Search Not Just Numbers

Monday 30 March 2009

Is this the best use of my time?

by Glen Feechan

When launching the website for our new
Spreadsheets by Email service, I started fiddling around designing a logo, knowing I wanted the website live in a couple of days. After a few attempts that looked far better in my head than they did when I tried to recreate them on the screen, I stopped short and realised that I was seriously undervaluing my time. I took a few minutes to find a service on the web, paid £19 on a credit card for next day delivery by email, and got on with everything else I needed to do.

Those of us who sell our services, often have a good idea of what our time is worth, but we still need to pull ourselves up quite regularly. It can be even harder when we are working within an organisation.

When I was back in practice, our charge-out rate was always three times our hourly pay-rate. Keeping timesheets, which were costed at this rate was a very useful reminder of the opportunity cost of any wasted time. Are you confident that the time you spend at work is worth three times what you are paid? Useful question, isn’t it?

It can be worthwhile, keeping a timesheet for a week, or even a day, and attempting to put a value on each job before comparing it to the cost of the time spent.
Areas where Finance Directors often spend time that can usually be done far more cost-effectively by someone else are:

l need to add value to our businesses., especially in the current economic climate where it is vitally important to add more value to your business than you cost them – so, don’t forget to keep asking yourself, “Is this the best use of my time?”
  • Management Accounts preparation – the more you can automate and/or delegate this process, the better. The real value-added is in the review and decision-making based on the numbers;
  • Technical tasks, e.g. setting up spreadsheets, fixing IT problems;
  • Procurement – sitting in endless meetings comparing suppliers in areas where the possible savings far outweigh the time spent.
  • Company vehicles – I have seen Finance Directors spend huge amounts of time sourcing vehicles, effectively acting as a used car trader. This is one of those areas where personal interests can really distort our priorities.
I’m sure you can think of plenty more.

Whenever you find yourself spending more than, say, an hour on something, just stop for a second and think, “Is this the best use of my time?”
If the answer is no, the next question you should ask is, “Who could do it better and cheaper?” Here are a few ideas:
  • Another member of your department – we all know the benefits of delegation, so this route should always be considered.
  • A member of another department – sometimes we spend ages on jobs to get information we need, when a slight variation of that information is already produced in another part of the business. Adding a few amendments to the way that information is collected, may add no work to the member of staff producing it, while removing the work altogether from your department.
  • An outside supplier or freelancer – often these jobs are one-offs which mean there is an unproductive learning curve for whoever does it in the organisation. These are the times when it pays to go outside. It is very easy to find external suppliers via the internet. It can be very surprising the cost-savings available through this route. For example, within my own group of companies, we offer free procurement services and spreadsheets built from around £40/$60.
We all need to add value to our businesses., especially in the current economic climate where it is vitally important to add more value to your business than you cost them – so, don’t forget to keep asking yourself, “Is this the best use of my time?”


  1. I've heard many accountants and bookkeepers preach to prospects and clients, that their time is better spent doing what they are good at and bringing in revenue for their business... leave the bookkeeping and accounting to those that know what they're doing, and can to it fast.

    I'm now coming across quite a lot of accountants and bookkeepers, especially online, that start to do more things for themselves... like your logo attempt. With software and tools helping us do more things for ourselves, this can be a very real distraction from simply leaving it to the professionals.

  2. An interesting discussion because of course technology has made it possible for us to do things ourselves that in earlier times we had to leave to other professionals - Glen's playing about with logos being an example. The difficulty is knowing when to outsource and when to delegate. Many of us have the same problem domestically and learn the hard way that just because you have the tools doesn't mean DIY is a good idea!

  3. But of course bad DIY can always be undone, whereas pressing delete by mistake on the computer can.....well

  4. Twelve months ago, I would have agreed entirely with this article - "stick to your core skills". The "best use of your time" meant "the most profitable use of your time".

    But in today's economy, cash is King. If you can avoid spending the cash by doing it yourself, and the time that might be freed up doesn't generate cash, then take the cash positive option.

    If the amount is relatively small, then go ahead and out-source. But in this economy, we have to change the mindset from "profitable" to "cash positive" - a lesson I learnt in the last recession.

    A lot of profitable companies will go bust; any company with significant cash on deposit won't.

  5. Very good point Mark. My argument assumes a greater (and relatively immediate) opportunity cost, which is usually the case with small expenses like that above. I've certainly had times in business when profitability has been irrelevant if the cash returns weren't in the next few weeks! And I'm sure, unfortunately, many will be facing a similar situation in the coming months.

  6. last week our class held a similar talk about this topic and you illustrate something we have not covered yet, appreciate that.

    - Kris