Three times this week the same issue has come up for discussion. Time. Yesterday, I was running an all-day seminar for entrepreneurship students at the University of Buckingham where we explored how they could cope with all the pressures of running an online business. They realised there was a significant amount of work to do and very little time to do it. Three days before, I was with a client in London who asked, “how am I meant to get my team to do everything they need to do online when there is so much to do to make it all work efficiently?” And that question came on the same day I received an email with research results showing that we now spend about two working days every year just waiting – waiting for things to download, waiting for messages to show they are sent or waiting for programs or apps to load. Indeed, the researchers suggested there is a growing phenomenon of “load rage”, where people are getting frustrated with all the waiting around. It is a further indication of the time pressures that face us these days. And, yes, I know I wrote on a similar theme five weeks ago, but I am finding from talking to people that this topic is increasingly important and so I’m taking a slightly different angle on it this week.
Yesterday, I reminded the students of Michael Porter’s “five forces” model. In case you don’t know, Professor Porter is an academic from the Harvard Business School and an expert on strategy. He suggests five competitive forces are acting on any business. However, back in 2001 he also said that such competitive forces were significantly affected by the Internet. He added that far from the Internet’s rapid development meaning you could not really have an in-depth strategy, the reverse was the case. He argued – 16 years ago – that the arrival of the Internet made strategic planning all the more important, partly because of the intensity of the competitive forces produced by the online world.
So, I decided yesterday that I was going to align myself with Michal Porter and make a profound statement to my students, putting me on the academic map…! I said, “far from the Internet meaning you cannot manage time effectively, it makes time management more important than ever before.” Essentially, I took Michael Porter’s statement and removed “strategy” and inserted the words “time management”.
But think of your typical day. Emails, social media messages, more emails, reports to download, blogs posts to read, more emails, text messages, notifications on your phone, more emails….oh…and actual work. Then, there’s website development, keeping up-to-date with the latest online technology, so you don’t look dated, and checking your web analytics. Plus, of course, there’s producing loads of content, editing videos, and yet more emails. It never stops.
Productivity levels in much of the world have remained relatively static for more than a decade. Economists can’t work it out. I can. The countries with the weakest growth in productivity are the ones with the greatest penetration of online activity. One economist, the Nobel Prize Winner, Robert Solow, showed that the more technology we use, the less productive we become. It is known as the “Solow Paradox“. It means that the very technology you are using to run your business and simplify your life is actually making things more complicated and time-consuming, hence the productivity gap.
So, the question to answer is whether your company is properly organised to gain the benefits of the online world, without the time-consuming hassle. Do you need to use email, or will something quicker do, such as Slack or Flock? Are you doing tasks that can be automated using systems like Zapier or IFTTT (If this then that)? Have you got a policy for dealing with emails and communicated that to everyone? If you tell people you will only deal with emails once a day at 9am, you will manage their expectations and save yourself time. Similarly, have you got a timetable allocation for dealing with social media? Doing it once a day will take 20-minutes, doing it in dribs and drabs adds up to an hour or more.
Also, do you find yourself multitasking – writing a report and then answering an email, or picking up your phone to check that notification that has just beeped? I’ve got news for you. Multitasking is a myth. When you do several things at the same time, you REDUCE your performance in all of those tasks. The result? It takes MORE time to complete things compared with when you focus on one task at a time. The problem with the online world is that it positively encourages multitasking. One good step forward is to switch off all notifications on your phone. You don’t need them when you have a timetabled plan of checking things for yourself. And if you don’t want phone calls to interrupt you, switch it to silent and deal with the voicemails on your own terms. For a landline, get a call answering service like AllDayPA or use TTNC (The Telephone Number Company) which can silently answer your phone and send you the voicemail recordings via email.
The real issue these days is that there is a lot to do in order to have a successful online business. You need to create content and manage incoming information from a variety of sources. It can all be overwhelming, which is why many people give up creating content, fall behind in answering emails, and remove themselves from social media, thereby reducing their company’s visibility in the marketplace. Yet, people do this because they cannot cope. The reason they cannot cope is that all of this Internet activity has taken over their lives.
If you are in the same position – if online activities are overwhelming you then you need a plan to cope. Otherwise, you will not gain the significant advantages of online business and promotion to deal with those competitive forces that Michael Porter identified. Which means only one thing. It is crucial to manage your time, plan your time more efficiently and be more productive. Time management is now more critical than ever before simply because we have the Internet.