Fax machines, e-mail, cell phones and all kinds of other devices were supposed to help us be more efficient, but for many of us, our lives are now more hectic than ever. Hopefully, the following tips can help improve your efficiency and the quality of your business and life.

We frequently hear people talk about saving time, but how do we really save time? Where do we put it? How is it stored? In reality, we are talking about efficiency and what we can do to be more productive. Fax machines, e-mail, cell phones and all kinds of other devices were supposed to help us be more efficient, but for many of us, our lives are now more hectic than ever. Hopefully, the following tips can help improve your efficiency and the quality of your business and life.

• Accept your fate. You work in a small business, not some type of bureaucracy. Your life is going to be hectic, but this does not mean you are doomed to a life of hassle. Accept that your business is hectic but embrace concepts, skills and practices that will help improve your lifestyle.

• Understand yourself. Disorganized people tend to buy day planners, personal organizers, books on time management and electronic gadgets that collect dust on a shelf. If you are disorganized, know what you will and will not do and keep it simple. Recognize this weakness and design a system that works for you and, more importantly, hire people who are more organized than you and allow them to help with the problem.

A simple rule of thumb to follow for administrative assistants or office people: If you have to tell them what to do, you have the wrong person. A strong office manager is someone who helps organize and guide you, not you them.

• Realize that discipline is your friend. A more disciplined and structured life feels like it is taking valuable time from you when, in reality, such discipline gives you more personal freedom. Learn to do certain things at certain times, perform paperwork and other tasks as they occur and try to work on a more disciplined schedule.

Business owners tend to wear more than one hat and occupy several key positions in the business. For example, if you estimate and manage jobs, try to be disciplined with this process. Being on the job an hour and then running to an estimate, and then running back to the job and then running out to another estimate is frustrating and leaves you unfulfilled at the end of day. Consider running jobs in the morning and estimates in the afternoon. Try to be disciplined in the various tasks you must do and stick to a schedule such as billings on Wednesday afternoon, a production meeting on Tuesday morning, etc. Such simple discipline can make you much more effective.

• Evaluate how you spend your time. Most time management courses ask you to start by keeping track of how you spend your time. Keep a time card on yourself for several days. Track time in half hour segments and then evaluate your activities by value to the company, what it would cost for someone else to do it, what could be easily delegated, etc. If you want to make a six-figure income, you must give up tasks that can be performed by lower-paid people. You would not pay someone else $100,000 a year to pick up material, and you are also too highly paid to perform such a task. As your business grows, you must buy into the concept that it is costing you money, not saving you money, to do menial tasks.

• Use a paper and pencil. The story goes that Albert Einstein was once chastised for not remembering minor details, and he replied that he never cluttered his mind with things he could look up. Keeping simple notes where you can quickly see them can have a huge impact on your effectiveness. Yes, I know you can use a tape recorder or some type of electronic device, but such notes can get lost and never seen again. When on the road or in a seminar, I jot down information on a small pad so that I will not forget it. When I return or have a break to use my cell phone, I quickly go through those notes and move on.

• Use efficient paperwork basics. Try to handle paperwork once. Where possible, try to do estimates, job billing and other tasks while the information is still fresh. There are three basic things you can do with paperwork: file it, act on it or delegate it to someone else. Consider making a reading file where you can catch up reading trade magazines, reports, etc., while waiting at the doctor’s office or some other downtime activity.

• Understand the difference between delegated responsibility and an assistant. As we get busier, we tend to look for people to assist us. As our business grows, a mere assistant for certain tasks may be totally unrealistic. For example, an assistant would occasionally order material when you did not have time to do so. A delegated process would mean that they order material all the time, and it becomes part of their regular job. An assistant would occasionally call a customer to advise them of a schedule change. Yet a true delegated responsibility would mean the person is in charge of scheduling, not you. Learning to delegate a process and not merely a task within a process may be a more realistic approach to better time management.

• Consider giving up your calendar. Having an office person qualify phone calls and set your calendar can be more efficient than your constantly playing phone tag with customers. This can be a scary process to start, but once done it can be amazingly effective. If in doubt regarding the validity of an appointment, you can always recall the questionable ones yourself.

• Save the appropriate time for the appropriate task. Consider blocking sections of time to complete certain projects. Too many contractors get their crews out in the morning and wait until day end to finish estimates or do paperwork. This may not be a realistic approach to such a tedious task. You may be better off tackling projects while you are still fresh rather than kidding yourself that you are getting something done late in the day. Don’t sit there and feel guilty. If you are too tired to be effective, go home and play with your kids. Get up a few minutes early and tackle those more detailed tasks in the morning, or take time to do them during the day as they occur.

None of the above practices are perfect, and you will still have frustrating days. But, hopefully, use of these ideas will make you more efficient, and, more importantly, improve the quality of your life.