The New Rules: Work Smarter by Working Less

PART 6 OF A SERIES Every company has an obligation to find a balance between working hard at making a profit and working hard at staying sane. The thirst for greater quantities of time off is often squashed by the workaholic's hunger for some nebulous level of success. Over time the two opposing goals can tear apart families, marriages, partnerships and friendships.

December 12, 2005





Every company has an obligation to find a balance between working hard at making a profit and working hard at staying sane. The thirst for greater quantities of time off is often squashed by the workaholic's hunger for some nebulous level of success. Over time the two opposing goals can tear apart families, marriages, partnerships and friendships. As we plan for personal goals, we cannot allow the business to be an impediment.


Alan Hanbury

The goal for hours per week may change as the business grows and matures, staff size and skills increase, or key employees leave. At some stages, the workweek may seem to have no end. There are times when one must plan for long hours and weekend work. Most relationships will survive unharmed if we warn those we love of our temporary need to put in overtime, and promise more time off for family in concrete terms that provide a date when the lunacy will end.

People lose efficiency and the ability to work safely after long days, weeks and months. If these additional hours are stressful hours, mistakes and accidents are costly but predictable outcomes. Owners are not immune to this burnout and reduced output. We need to recharge our batteries, limit our involvement in our businesses, and guarantee time to participate in the lives and interests of our family, friends and other loved ones — and have the business be able to pay for your time off without suffering.

Hours per week

Track your own time card hours per week, including sales calls, time in the field, time in the office, and work-related trips to the post office and bank. The new rules say if you make calls, estimate, design or schedule at night, it should be on your time card as well. A normal workweek in our business seems to be about 48 hours, with the crew working at least 42.5 hours.

As the owner, being there first or last allows for the necessary next-day planning that makes us all so much more efficient. We don't want the crew to have to come to the office each morning to know what was completed yesterday and what is to be done today. An extra hour per day might be needed to accomplish design and estimating, which requires getting quotes from subs who were out in the field all day. That would make a workweek of 53 hours.

For most owners, a workweek of 5 hours more than your staff is appropriate. Shoot for no more than 10, because now you cut into time better spent cultivating relationships. If your job takes more than that, it is time to delegate duties or hire a part- or full-time position to lessen your workload. When you can hand off production to lead carpenters or a production manager, you no longer have to be the person in early or staying late to keep the jobs running. When you enforce the "no sales calls after working hours" rule, you free up your evenings.

When setting a goal for hours worked, look at last year's time cards. See what you worked on and for how long under the old rules, and how that might change under the new rules. Figure out who might be able to pick up some of the slack. You might be surprised how having little more authority might help your staff's ego and professional growth, not to mention paycheck.

As your business grows and you no longer wear all the hats, you need to plan to reduce your hours running the day-to-day business and spend more time on big-picture and planning issues. Use your time card to capture time spent on planning, budgeting, marketing, networking, refining systems and procedures, computerization of typical tasks and sales training. You will be able to measure if you are falling back into old habits and quickly reprioritize.

This is professional and personal development that you are paid for, both in payroll and expenses. Paid time off should include association involvement, education and training time, teaching for pay or as a public service, chamber of commerce or networking meetings, community service projects, etc.

As co-owner of a mature company, I like to figure that 20 to 25 percent of my time can be in this arena, with 10 to 15 percent a target for others. When I was chairman of the Remodelors Council, it took over 500 hours to do the job with travel. I still spend more than 300 hours annually in association and educational involvement at the local, state and national levels.

Paid time off is not vacation — it usually comes in smaller bites, often during the workweek. Whether it is for learning, networking, teaching others or helping those less fortunate, plan on these unbillable hours and costs for your company. All that you come into contact with will be served better.

Personal time off

Personal time off is different than time off for which the company stands to receive value. Personal time is specific to last-minute unplanned time where you need to be off the clock during the workweek to handle issues that are only about you. These are the same kind of hours you would provide your staff. This includes doctor and dentist visits, children's activities, funerals, emergencies or paid sick days. A play, a concert, a day reading or a day talking about contracting at a classroom should be part of your planning for your payable hours. Taking off for your birthday or that of someone you love should not be off limits. Just plan for it.

We allow up to 24 hours of personal time off for any of our staff before they start losing vacation time, either paid or unpaid. As owners, we use 64 hours as the target. I would suggest a number in between, adjustable for health, children, parents, or other family obligations. In some years you could budget for 24 hours, in others you might need 100. You would want to adjust your other time off amounts so that you don't find yourself not paying enough attention to the business.

Vacation and holiday time

With Christmas and New Year's Day falling on Saturdays this past year, we had a rather controversial discussion about whether to give the Fridays before off or provide an additional eight hours of paid time to cover the Saturday holidays. Customer expectations and schedules, billable hours, family traditions and relations, and following the intent of the employee manual all came into play. Ultimately we gave them Christmas Eve off but worked the Friday of New Year's Eve.

All companies should offer paid holidays. The big six come to mind: New Year's Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Just make sure you state that a day off will or will not occur if the holiday falls on a weekend, or that employees get eight hours of holiday pay regardless of the work schedule. Paying for not working seems more foreign to the owners than the employees, but is a simple way to build loyalty and show appreciation.

I would suggest adding a floater day as well that could be used for a half day before Christmas, the day after Thanksgiving, or even in 2-hour increments to get a jump on summer beach traffic. As long as you can plan for the time off, customers will understand — most get the same bennies where they work, if not more.

Vacation needs to be planned or it just won't happen. I might still be single if I waited for the perfect time to get hitched. As an owner, you need to set the precedent: All known contingencies can be planned for. This includes up to three weeks of owner vacation — and not taken in two-day increments! If you have a goal of 15 days off, and you have taken none, and it's November, you better start thinking about a holiday week shutdown.

If you can't balance your business and personal goals, your work schedule and personal time requirements, you will never be happy or satisfied. With the metrics that we use to gauge life balance success, all we need are time cards, a watch, pencil and honest goals of what is possible given your staff level, their skills, and commitment to a plan.

Monitor your time card, identify the lack of balance and don't wait until November to put it back on track. Work fewer hours by being more efficient with your limited time. For most company owners, our true cost is $100 per hour, so it should be easy to find less expensive people to delegate tasks to. When the time is financially right, hire to your weaknesses, and make yourself expendable. Finally, make your goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time sensitive.

Author Information
Alan Hanbury is co-owner of House of Hanbury Builders in Newington, Conn. An online archive of his columns is available at



Hours per week: 55 hours in a company's formative years, 50 hours during growth periods, 45 hours in a mature business

Paid time off: 80 hours annually for training, education, community involvement, and coaching

Personal time off: 40 hours annually to balance life's surprises

Vacation and holidays: 12 vacation days and 8 holidays annually

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