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5 Ways Business Owners Waste Time & How To Get It Back

July 17th, 2018 | 5 min. read

By Matt Patrick

Polish historian Jerzy Targalski deserves the “Powering Through Award” for composure in the face of a determined cat. Well, more accurately, the determined cat was in his face.

Targalski was in the middle of taping an interview for Dutch public television to comment on recent political happenings when an orange tabby decided it wasn’t getting enough attention. Completely unconcerned with all these lower lifeforms in the room, the cat began by pawing at Targalski’s arm, then eventually ended up walking across his shoulders, licking his ear, and using his head as a convenient perch from which to examine the chandelier. When the cat used its tail to cover his human’s eyes, the way Targalski calmly brushed it out of the way makes me wonder if he isn’t used to this kind of thing.

So this story begs the question: how often do cats figuratively (or perhaps literally?) walk across your head during the day?

  • The phone rings when you’re deep in thought on a project
  • You work from home and World War III breaks out in your playroom
  • Your coworker came to the door and just had to tell you all about their weekend in real-time detail
  • Your restaurant manager just informed you that your produce delivery didn’t come today, so you’ve got to stop by the store on the way in

According to the Small Business Administration, half of all U.S. employees work for small businesses. And Small Business Bank adds that 92% of small businesses are “micro businesses”–operating under one owner with fewer than 5 employees–and have been responsible for creating over 26 million jobs!

If you are one of the folks who fall into that category, you are no stranger to disruptions that can throw you off track and waste valuable time. People in the corporate world have plenty of interruptions to deal with. But folks like you and me seem to experience even greater opportunities for wasted time simply due to the nature of all the hats we wear: operations, sales, finances, marketing, HR, and IT to name a few.

And while our cubicle-bound companions tend to be able to waste more time without immediate consequences, for us…time is, indeed, money.

Some Ways We’re Likely to Waste Time

1. Waiting for the phone to ring

Problem: It’s a tough spot to be in. You’ve scheduled an important call, but for whatever reason, the other person is running late. And so you’re stuck in productivity limbo. Unsure of how much down time you have until they call, you’re hesitant to start doing something else. But you hate to just sit there mindlessly killing time either.

Solution: Fast Company recommends having a “project of the day” that you can default to when a few spare minutes appear (like straightening your desk, unsubscribing from unwanted emails, writing thank you notes, etc.) They also say, “If it’s a one-on-one conversation, always offer to be the one to initiate the call. That way it starts when you want it to start.”

2. Returning from an interruption

Problem: Anything can throw off your groove, and it can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes for your brain to get fully focused again. During that time, it’s easy to slip into wasteful easy routines: checking email, news headlines, or [insert social media] “real quick.” Too often, that “quick” thing often turns into an additional interruption that throws your productivity off even further.

Solution: As soon as an interruption happens, make a mental note of exactly where you are in whatever you’re working on, then challenge yourself to get back there as quick as you can. If interruptions are happening way too often, find ways to alter your environment: move to a quiet space or set up some sort of visual cue–a sign that says “Not now!” or a flag on your desk that will let people know it’s not a good time to interrupt.

3. Doing tasks someone else can do cheaper and faster

Problem: According to, 66% (⅔) of small business owners wear multiple hats, personally handling 3 or more areas of operations. If you are a solopreneur just starting out, you often don’t have a choice. But as you grow, it’s essential that you find ways to “fire yourself” from things other people could be doing for you.

Solution: An easy and incredibly cost-effective way to hand off tasks is to outsource work to Virtual Assistants. Belay Solutions, based in Nashville, TN, is one of many companies who can help you find the perfect helpers. Owner Bryan Miles, says, “The old school days of having an assistant parked outside your door and just asking for coffee or running and getting your dry cleaning are over. You need to see your assistant as an extension of who you are as a leader.”

There are also plenty of companies (like Patrick Accounting … shameless plug) dedicated to partnering with you in various aspects of your business so you can focus on bigger things. We do small business bookkeeping and payroll. But wherever you’re weak or overwhelmed in your business, there is someone out there who has made it their business to do that thing.

4. Not automating manual tasks

Problem: reports that small business owners spend 23% of the day manually entering data. Assuming an 8 hour day (yeah right! When was the last time you worked one of those?!), that’s nearly 2 full hours mindlessly inputting information that could be spent growing your business somehow!

Solution: Depending on the task in question, there are lots of tech solutions you can take advantage of. Take employee onboarding, for example. It can often be a nightmare to make sure of all of the things you need to do when adding an employee. At Patrick Payroll we are an iSolved Network Partner. We partnered with iSolved to empower our client with an awesome tool that lets you automate and easily manage employees from pre-hire through the entire employee life cycle digitally. For a great internal communication tool check out Slack to communicate with your team, Hootsuite or Buffer to streamline your social media posting, and Acuity Scheduling to simplify your appointment scheduling.

5. Too many mental health breaks

Problem: Small business is stressful…even if things are going great and the stress is the “crazy-busy/I-can’t-believe-this-is-real” kind. And we all need a break now and then to step away and relax for a few minutes. Youtube is good medicine when you need to “check out” mentally. However, it’s so easy for those few breaks for a few minutes to turn into lots of breaks for a long time. Inc. Magazine did a study where they discovered that business leaders are wasting 3.9 hours each week escaping by streaming videos and checking social media.

Solution: Set a timer. (Let’s say for 90 minutes.) When the timer goes off, pause your work and reset the timer for 15 minutes. Then, physically get up to reward yourself with a break and a change of scenery. Walk outside or pick up a magazine. Hop on Youtube if you dare, but beware the rabbit hole effect. Whatever it is, be ready to refocus when the timer goes off again to avoid your planned break turning into the interruption we discussed back in #2.

Bonus Tips to Stop Wasting Time

  1. Either create or consume. You can’t do both. Don’t let yourself buy the lie of “I’ll just check this thing over here real quick and then get back to…” Be the boss of your time.
  2. Remove distractions. Really cool recommendation: focus@will. “Scientifically optimized music to help you focus” based on how you’re wired and what you’re doing.

And since you’ve made it to the end, go ahead and reward yourself with this, courtesy of Mr. Targalski and his cat. You know you want to.