As a retailer, you know better than anyone else that time is practically money. If you waste time with inefficient processes, you’re leaving money on the table that will be quickly scooped up by your competition.
But whether you’re a retail manager with years of experience or someone with a new shop, you can easily be pulled in multiple different directions on any given day. It can be hard to focus on one task at a time when you’re trying to deal with customers, train your staff, and maybe actually get a few hours of sleep at night.
In the retail business, success boils down to not just how much you sell, but how you manage your time. It’s about working smarter and getting more done, and here are 10 tips to help you make better use of all of your precious time.
Make a to-do list
Sound completely obvious, right? But how many times have you gone through your day, flitting from task to task, but yet felt like you got absolutely nothing done? Exactly. Start by writing down your tasks in advance either the night before or first thing in the morning.
According to research, our willpower is stronger earlier in the day. Use that to your advantage and complete your most important tasks first and you’ll be more likely to finish what needs to get done. Plus, most stores tend to get busier as the day goes on, so dedicate the first part of your day to the most important responsibilities on your to-do list.
If you’re not a pen and paper kind of person, there are a variety of to-do list apps that can help you with just a swipe. For example, Google Keep is free for iOS and Android and is designed with big “cards” for each task that can be tweaked to make them stand out. Apple Notes is preinstalled on iPhones and offers a syncing feature that keeps everything together. Not linked to any big company, Any.do has panels that fade in and out with a sliding animation, with syncing available across devices.
Set clear daily goals and prioritize
This goes along with your to-do list, but here you’re going to get laser-focused with exactly what you’re hoping to accomplish by the time you leave your store or turn off your computer. Saying, “clean the store” isn’t nearly as effective as saying, “organize the back room inventory according to purchase date,” for example.
You can clearly define your daily goals by prioritizing what’s most important. Use the ABCDE method as introduced by Tor Refsland of Time Management Chef:
A: Tasks you must do—serious consequences if they don’t get done
B: Tasks you should do—mild consequences if they don’t get done
C: Tasks you could do—no consequences if they don’t get done
D: Tasks you delegate
E: Tasks you never do
According to Refsland, you always do the A tasks before you do a B task, and you never do a C task before you have done all the B tasks. Then apply the 80/20 rule to identify each day; which 20% of the tasks on your to-do list will give you 80 % of the results. Once you have an idea about everything that needs to be accomplished, decide how much time you need and work towards achieving that goal.
Know your store’s peak times and schedule accordingly
When do you have the most traffic in your store? Are there hours when things are quieter and that would allow you to work on more involved tasks? You can easily figure these things out using foot traffic programs such as people counters or insights from your POS system where you can run sales reports by the hour so you can see when you’re making the most sales.
This tip also applies to not just daily tasks, but seasonal tasks as well. You wouldn’t want to schedule large tasks like physical inventory counts during the month of December is you do a majority of your sales around the holidays. Figuring out these peak times will give you a better sense of when you can get tasks accomplished.
Train your staff and delegate
As much as you would like to think that you’re superhuman, nobody can run a successful retail operation by themselves — and they shouldn’t try. The first step to getting more done is surrounding yourself with a well-trained staff that can help you get those things done. If you find you’re having to do a majority of the work and put out multiple fires, it’s time to look at the training that you’re giving to your employees.
To effectively delegate tasks to your employees, and be a manager that maximizes their productivity, get comfortable with the fact that your way isn’t the only way and that you don’t have to do it yourself. Delegate the tasks that make the most sense for both you and your employees so that everyone is playing to their strengths and you’re not just unloading tasks at random. Sometimes it’s more important to entrust a certain task to someone else so you can focus on the business rather than working in it.
Control your attention and focus
Emails. Texts. Customer requests. Employee questions. Your phone and all the bells and whistles. There are no shortage of distractions that can suck the time right away from you throughout the day. In fact, at least 43 percent of consumers check their mobile phones within five minutes of waking up, and another 17 percent immediately check their phones. But if your goal is to increase the quality of the time you currently have, you need to limit your focus to one task at a time.
This means effectively managing distractions, and this also goes for your staff. Establish rules for the whole time and set expectations to help eliminate distractions. For example, establish official break times and times to check emails as a way to encourage your retail staff to control their attention and stay focused during work hours — and the same goes for you. It’s tempting to think you have to see everything right that second or reply immediately, but when you’re scattered, so is your productivity.
Use a time management system
Time management systems might sound daunting, but they work because they help busy retail shop owners exercise conscious control over how much time is dedicated to different tasks. Try out one of the methods below for a good 60 days and see how it works for you and your staff. Keep exploring different options until you find an adequate solution.
With the Pomodoro technique, you break the work down into short, timed intervals (called “Pomodoros”) that are spaced out by short breaks when faced with any large task. This trains your brain to focus for short periods and helps you stay on top of tasks.
The POSEC method stands for “Prioritizing by Organizing, Streamlining, Economizing and Contributing” and can be defined as a way to break down your main goals into smaller tasks and minor goals.
The Eisenhower system helps you quickly identify the activities that you should focus on, as well as the ones you should ignore. Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Apply this to your own list and see if your productivity doesn’t improve.
Here’s a cool video that gives an overview of this system:
Automate some operations
Today’s modern world offers myriad ways to help you be more productive with your time, if you use them correctly. One way to make things easier on yourself is to use tools that can automate and streamline your business.
Want someone to take over answering emails and setting up meetings with vendors? Hire a virtual assistant to take that work off of your plate. Of course not all business operations should be automated, but there are numerous applications that can help automate some of those tasks that drain your time during the work week.
Organize your store
Once you figure out the slowest times for your store, use that time to organize the place. Not only will it look more attractive to customers, but you won’t lose precious time looking for items in the cluttered back room or directing customers where they can find certain things.
Take some time to label all the boxes and shelves in your back room, and look for ways to improve how items are positioned to make sure everything is in their proper place. For example, those items that need to be restocked most often should be positioned near the door so associates can quickly locate them and restock them.
Take time to think
You probably think you don’t have time to rest and regroup, but it’s one of the most important things that you can do. First thing in the morning, take five minutes over a cup of coffee to think, “What’s most important for me to accomplish today?” and then add that to your list. Set your phone to beep throughout the day so you pause and ask yourself, “Am I doing what I most need to be doing?” And at the end of the day, take five minutes and answer the question, “What did I learn? What do I want to do differently tomorrow?”
Build in unstructured time
As a retailer, you know nothing goes exactly to the schedule and that things will always come up and that you can never get a break. But when you’re constantly busy and every minute of every day is scheduled back to back, your cognitive abilities decline, you become more prone to making errors, and you’re less insightful.
While it might sound counterproductive, scheduling brief interruptions like a 15 minute break is actually part of managing time well. It gives you time to reevaluate the job at hand and your goals. Start with one 15-minute break in the mid-morning and the other in the afternoon. Even apply this same practice in your shift scheduling and you’ll be surprised at how more productive everyone is.
The bottom line
As a busy retailer, you know that managing your time is the key to success, but that it has little to do with how many hours you work and more to do with how productive you and your staff are with those hours. The true goal of time management in your retail business is to reduce distractions and inefficiencies that are limiting the potential growth of your store and business as a whole. By adopting these tried and true methods, you’re well on your way to success.