Every business owner will recognise the phrase ‘time is money’. It's why consultants spend so much focus on trying to streamline operations and implement tools, both to measure how time is being spent as well as to automate aspects of the business that are time consuming. 

The truth is, time gets away from most of us, most of the time - even on the best of days. If we add into the mix the challenge of staff shortages and the unpredictability that comes from working in the service industry, we can find ourselves spinning out of control and trying to manage, what seems like the unmanageable – time!

However, there are methods, which can turn time into our friend and this is what we cover in this section.

Bitesize masterclass

Quick overview

What are the options available for your business and how can these be personally beneficial? Access helpful bite-size sessions to watch when you’re ready. Learn useful tips to help you and your business maximise time.

It’s easy to underestimate how much time is needed to run a business and many business owners when they start out, are captain, deckhand, engineer, and galley staff of their ship all at the same time, only taking others on when the business can support it financially.

The trouble with doing this is threefold: -
  • Your profit and loss forecast are being misrepresented and so is your sense of business profitability. We recommend you check the section on business planning and profitability. Here you’ll see that your budget for the year should include the salary for each role necessary – even where you the business owner are undertaking the task. It might be that this is only on a part time basis or a few hours a week, but nonetheless there should be an allowance for the work that needs to be undertaken.
  • Whilst you are likely to be very capable in each of the areas needed for your business, including the administration, the accounting, the marketing etc, it’s unlikely that you’re passionate about all these areas. Research shows that when people work in alignment with their passion the quality and quantity of work increases and so it’s a false sense of economy to be doing tasks that we don’t love. If you want to run a successful business, you must play to your strengths.
  • Once you’ve started doing something, it’s often easier just to keep on doing it. However, even with the best laid plans and carefully crafted ‘to do’ lists, when everything sits on your shoulders, the items that get actioned first tend to be the quick wins or where people are shouting the loudest. It’s where the vicious circle starts of working in the business and not on the business. Every minute you spend working on tasks that can be easily delegated is a minute that you are not planning, strengthening, and growing your business.


With the above in mind, there are techniques that will help you and your team plan your time effectively.

Prioritising what’s important

This sounds obvious, but have you taken the time to specifically decide what you absolutely must focus on and make time for; what also needs your attention but is not such a priority; what you’d also like to be able to do if you have capacity; what you will not entertain.

This is a valuable exercise, because once you’ve made a commitment to stick to these priorities in order it’s easier not to become distracted by elements that don’t fit into the first two lists. It also makes it easier to say no!

Managing day to day interruptions

Creating a priority list is one thing but ensuring you can focus on this when the day-to-day realities pop up is another entirely. Unless you have strategies in place to deal with these.   

And this is essential, because did you know that it takes on average 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to where you were in a task before you were interrupted – even where the interruption was  just a quick email or phone call.

Dividing day to day interruptions into those which will provide your business with a positive outcome and those that are just time wasters, will help ensure your time is directed towards activities that count.

The first thing to do is create a list of those things that are unplanned that are likely to interrupt you. These are likely to be: –

  • Email
  • Phone calls
  • Problems (quality, service, staff, other)

Note that we’re not including serving customers in this, because we assume this is part of your core priority.

Managing email and phone calls

The first two are relatively easy to solve and they simply involve chunking your day into time periods that are allocated to deal with manageable interruptions. For example, can you allocate 30 minutes every 2 hours to check and respond to emails and phone messages? When you are not in the 30-minute zone, your phone will be on voicemail advising that you’ll call back shortly, and your email box will be set not to pop up or make a noise when they arise. It’s not unreasonable for someone not to be available for a 90-minute period.

Worried about missing bookings? On-line booking apps will solve this problem as will on-line chat bots. They are very cost effective and simple to install and use. More than this, more people than ever actually want to book online. Check out our digital pages for more information on this or contact Business Lincolnshire for one-to-one support.

Actioning Email and phone calls

The rule of thumb here is to assess whether you need to action the email or phone message – in other words, is it in your must, should or could section of your priority list?

If yes and you need to physically action it, schedule time in your diary to tackle it/have the meeting and notify the person.

If yes but someone else can do it, then delegate and notify the person.

If no, then email or call back with a polite and immediate no. Often we think it’s easier just to not reply, even though we know the person will chase again, and possibly again – taking up even more of our time.

But do it straight away – otherwise your ‘to do’ list starts to become unmanageable and weigh you down.


Problems do have to be dealt with as they arise, otherwise they can become crises. However, what we tend to do is solve a problem in the moment and then go straight back to what we were doing before the problem arose without looking to see whether we fixed the root cause or whether we just put a sticking plaster over it.

Whenever you have a problem, once it’s fixed, make a note of it in a ‘problem’ book or folder and add to this for every issue that occurs. It doesn’t matter how big or small. If it interrupts you then it’s a problem.

Once a month make your problem book your priority task then you will become a detective. Have a good look through to see which problems are recurring and/or are being caused by a common denominator (they usually are). Once you’ve diagnosed the root cause, you will need to fix this.

After a while, you will find your urgent problems start to disappear and the quality of your service will improve.

There are a couple of tools that consultants use to find root cause

  1. The 5 why method – an example is shown below
Complaint that the food is cold

1. why is it cold?

It sat on the pass for too long

2. Why did it sit on the pass for so long?

The waiting staff were all serving other tables

3. Why were no waiting staff available?

Because there was a rush of customers all at once

4. Why was service not staggered?

Because the restaurant manager could see there were empty tables but wasn’t aware how many open orders there were when seating customers

5. Why wasn't the restaurant manager aware of this?

Because the manager was too busy to check in with the kitchen

Potential Solution: Depending how often this is an issue, conduct a cost/benefit analysis into having an EPOS system installed. See our Digital section for advice and recommendations.

2. The Fishbone Analysis may be better for more complex problems that span across several areas. The same principle applies as above, but you will specifically assess the different aspects of environment, people, equipment, management, materials, and processes.

Time Management Fishbone Diagram
Managing your priorities

Now that you have strategies in place to manage potential interruptions, you can prioritise and manage your other ‘to do’ tasks based on your ‘must, should, could’ do list.

Assuming you have already chunked your diary to include 30 minute ‘interruption’ sessions, we recommend you start to chunk the rest of your diary into sections that allow time for lunch and for 5-minute breaks every 25 minutes outside of this. This shouldn’t be used for checking your phone or emails – it’s to get up, stretch your legs and hydrate.

Colour code the early part of the day with the most important tasks (your musts); early afternoon with your next most important tasks (should) and then have a contingency blocked in for the end of the day (which will be used for your could tasks if you don’t need this time to complete your must or should tasks).

If you have an on-line diary, it might look something like this – altered timings of course to consider different shift patterns: –

Online Diary - Time Management

There is no right and wrong to what you decide is a priority task or how much time you allocate to this. Priority time can be with your customers, supply partners, improving your knowledge or working on your business. The important factor is working out where you need to be spending your time and then working to the schedule you create around it. This will help you feel that you are back in control of your time.

Time Management Masterclasses

In this first of three masterclasses on time management, Natalie discusses the impact on you, your staff, your customers, and your business when busyness is seen as a badge of honour and gets in the way of productivity. By the end of this video on time management you and your team will understand the importance of setting realistic goals each day and each week, which allow for everyday life to get in the way.

Time Management Checklist

Time Management Checklist.docx