Q: Now that I have a second store, is there a way to better use my time at both?

One of the first things I would suggest someone in the restaurant business do is ready, aim, fire. You absolutely have to know where you want to go before you begin anything. People often make the mistake of starting out without a specific plan of what they’d like to accomplish by the end of the day. Then they feel guilty that they haven’t accomplished everything they wanted. 

You have to remember the five Ps: Proper planning prevents poor performance. So it’s very important to ask yourself where you want to end up and how you want to get there. And that has to happen daily. 

People get sidetracked stomping on ants instead of going after the elephant. That means that they focus the majority of their attention on trivial tasks with low payout. Elephants are big, important, critical things, but usually you’re wasting your time worrying about the ants. So restaurateurs need to focus on the larger issues affecting a new store opening without getting caught up in the minutia. The best way to do this is to plan according to yield, which happens to spell pay.

If you’re focusing on things that are easy and quick to fix, you have tremendously increased your workload but not added any time to your day. You need to line up your time and figure out which items offer the highest yield. Sometimes it helps to ask, “What bad happens if I don’t do this one?” If it’s nothing catastrophic, maybe you can neglect it.

It’s also important to keep in mind that there may be opportunities that you’re not focusing on. So you need time to think. Ask, “What potential tasks am I ignoring that could be very high yield?” Neglected priorities are often high payoff but are difficult or unpleasant. As a result, we tend to put those off. This is bad because you end up putting out one tiny fire after another when what you really need is a fire prevention program. 

Part of using your time efficiently is figuring out where you’re really needed. When I was first put in charge of a project where I had people all over the manufacturing floor, I was running around all day. Then I had a supervisor tell me, “Peter, you’re working way too hard. You have to trust your people.” In that case, we were building a rocket. And if there was a step that was critical, I’d verify it. If it wasn’t, I’d let it go. Restaurant owners need to focus on the things that will create a disaster if they’re done incorrectly. People do what you inspect, not just what you expect.

Most importantly, you need to get over unjustified perfectionism. This can be a huge time waster for certain personalities. They burn themselves out and the people around them. Of course, get operations up to a certain letter, but if no one cares, don’t worry about it.

Commuting between the two locations can feel like a waste of time. And, as a general rule of thumb, you want to minimize any commuting. You also should never use a cell phone while driving. While you might save a few minutes, you may end up experiencing weeks in the hospital as a result or find yourself at the center of a lawsuit. It’s simply penny wise and pound foolish. 

People get sidetracked stomping on ants instead of going after the elephant.

The right way to cope with commuting is to prepare for it just as if you were going on a long trip. Get very organized, let all of your crew know when you’ll be leaving, and ask if there’s anything they need from you before you leave—anything you need to take care of. The key is a lot of advance notice. Without that, what ends up happening is that just as you’re walking out the door, people are grabbing you and asking if you have a minute to do one quick thing, and you’re instantly delayed. So make sure to plan well ahead of time and announce it. Take care of business and anticipate what you’ll be handling on the far end.

Ideally you should have an action list for each store. People usually make lists too long and don’t give them any sequence. I suggest you build a list for each day and location. This will help you keep your mind clear and compartmentalized.

I mention action lists specifically because it’s one of the two types of lists people should make each day. The other list is things that come up but you don’t know when you’ll get to them. I call this the parking lot list, and it’s full of standby items. Your day is built on those main action focuses, but you’ll be able to come back to that parking lot list if you have free time.

The idea is that the parking lot items should jump to the action list. To make that happen, you need to ask yourself, “What will be the next physical action step I will take if I’m going to get moving with this next project?” Opening a restaurant is made up of hundreds or thousands of action steps. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or procrastinating, it’s often the wording of the list. When I got my first book deal, I listed “write the book” as one of my actions. Instead, you want to physically break down the process so it’s not as overwhelming.

Overall a lot of pressure is from ourselves, from self talk when it comes to getting things done. Instead of saying that you have to do this, try saying, “It would be wise to do this, I get to do this, or I could do this.” Part of good time management is having a good control over your attitude. Start your day with an attitude of gratitude, or maybe every hour remind yourself what you can be grateful of. You can never have a bad day with an attitude of gratitude.

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Emerging Concepts, Story