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A Service Story

May 16, 2024

Time Management: What's the Payoff?

Aug. 17, 2018
Improve your productivity and time management with that one simple question.

Broadly speaking, activities can be divided into two types.  There are high payoff activities and low payoff activities.  A high payoff activity, as the name implies is one that can make a significant impact.  What’s considered a high payoff activity will change over time.

When most contractors suffer the proverbial entrepreneurial seizure and launch their business, a high payoff activity is turning a wrench.  Dollars count and cash is king.  Anything the single truck operator can do to start generating positive revenue is a high payoff.

As time flows on and the contractor begins to hire other technicians, the payoff changes.  It is no longer a high payoff activity for the contractor to use his tools.  He has other people who can perform service work, but not other people who can work on growing the business.

Nearly every contractor struggles when it’s time to give up the tools.  Some simply cannot wrap their heads around the opportunity cost of working on equipment compared to working on the business.  They end up limiting their future by clinging to their past.

The growth of a business is a never-ending procession of payoff decisions that change over time.  Someone has to do every little task in a business, or does someone?  What happens if the task does not get done?

If something must be done, does the owner have to do it?  Can someone else buy the company toilet paper and coffee?

Some tasks cannot be performed as well by anyone else. Maybe no one else will be able to write a consumer newsletter as well as a wordsmithing owner. But could someone write it nearly as well, allowing the owner more time to focus on employee recruiting?  It’s not simply the notion of a high payoff, but the highest payoff.

Determining the payoff isn’t always straightforward.  At first blush, attending a Rotary lunch may not seem like a high payoff activity.  Look again. Is sustaining a high profile for the business among dozens of community leaders and influencers a high payoff activity?

Some activities may seem to be low payoff, but preclude the potential for an unacceptably high cost. Getting and opening the mail is an example. It seems low payoff, but what is the value of opening the IRS notice that your bookkeeper failed to make 941 payments?  If picking up and opening the mail reduces the opportunity for fraud, is it a high payoff activity?

When assessing the payoff of an activity, it is easy to lie to yourself. The payoff of enjoyable activities gets inflated. The payoff of disagreeable activities is minimized. This leads to procrastination of the unpleasant, such as delaying the termination of an employee who is a bad fit but otherwise a pleasant person.

Sometimes it is impossible to assess the payoff of an activity. This applies to nearly every trade show, conference, and training event.  If the payoff was known ahead of time, there would be no reason to attend the event. When you do not know what you do not know, attendance is an act of faith.  You believe there will be a payoff, even though it is unknown in advance.

Payoff activities come in two forms. There is the business payoff and there is the personal payoff.  Do not neglect the latter in blind pursuit of the former. Take the time to attend your kids’ school performances and sporting events. Take a real family vacation.  Block some time for you and your spouse. The business isn’t the end. Ultimately, it is the means to support your family. Keep that payoff in focus and it becomes easier to identify the high payoff business activities.

The highest payoff activity you can take this year is attending the Service World Expo October 10-12 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.  At Service World, you will learn from and interact with the industry’s best practitioners in the business of contracting.  You will also attend the industry’s most innovative and fun trade show.  Visit or call 844.742.3970 for more information.