- Posted by Rhiannon McHugh
- On September 26, 2019
Learning how to control your schedule is crucial to being in business for yourself. Without setting proper processes, boundaries, and expectations, you’ll soon find yourself running in circles and spending most of your day in between productive activities, rather than getting things done and feeling accomplished. This is a lesson we learned (the hard way) when we were running our measuring business.
How We Learned This Lesson The Hard Way
As we described in Episode 0 – Who are Rhi & Pete and What’s this Podcast All About? we started a side business doing carpet estimates for multiple carpet installers who were contracted with a box home improvement store while we were in college.
Every week, we’d be sent the contact information for 20-40 people in the New Hampshire and Northern Massachusetts areas that we had to schedule appointments with for that week. Our territory included 9 stores that spanned 86 miles at their furthest points. In order to effectively schedule ourselves, we had to account for:
- The location of the home we were measuring
- Any traffic or construction we might encounter on the way
- What we had to measure and how long that might take
- Hoping the people we were meeting weren’t running late or not showing up
- Using map books, printed directions and old school GPS devices without real-time traffic updates.
Needless to say, scheduling all these appointments was quite the cumbersome task.
When we first started, we would simply call each person in our pile of paperwork and ask them when they were available, and put them in our calendar. We’d write down the list of appointments we’d scheduled in order, print out directions from the internet, hop in the car and hope for the best.
Before long we realized there had to be a better way. We’d run into traffic, no-shows, incorrect directions, and endless days full of stress, running late, and rescheduling. Our days were long, stressful, and inefficient and we realized that it was costing us time and money. It was pretty agonizing at first…what had we gotten ourselves into?!
So how did we attempt to fix this problem? Well, we started by sitting down and outlining all the places where we were running into issues.
Once we outlined our major issues, we decided that if we could improve our ability to estimate how long tasks actually took and improve our customer process, we could get more estimates done in less time, and create days with less stress and more productivity.
Sound like a dream come true? Well, it certainly was for us! We went from barely getting 25 estimates done in a week to easily scheduling 50 estimates and working fewer hours…this was like doubling our income without increasing the number of hours we were working!! It was all about efficiency.
So, let’s take a look at how this could be applied to your business to save you time, decrease your stress, and increase your productivity (and hopefully increase the amount of money you’re making)!
How We Solved This Problem
1. The first thing you need to do [and as we did in our situation] is to define the problematic areas of your scheduling process.
Take a hard look at what processes or routines (if any) you use to schedule yourself.
- Is it first come first serve for your time slots?
- Do have dedicated days for certain clients, geographic areas, meetings, or work?
- How do your personal obligations fit into this schedule?
- Are there certain tasks or obligations that keep being bumped for “things that come up?”
Consider your answers to all of these questions and try to pinpoint the places that are creating the logjam and stress for you.
For our measuring business we uncovered that our biggest roadblocks were:
- We were constantly underestimating the amount of time it took to complete a measurement, travel between point A and B, and stop for lunch/gas, etc.
- We were assuming that every appointment we made was going to be kept by the customer without any sort of reminder process.
- We were letting each customer set the day and time when we would come to them, rather than being more efficient and scheduling similar locations in the same time window (kind of like batching our stops together based on location).
2. Second, we brainstormed solutions for each of our roadblocks.
Problem 1: We realized that it was extremely important for us to be realistic about estimating the amount of time we needed to do our jobs correctly. In order to do this, we recorded the time each task took us for two weeks of measuring (because each job and destination was different every time) and we used the averages to help us schedule and plan. This is what we came up with:
Time spent measuring
- Single Room: 10 minutes
- ½ house: 25 minutes
- Whole House: 45 minutes
We used MapQuest at the time and just added a 15-minute buffer for each stop. This gave us time to get gas, eat and helped with any traffic we encountered.
2 Hour Window
We gave our customers a 2-hour window on when to expect us.
Having these numbers allowed us to use a formula for scheduling. We’d just plug the numbers in and know exactly how much time we needed and it saved us from guessing or trying to figure it out every single time.
Problem 2: We encountered a lot of no-shows. Most of the time people just forgot because they too, are bad at making or keeping a schedule. So to fix this issue, we told each customer that we’d call when we were about 15 minutes away and we made sure to get the phone number of the person that we’d be meeting. This is twofold — first, a lot of people were meeting us and this 15-minute heads up ensured that they’d have time to still get there if they forgot; second, we weren’t always meeting with the person who we originally scheduled the appointment with.
Problem 3: We’d just start calling the customers as the jobs came in and asked when they’d like us to come. This made for total chaos in our schedule and made for very long and stressful days. To solve this issue, we batched together when we made our phone calls. We decided since the store’s policy is to call the customers within 48 hours of receiving their paperwork that we’d wait until multiple jobs came in so we could organize them by geographic location, map out our ideal itinerary and begin making calls.
We also decided that we were going to give the customer two options for the appointment (ie. We’ll be in the area on Monday morning or Wednesday afternoon, do either of those times work for you?). The majority of the time those time slots did work and that’s the moment when we started making our schedule on our own terms.
Realizing that our clients don’t know our schedule and don’t assume we are always available for them was a big lesson. We always felt like we needed to accomodate them in order to provide an awesome service, but the truth is, the more efficient we are the better service we can provide. It’s also so much easier for our clients to choose between two options than to review their entire schedule and toss out their own ideas. We assume that their suggestions are convenient for them, but sometimes they are just as random as you allow your schedule to be when you don’t control it. Giving a few options shows that you are organized, efficient with your time, and accommodating because you are giving them options.
Improve your process to get more done
Lastly, think about ways in which you can improve your process to control your schedule more. For us, it meant letting our customers know the window during which we would arrive, and telling them we would call them when we were on our way to their location with an exact time. It didn’t really take extra time on our end because we were already in the car. What it did do though, is allow some flexibility for us if there was traffic or other unforeseen reasons why our day was running a bit off schedule. It also meant that our customers knew exactly what to expect, knew that we valued their time, and made our “no show” ratio almost zero!
Now, if you’re schedule meetings with your clients, no-shows may not be a big issue for you. But I am sure we have all had meetings cancel last minute, or arrived at a location to find that our client was running behind or no longer had as much time to meet with us as we or they had planned. This can really mess with your schedule and efficiency. Think about simple ways you can improve or add to your client process in order to improve your efficiency and I am sure you won’t regret it!
Let’s do this!
Now that we’ve outlined a few ways you can audit and improve your processes, habits, and management of your schedule, it’s time to put it into practice. Take a few of these tips and start implementing them in your business and see how you can start to be more efficient, avoid unnecessary stress, and take control of your schedule!!
Have you tried any of these methods before? Have other ideas you want to share? We want to hear what works and doesn’t work for you! Comment below to share the scheduling challenges or successes you’ve experienced.