The Logistics of Time

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Time is a funny thing – it’s the scarcest resource we are allowed to use. There are countless books, software programs and systems that aim to help us manage and control it, but for the small business there is a complex set of variables that come in to play.

time
Image: gadl via Flickr

I’ve begun to apply the term logistics more broadly when it comes to running a business. The term is commonly used when referring to the idea of delivering a product or set of good from one location to another, but what if you began to think about the logistical consumption of time to deliver a result from one state to another. I think that’s what small businesses must do at the highest level and the manager or owner of that business brings the highest value when they can orchestrate, not manage, time – the organization’s greatest resource.

Stay with me on this because now I need to add another layer. Today it’s not enough to show up and create a to do list and call it a symphony of time. Today every business has three clocks running at all time – and the management of the flow of goods, information and other resources, energy and people and depend on observing each of these clock – although they run at different paces.

Today’s business needs to live simultaneously in real time, deal time, and meal time.

Real time – Information and opportunities come at us today at astounding speed. Businesses must create systems and processes that enable them to take advantage of marketing, PR and product development opportunities instantaneously. Failure to monitor and thus seize real time competitive advantages is a threat to even the most entrenched players. Of course, it’s never been easier to chase the new shiny thing too. The creative view of world events through the lens of a marketing strategy is an arena that you must hire and manage for.

Deal time – This is where the technician lives – “Hey all that mamby pamby Kum Ba Yah stuff is great, but we gotta get some business in the door.” yep, it’s the cold hard reality of running a business. Deal time is always on the mind of any business facing a payroll or college tuition payment and it’s one that must be dealt with realistically. It may mean getting out from behind the computer and knocking on some doors, but it may also mean time spent refining what an ideal customer looks like and how to increase what you charge for your services. Keeping your sights on a better experience and higher rate of conversion may just be the best use of deal time.

Meal time – Ultimately the business is fed through attention given to the long term vision of the business. This comes from allocating resources and consistent chunks of time to things that may not pay off today or even next quarter for that matter. This is the hardest area to allocate resources but, like planting seeds in the spring, it’s the area where the entrepreneur must ultimately come to live almost full time. Have you crafted and communicated your vision, values and mission?

The proper attention to each is where the harmony lies and it’s something that you can simply feel in healthy businesses. What if you planned your day with each of these clocks in full view? Would that change your to do list? Would that make your time pass like orchestrated logistics?

I would love to discuss your view of time here – do these 3 clocks ring true for you?


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Logistics, UPS


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  1. John, very good analysis. I’m not sure there are layers … more like a vast and yeasty mix where each element of time moves in fusion with the other. Focus too much on one and the others will bite you.

    1. Hey Dean I think that’s the real point acknowledge and feed each.

      I wonder about this though – “each element of time moves in fusion with the other” – I’m thinking it moves in respect but not in fusion.

  2. John I really appreciate your work, I find it so helpful each day. Today’s blog is particularly poignant at this time of year, where business opportunities are making time appear scarce and yet the months of work scarcity (Jan – Mar) lie just ahead. Many offices have different time zones shown on clocks, perhaps we just need to have three with real, deal and meal written underneath.

  3. Love this. I teach my clients to choose, declare, report, and repeat high value actions every day to move their businesses forward. This provides a helpful context for helping them to differentiate among possible high value actions and choose wisely.

  4. John,
    There’s a reality here with your three clocks, not just a metaphor. Businesses are commonly thinking, measuring and acting in these terms right now. I’ve been in the employee time clock software business since the late 1990’s. And while we’ve enjoyed great success with our software mimicking a mechanical punch clock, things are changing in how, what, and why businesses are measuring time for their work force.

    In the last couple of years, we realized our customer feedback and requests were all about moving beyond the traditional single time clock idea where employees were simply punched in or punched out, on or off the clock. Businesses realized they very much needed to to track meal time, deal time and real time. As a result we’ve added the ability for our time clock software to measure activities, paid and unpaid, and even partially paid just to meet this demand. Today our Virtual TimeClock is helping businesses not only measure payroll costs, but things like productivity, effectiveness, communication of values and vision.

    Keith DeLong
    Redcort Software

  5. Very interesting marketing campaign by UPS. I think it accomplishes a very interesting aspect. They have emphasized their importance to society and business in a way that had never crossed my mind.

    1. Ray – I would love to hear more from you on this. Content sponsored writing can be a tricky thing and in the wrong hands actually blow up, but I think you hit on an interesting aspect of how to know when it’s done right.

  6. Another excellent article John.

    One of the things I have to give you a big thank you for is not something you said, but something you didn’t say: the word ‘balance’. I work with my clients to help them address the layers of demands and critical factors required to run a successful sustainable business (and a rewarding life). One of the stickiest, most numbing concepts I have to help them break through is that of the ‘achieving balance’ self-help-speak.

    As you so elegantly point out, it is not about balance, it is about layers of focus and priorities. You also have suggested some other great words worth following up in developing this: logistics, harmony, orchestration…

    Thanks for another thoughtful piece.

    1. Clemens – funny you mentioned that because I’ve felt that for years. I actually think that the attempt to achieve some sort of perfectly round balance defined by others is what holds people back from doing the things they are truly passionate about.

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