December 5, 2022

Small Business Advice

Focus Days

Jerry Osteryoung | 10/19/2009
Interruptions (e.g. phone calls and email) kill your ability to concentrate and to accomplish necessary tasks and critically important projects. Concentration and focus are critical to effective time management.

To illustrate my point, try this: have someone hold a piece of paper vertically with one hand holding the top of the sheet and the other hand holding the bottom of the sheet. The sheet of paper should be pulled taught. Then with your two hands, try to push through the paper with just the palm of your hands pressing against the paper. You just cannot do this. However, try the same thing with just one finger pushing through the paper and you will make a hole every time. Besides helping the paper industry, the point of this exercise is to show that focusing is the way to get things accomplished.

"Focus days" for time management is a way to allow you to acquire the concentration and effectiveness you need without completely changing everything in your life. Focus days are just days you spend exclusively on those items that yield the highest profitability to your business. If you were to track your time with a time log, you would be surprised to find that about 30% of your activities account for 80% of your income or profit. One way to find these high profit time areas is to identify those areas that, if you were to spend 8 hours on them, your effort would generate a material difference in your income.

Focus days are spent exclusively on these very high yielding areas with NO interruptions of any kind. I have seen some entrepreneurs adopt this procedure and, not only do they make more money, but their stress level is reduced. In my case, while I teach at FSU, I spend three days a week out in the field meeting and assisting entrepreneurs through JMI without any other interruptions.

While you must answer phone calls, attend to emails, and assist your associates; these tasks are done on administrative days. The number of administrative days you need in proportion to focus days will depend on your particular situation. Generally, when you start this program, you might try one focus day and then one administrative day. Many entrepreneurs keep improving this system till they get down to four focus days and then just one administrative day. While it may take up to two years to develop your administrative days into a routine, it is a doable task.

While you are scheduling focus days and administrative days, it is very important to schedule free days into your schedule. A free day is one when you take the whole day off without doing any work. Some experts recommend that free days be 100 per year, (including vacation days, but excluding weekends in your count), but this is huge block of time. My recommendation is to start with 50 days and then gradually builds this up to 75. For free days, plan something you have always wanted to do, and then go out and do it. Take your significant other to a bed and breakfast in Apalachicola or work on your hobby. The point is, that you just flat need to get away from the job to revitalize, motivate and energize yourself. While these free days might seem excessive, you need to remember that working harder is not the answer -- working smarter is.

Your effectiveness as a leader will be greatly enhanced if you build a schedule that includes focus days, administrative days, and free days. Try these time management techniques and you will be so surprised how effectively they improve your work and your personal life.

Jerry Osteryoung is the Director of Outreach of the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Florida State University, the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship; and Professor of Finance. He was the founding Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. He can be reached by e-mail at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com or by phone at 850-644-3372.

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