A friend and I went to a restaurant the other day. After we were seated, the waiter came to our table, handed us menus and said he would be right back with bread, butter, and water. He returned shortly with water; then he went back to get the bread, placed it on our table, and said he would return with the butter.

This waiter has to be exhausted by the end of his work day; hopefully, he owns a good pair of running shoes. He made three trips to our table in what could have been done in one. I continued to observe him, and sure enough, he was doing the same at the other tables he was waiting on. All of a sudden it hit me . . . what if this guy incorporated efficient time management into his job/life?

There is an old saying, “Time is money,” and in this particular case, the waiter could have made much more money in tips had he been able to turn tables quicker. He probably could have had another seating.

It got me thinking about our industry. We talk about being more efficient and productive; we talk about staying lean. We look at our labor costs and the shortage in the labor pool…and I began to wonder, if we really practiced lean management, how much better could we compete in the marketplace?

The time we have each day is limited, so it’s important to get as much done in that period as we can. We sweat when we have to bid, hoping that we’ve been able to cut down our non-productive time, and it reflects in our pricing. Learning time management is one of the keys to being a successful as well as a profitable company.

The average landscape contractor usually has his routine pretty well down pat. He knows that when his crews come back in the late afternoon, they wash the trucks, gas them up along with the mowers and other power tools, and load them for the next day’s work. The next morning, they get their schedule for the day and move out.

Properly trained supervisors can make sure their crews stay on a timely track. If they fall behind, you may find yourself paying overtime to get the work done, because the next day is already booked. Changing how you manage your time can make a difference in how your crews perform, and make your company more profitable.

One way to start streamlining your business and make it more efficient is by planning and scheduling in greater detail. Any effort to get a project underway can be easily ruined if it is prepared poorly. Before you start, there should be a clear-cut idea of what needs to be done, and when it should be done. To achieve this, put together a plan of what to do once your crews arrive at a site. Break down what has to be done into individual tasks, and schedule each of these, as well as the planned completion of those tasks.

Arranging your assignments can also help you manage time better. By prioritizing tasks, you can focus on which tasks are the most pressing and important, and take care of those first. “Every day, I look at my priorities list, decide what my four main tasks are for the day, and I try to get them done before noon,” says Sara Twaddle, director of sales for SunTerra Landscape Services in Austin, Texas. “So instead of working through a day and having everything build up, I work on the big things first and leave the little things for the end of the day.”

Managing things to avoid interruption

Scheduling your time in the office can also make you, as the boss, more effective and efficient. Even small acts, like checking messages and emails, can be scheduled to make you a more productive executive. You don’t want to be checking your phone or email constantly. Every time you do, it distracts you from the matters at hand.

“I’ve been with clients who are just jumping from one thing to the next,” says Judith Guido, chairman of Guido & Associates in Moorpark, California. “They’re looking at their texts, and then they get interrupted, and then they’re looking at their emails, and eventually, they’ve forgotten what they were even working on in the first place. So schedule a beginning and an end to these things.” It takes a person about twenty-five minutes to get back on task after being distracted. Your phone may ring throughout the day, but that doesn’t mean you have to answer it every time.

Planning for transportation Transportation can be a very big source of wasted time and money. Routes can be chosen poorly, underpowered trucks get packed with too much material, and vehicles may not be fueled up in advance. Any one of these actions can lead to time management problems. “Go from the farthest point to the one closest to your office,” suggests Guido. “You don’t want to be going from point A to L to B, over to R, then ending at F, and from there going back to your base somewhere. Planning is very important.”

In addition to the routes taken, it is also a good idea to organize what goes into each truck. Arriving with the wrong items is just as bad as showing up with nothing at all. To ensure that everyone has exactly what they need, make certain that the crews have a checklist of what is needed before even rolling out. With these in hand, everyone will be sure to head out with the right stuff, and be able to get to work without any delays.

Handling of the site

Okay, you’ve made it to your client’s property and you have everything you need to start working. Now the key to time management shifts towards making sure everything stays efficient—no separate trips for bread and butter. But even the best-laid plans have the potential to go awry, and it may be necessary to adjust the actions your workers take to get more done in less time. After all, time definitely is money.

Monitoring crews at jobsites can help determine which actions are helping their time management and which aren’t. Having crew chiefs and managers pay attention to the flow of work can help maintain efficieny. Managing who is doing what, and in what order, can determine how long it takes to complete an assignment.

Another simple way to manage time well is as easy as where you offload your employees and supplies.

There’s no point in driving everyone to the service parking lot when you’re working up by the entrance. Just drop the team off where they’ll be operating before parking the vehicle. This saves wasted time due to inefficient movement.

Training and allocating

The individual training of workers can also be a factor in how swiftly tasks are completed. People operate a lot faster when they know what needs to be done, and how to do it. This can make your business operate faster and more smoothly.

“Training is a big part of productivity,” Guido says. “Having one person go to fill up instead of three people, having a process to load and unload your vehicle, having a plan of attack for a project—it should all have a flow to it. That comes with the scheduling, the planning and the training. People often attack sites so inefficiently, and it really shows the lack of training.”

Also important to managing time is to have a good distribution of roles among workers. When everyone unloads, there should be a clear understanding of who will do what. Everyone should be working at an assigned role, ensuring that no one is waiting around or repeating what someone else has done.

“One of the things I like to talk about is balancing the work,” says Dan Foley, vice president and general manager for the Brickman Group’s New England office, South Walpole, Massachusetts. “What that means is that if you have a team of three, they’re all going to finish at about the same time. Everyone has balanced responsibilities, so they’re not waiting around for that third guy to finish.”

The entire crew should know how they are approaching the site, what the timeline for the assignment is, and who is going to do what. If you can convey that well, then your team can achieve good results with a minimum amount of wasted time.

Keeping tools in good working order

If the tools in your inventory are in good working order, so that— hopefully—nothing breaks down in the field, they are ready to go. Fueling mowers, making sure electrical equipment is fully charged, sharpening all blades, and checking oil are all important actions that maintain your operational efficiency.

“Productivity is based upon having the right tool and equipment, and having it working in an optimal condition,” Foley comments. “Having a tool that isn’t operating effectively is not productive. A breakdown doesn’t add any value to our clients. Preventative maintenance is a daily event that we do constantly. So I tell people to get in the habit of doing daily checks.”

When things go wrong

Even after you’ve finished your work in the time allotted, there is still the chance that something can go amiss, and you’ll have to face the reality of having to do some tasks over again. It’s costly, but it’s also somewhat unavoidable. We are only human, after all.

Being a lean, efficient company means being able to effectively handle things when they go wrong. More importantly, we must learn from these mistakes. It’s essential to be able to walk away from a dilemma and say, “Okay, what can I do so that this doesn’t happen again?” “A failure of some sort, where the outcome doesn’t align with your expectations, you need to use that as a learning opportunity,” suggests Guido. “It might be a good time to regroup your people and ask, ‘What could we have done to be more efficient in our tasks, our equipment, and our manpower?’ Whether it’s a walkthrough that went bad, or a problem with your team, or a sales pitch gone wrong, it’s important to learn from it.”

Time management is an important skill to master in the pursuit of becoming more profitable. There may be a learning curve to implement ways of becoming more efficient, but the long run benefits are well worth it.

The key is to keep working at it, so that planning, maintenance, and training go from being tough tasks to regular routines. You will soon find that your company is wasting far less time, and getting more work done. This translates to fewer expenses, higher productivity and more profits . . . even the waiter would have to agree with that!