork, bi-monthly check-ins.
Whatever the frequency, keeping a good handle on a business is the way to go. If this doesn’t occur naturally to you as a matter of pride, then think of it from a financial perspective: you have the opportunity to steer the course of your investment towards a greater return, and away from needless risk.
Apart from this, a business owner’s job is to make executive decisions. These include setting your company policies, deciding on rates, infusing more capital, and settling other choices that have consequences on your business in its entirety.
Like we’ve said, time management is about freeing up your own time.
Understanding the Manager’s Job
Every other matter relating to your business can run on autopilot as far as you’re concerned. If you treat it like a machine brought to life by your design, your managers would be the engineers responsible for keeping all the parts in order –following the design you set.
The usual duties of a manager are intuitive, and help massively with your efforts to free up more of your own time.
One is to be present to spot problems and resolve them on the spot, so you needn’t be bothered with coming in except in the event of a genuinely puzzling emergency. They also typically make sure that reports are drafted and filed on time, and that the rest of your staff are motivated to excel.
Finally, the best managers are also great advisors; they can make sharp recommendations when writing or reviewing reports to assist you in managing the bigger picture.
Hiring a Stellar Manager
Whether you can successfully enlist the help of a competent manager is decided as early as when you draft the job listing. Apart from a clear job description, your listings should include the years of experience you expect out of a candidate (but be sure to strike a balance between talent and experience), their educational background, and personality traits that they’d need to possess.
After that, the next step is to make sure your job offer reaches the right kind of prospective hires. There are a number of ways to boost your chances, but if you’re running your business in a specific community or area, you should at least take the time to run them through the usual channels: print ads, job listing sites, and by sourcing referrals.
5 Ways to attract top quality applicants
- Run a professional business
- Run an exciting business
- Know where to find them
- Keep your current employees happy
- Offer advancement
We know that finding the perfect hire is easier said than done, which is why the next best thing to look for in a candidate is the right attitude. Their experience comes second to their willingness to learn, and how well you expect them to mesh with your company. Remember: skill can be taught, but attitude is far harder to improve.
Training Your Managers
Training a manager is a much harder task than training your standard staff member. Like we’ve said, your managers are expected to perform in the capacity of a first mate –they should know your workflow like the back of their hand, and resolve problems on your behalf.
Since you can’t afford to take on managers who don’t know what they’re doing, note the following pointers when training them.
1. Know Your Workflow Inside and Out
You can’t teach what you don’t know. As an employer, keep a firm handle on your business’ policies, your employees’ tasks, and every goal that your business has set (from the broadest to the most specific).
It’s fine to expect your managers to know your business nearly as well as you do. In fact, we recommend that you don’t consider them fully trained until you can disappear off the face of the Earth for a month and come back to find everything running in smooth order.
2. Test Their Independence
On the subject of leaving them to their own devices, it’s important that you develop the habit of smart, independent thinking as quickly as you can. There are some problems that shouldn’t be your concern.
We advise against crushing them with the pressure of keeping your business afloat on their first month, but you should definitely leave them to reason through situations that come up as you train them.
For instance, if an angry customer walks in demanding an unreasonable refund, test and see how they’d handle the situation (while staying close by in case they mess it up).
3. Mind Their Manners
As your direct subordinates, your managers should have the clearance to speak with your authority whenever it makes sense for them to do so. They should be able to exercise leadership in a way that would make you proud.
That having been said, you’d do well to watch their dispositions very closely. Track how well they can keep their heads under pressure, how they interact with customers, and how they treat people below them on the organisational food chain, so to speak.
Do your best to steer them on the course of right, but make no excuses on their behalf if they fail to show signs of improvement—you might like them as people, but you have to remember that you’re in the market for leaders.
Keeping Your Managers On Board
If it might occur to you that we’ve been advising you to train people who can, should they feel the urge to, open up their own businesses and grow into competitors. In all honesty, that’s because we have—your managers should start out skilled, and end up as masters of your craft.
However, we don’t advise that you let them grow out of control. It may be a free country, but there’s no sense in arming people to take over your source of livelihood. Play your cards close to your chest, and follow these steps towards making sure they’d be happy to spend a significant amount of time in your service:
1. Build the Perfect Work Environment
The perfect work environment is one that the average, reasonable person wouldn’t mind serving in for as long as it meets their personal and financial goals. It involves keeping your managers happy, and providing them with opportunities to find fulfillment in their daily life.
There are many ways to make working for you positive on a whole, and we suggest that you get familiar with the latest trends in human resource management.
To make things simple, however, you can take the time to check in and ask them what they plan to do in the next few years. Doing so gives you an idea of the different executive decisions you can make to keep them on board, and keep yourself from having to take the time and effort to hire and train new people.
2. Give Fair Raises
Everybody has to deal with inflation. Prices are bound to get higher over time, which is why you should embrace the fact that your rates will have to rise along with them.
Be familiar with the rates that other businesses offer their employees for the same or similar jobs. Of course, not all of your staff members will be worth the investment, so discern which among them you should court into staying on board for longer (more often than not, your managers and senior workers), and which you can replace with new hires willing to work for rates you can manage.
3. Promote a Growth Mentality
If you’ve hired the right managers, then money is only half of the equation. In the best case, your staff will be just as motivated to come into work for the chance to learn as they are motivated to earn a paycheck.
Promoting a growth mentality is a matter of perspective: push your employees to recognise the impact of what you do, and to play a part in rendering your services to more people. Periodic charity events and other socially relevant activities can make a difference in the way your staff members perceive their jobs.
Beyond growing what your business can contribute to wider society, a growth mentality is also a very personal matter. Understand their motivations, their hopes, and their passions and try to engage them on all fronts.
As an employer looking for more time away from his business, it’s easy to forget that your employees are people. Keep their needs in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a successful leader.
Your managers are your ticket to more time with your family and friends. They manage your business, so you can manage your time. Delegating them with the right set of tasks, and finding the best ones to hire and keep will save you more time than you might realise.
Now, let’s say you’ve done everything right up to this point. We’re sorry to break it to you, but it won’t all be mojitos by the beach or extended family hangouts. New and unforeseen challenges can and will pop up, and our final step will cover what it takes to rise above them.
Step 3 to better time management — adaptation
This is where adaptation comes in handy. The ability to build a stronger, more resilient business out of even the most devastating setbacks saves enterprises from closing down. More importantly, adaptation also plays a core role in ensuring long-term success.
Adaptation vs. Improvisation
Don’t confuse adaptation with improvisation.
Adaptation is a long, constant process of turning problems into policies and innovative new practices. It isn’t a matter of thinking on your feet, but of making sure that you and your staff won’t have to in any future instances of a given problem. Much like preparation, it involves creating and applying potent strategies to give you an advantage over the things that’d keep you from enjoying better time management.
Improvisation, on the other hand, is a matter of quick thinking, and responding well to unexpected situations on the fly. It’s an important skill for all members of your business to have since it keeps you from wasting resources thanks to poor or nonexistent solutions.
Your business needs to be able to improvise solutions at the drop of a hat, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that’s as far as you ought to take it. Settling for a great track record for quick problem-solving won’t free up your time—use what you learn to strengthen your enterprise.
Spotting Opportunities to Adapt
For best results, make adaptation a daily habit; it should be part of your business’ DNA. You won’t run out of chances for as long as there are imperfections to smooth out, and even when your business is running on full steam, you can always imagine new ways for things to go wrong.
Take note that not every problem is an opportunity to adapt, and that churning out new policies every other day goes against the whole point of freeing up your own time.
Here’s a simple way to tell if you’re facing a problem worth building around. Take an adaptive approach if you answer “yes” to any of the following:
- Is this a recurring problem?
- Have we been fixing this problem or “painting” over it?
- Is the problem costing me clients or resources?
What Adaptation Should Look Like
Adapting your business should be a simple process. It doesn’t always have to be formal—after all, you’re running a small business, not a government. If you’re encountering any difficulties beyond designing solutions, then chances are you’re overcomplicating matters.
When implementing your time-saving solutions and contingencies only three things are required: a problem-solving mindset, a clear roadmap, and a communication plan.
The Problem-Solving Mindset
It takes an active effort to solve problems. Waiting for a solution to come to you is only part of the package; while inspiration is valuable, so is the discipline to sit down and think through a problem.
If you encounter a problem over the course of a day, note it down. Spend time figuring out its causes, and how you’ve been managing it so far. From here, you can begin working on a solution: aim for a time-saving fix that prevents and/or addresses the problem with minimal cost and effort.
In the event that you’re stuck on a puzzle without any clear solution, it pays to take a step back and reassess things with a simple checklist of guide questions:
- Is there more to the problem that I missed the first time I considered it?
- Does it really need a permanent fix, or is our current approach acceptable?
- Does it need an urgent fix, or can it wait until we’re in a better position?
- How much am I really willing to spend on a solution?
The first point should be a priority. Experts have discovered that there’s great value behind rethinking a problem and finding ways to compare it with problems you’ve solved in the past.
Ideally, you’d also keep your staff involved in solving problems. Your periodic meetings can include brainstorming sessions, where you can take full advantage of the insights your employees have gained while dealing with your business’ problems on a daily basis.
Finally, be mindful of the form that your solution will take. You can make an investment and spend on a solution, run an operation and act to confront the root of the problem, create a policy and tailor your workflow to address or avoid the issue or perform any combination of the three.
A Clear Roadmap
Your roadmap is your step-by-step guide to implementing your solution. It’s a list of tasks, expenses, and expected outcomes put in terms so simple that anyone in your organisation should be able to execute.
Drafting a roadmap helps you take one final look at your adaptive solution before making any major changes.
By listing expenses, you get to run the numbers and calculate how much you save in the long term by taking a specific approach. Doing so makes it as simple as taking expected savings (or earnings) and subtracting it from your expected costs; if you get a positive number, then feel free to proceed.
By listing the expected outcomes, you get one last chance to weigh the likelihood that your solution will bring about the positive changes you’re after. This is where you can take another stab at figuring out if your plan only looks great on paper, or if it’ll make an impact when put into practice. As a rule of thumb, always sit down and visualise how things would look after any changes are made.
A Communication Plan
There’s no reason why any member of your organisation should be left in the dark about significant changes. If your adaptive solution affects one employee’s job, chances are it’ll affect them all.
Before you implement solutions for the sake of time management, come up with a way to inform your staff of changes they can expect. This applies even when you expect minimal alterations to their daily routines. For example, if you’re simply paying for an ad in the local paper to address a low volume of clients.
Keeping all your people in the loop ensures minimal friction, which is to say it prevents your solution from coughing up new problems. It also promotes a sense of active engagement among your employees so that even if they have nothing to do with your marketing, for instance, they’re encouraged to see themselves as part of a bigger picture.
Finally, keeping a clear communication plan makes it easy for you to inform your suppliers, partners, and other important players outside of your organisational structure of changes that might affect the course of business.
Adaptation is the last, crucial step to improving your time management. Neither the preparation that went into your business nor the managers you’ve hired will matter if you lack the ability to improve your business over time.
Remember that every obstacle is a chance to strengthen your tradie business, and that adaptation is one of the most undervalued secrets to improved time management.
Every tradie dreams of the day he can sit back and watch his business run itself. Time management is the ultimate goal. It’s the happy ending that you and your family deserve.
Reaching a pristine system for time management takes an investment of time and brainpower. It takes a strong foundation of systems, people, and attitudes that are well within the reach of anyone with the discipline and experience needed to open up a tradie business in the first place.
The three steps we’ve covered will set you on the right course to letting go of your business. It isn’t an exhaustive guide, which is why we’ve written much more on the topic of time management: from selecting the best consultants in the market to making the most out of family time.
If you’ve enjoyed reading our guide, please feel free to share it with your friends or business partners. It’d be a big help to us, given our mission to help tradie business owners across Australia hang onto the reasons why they started their enterprises in the first place, be it for family, for professional pride, or for an early retirement.
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