7 ways to spend more time on your business (not in it)

Smart practice

Monday 25 July 2016

As an advice practice principal, your objectives are to grow your business and stay ahead of the challenges on the horizon. With any luck, you’ll find more work/life balance along the way.

But staying focused on these objectives isn’t easy. Five minutes into your day, your to-do list looks like a page of footy scores. You’re drowning in a torrent of email and paperwork and your noisiest client has already rung you three times.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Macquarie research tells us that many practice leaders are still spending too much time working in their business, which means the strategic priorities needed to grow the firm and manage future challenges are put on the back burner.

The problem, according to the Head of Sales and High Performance Culture for Macquarie’s Banking and Financial Services Group, Craig Griffin, is that leaders often think their highest value activity is for them to be ‘producing’.

“We call it the producer-manager dilemma,” he says.

“In professional services, working with clients and producing revenue are very important but they don’t generate the most value from the leader’s time. If you don’t get the balance right between producing and managing, it can affect both your personal and professional goals.”

The tyranny of the urgent

Daily distractions compound the problem. According to Macquarie’s 2015/16 Accounting and Financial Services Benchmarking Report, 55 per cent of firms say keeping up with email, paperwork and compliance is their number one business challenge, with 37 per cent saying this hinders their efforts to think strategically.

“In many of the businesses we work with, leaders are spending large amounts of their time reacting to urgent issues instead of focusing on what really matters,” Griffin says.

“The impact is that you lose your ability to keep your head up and meet challenges head-on. This is especially critical when your industry or your business is going through a period of transition or change.”

Interestingly, most leaders are aware of the problem.

Leaders should be looking at the client experience across the whole firm. If you’re spending too much time ‘producing’ for one client, then maybe you need to reframe your role with that client and build a team.

The benchmarking research reveals that more than a third of business leaders recognise they should be spending more time building and servicing relationships with their most valuable clients – this jumps to 46 per cent for high performing businesses – yet they are still shouldering the bulk of the client work.

To break the cycle, leaders need to challenge their assumptions about their role.

“It’s about understanding the different hats you wear with clients and re-shaping your role to drive the business forward,” Griffin says. “For example, leaders should be looking at the client experience across the whole firm. If you’re spending too much time ‘producing’ for one client, then maybe you need to reframe your role with that client and build a team.”

With that in mind, here are seven ways to overcome capacity constraints and spend more time on your business:

  1. Dust off your business strategy

    Your role as the leader of the practice is to grow the business, produce wealth and leave a great business legacy for your team and clients. If you are not focused on where you want to be in three years, you can guarantee that no one else is.

  2. Define your purpose as a leader

    What value do you add to each of your stakeholders, including each of your clients (or groups of clients), staff and business partners? Are you there to solve their everyday problems or to drive a better business? By framing your role and defining how you can best deliver value, it will soon become clear what you can say ‘no’ to.

  3. Think about how you spend your time now

    How much time do you spend with each of your clients? With staff? With key business partners? On admin? On re-focusing your strategic plan? Writing out a rough guide of how you spend your time will reveal where you’re over-reaching and where you’re neglecting key priorities.

  4. Document how you should be spending your time

    For each of the buckets above, what is the most important activity? Once you’ve done that, prioritise all of the buckets. Sorting out who and what needs your attention (and when) will help you differentiate between core business activities and distractions.

  5. Make a list of distractions

    What is dragging you away from your purpose as a leader and keeping you from your priorities, as outlined above? This will help you become clearer about your goals, and make your daily prioritisation easier.

  6. Execute

    Plan your day, every day. What do you need to do to achieve your business priorities? What do you need to stay away from? Having these clear in your mind will help you delegate activities as needed.

  7. Measure

    It’s true that what gets measured gets managed. Use a balanced scorecard to track your progress – and question yourself: are you spending time where it will have the most impact? Hold yourself accountable to this.

This article is part of our deep dive into the findings of the Macquarie's 2015/16 Accounting and Financial Services Benchmarking Report. We encourage you to download this report and/or use our online benchmarking tool to see how your practice measures up against your peers.

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