You may know that one of the benefits of working at Google is “20% time.” Google allows their engineers to spend 20% of their time working on projects that are not necessarily part of their normal jobs, but are things they are passionate about.
This is a perk for employees, but the company gets a great benefit, too. According to Google, the results of giving employees free rein to create new things include Google News, Google Suggest, AdSense for Content and Orkut.
Employees do not have to spend that time creating something brand new, either. They can work on an improvement to an existing product, or even fix something that is broken. The point is to do something outside of their normal duties.
If you spend all of your time just keeping things going, you would be smart to implement your own version of 20% time.
Why 20%? Maybe it comes from the 80/20 Rule, that says that 80% of results come from 20% of our effort. Of course, you do not have to make it 20%. You might start with more or less than 20% of your time. It may be that as you implement your 20% time you create opportunities to spend more time on thinking up and implementing new, exciting projects than on dealing with the run of the mill stuff you spend your time on now.
It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of running your business. Phone calls have to be returned and orders shipped. There are meetings to attend, sales calls to make, bills to pay, emails and blog posts to write, computer glitches to handle, and on and on. The things that you should be doing to grow and develop your business are often relegated to the bottom of your to-do list.
So what would you do with your 20% time? All of those things you say you do not have time for now. They might include creating something, such as writing a book or producing a new product. Your 20% time might be best spent building systems that will allow your business to scale, such as automating manual processes. Or learning a new skill, networking with new people, creating a new distribution channel . . . the list goes on and on.
Imagine what you want your business to be like in one year, or two, five or ten. What steps will you have to take to get there? Too often, these are the things we do not do because we are busy running the business and putting out fires. Dedicate your 20% time to doing the things you need to do to build the business you want. Think big and do not be afraid to dream.
Which 20% of Your Time Will it Be?
Assuming a 40-hour workweek, 20% is eight hours, or one day a week. You may decide to set aside every Monday or another day to work on your 20% projects. Or you might spend an hour to two each day, or even one week out of five. Your choice will depend on what you want to accomplish and how long you can step away from the day-to-day grind. A week or two away from your usual duties might be unrealistic at this point; however, anyone can manage one day a week or a couple of hours at a time.
The first step in implementing your 20% plan is to find the time. No, you need to make the time. That might mean delegating, outsourcing or eliminating some of the things you are doing now. There are tasks that only you can do, but you might be surprised to learn that you are not as indispensable as you think.
Look for tasks that can be systematized. Could your assistant (or a virtual assistant) review your email and respond to routine inquiries? Have someone review incoming email, mail or other communications, handle the routine stuff, and forward the issues that need your attention to you. When you first begin this, you may want to review everything they handle to make sure they are making correct choices and responding appropriately. Although that may take a little more time than doing it yourself initially, the long-term payback is immense.
Identify tasks that can be outsourced. One of my best moves was hiring a fulfillment service to handle orders for me. You can hire people to update your blog, upload photos or other files to the web, set up sales appointments, follow up with customers and more. You do not have to do it all yourself.
Spend less time on email and phone calls. Checking your email every three minutes and answering the phone every time it rings disrupts your day and steals time. Set a schedule for handling email and phone calls. Download your email and voice mail twice a day, and take care of them then. Handling them all through the day means your work is constantly interrupted and you get less done.
Stop doing things you do not have to do. Years ago, I was an “efficiency expert” at an insurance company. In every department, I found people doing reports that no one ever read because the reports had always been done and no one would say, “Stop!” Likewise, the systems people were handling tons of paper because computers made it easy to get the same data printed out fifty different ways. So what if they didn’t need those reports? They might want to look at them once, some day. So someone ran the reports, someone sorted them and delivered them to each department, where someone distributed them to everyone who then dutifully filed their copies away, never to look at them again.
Even if you work on your own and not in a big corporation, you may be guilty of making work. Do you print and file copies of information that can easily be found on your computer when and if you need it? I see people doing that all the time. Do you waste time in unnecessary meetings? Or working on things you never finish? Or making elaborate plans that you do not follow. Just stop it. Now.
Take the first steps toward making 20% time a regular part of your work life. Your first 20% projects might be tackling the things described in this article, so you can free up more time to devote to the important things in your business, including dreaming and building for the future.