Most of us have a tough time getting it all done. And getting it all done becomes a lot harder when things beyond your control — clients, friends and family, the phone, and coworkers — contrive to tangle up your time. The things you do have control over — flexible schedules, organization, and taking care of yourself — are also time-consuming, but it’s necessary to master them if you’re to make best use of your time.

While we each have our own time-wasters, there are many that are universal with busy people. We’ve picked a few and come up with some solutions that will make the time you spend in the salon more productive.

Late Clients

Your 3:00 client doesn’t hit the salon until 3:10, and you’re feeling rushed. The client’s lateness means you may be late for the rest of your clients, and you resent that. What can you do? Make it clear to clients that if they’re late, you can guarantee them only what’s left of their appointment time. Try charging “rush charges” for clients who are chronically and significantly late (say 15 minutes or more) and still need the complete service performed. Encourage clients to call you if they know they’ll be late. In short, make them respect your time.

For clients who are habitually late, try the “Aunt Ruth” technique. Every family has an Aunt Ruth, the one member who always arrives half an hour late. When the family is to meet at 1:00, they tell Aunt Ruth 12:30. Give chronically late clients an appointment time 10 minutes ahead of your schedule.

If your regular client is late, use the time. Send thank-you notes or promotional mailings; make a phone call to a client you haven’t seen in a while. Organize a drawer, sort through the mail, check your supplies, take a coffee break, or clean up the magazine rack. Always have some project you can pick up during a slow time and put down when your attention is needed elsewhere.

For your part, are you respectful of clients’ time? If a client’s late, are you going to make her wait because you decided to squeeze in a walk-in client before her? If the regular client is late but has to wait for you anyway, she’ll think that being late is okay. Don’t give her that message.

Finally, be sure to finish clients’ services on time. By respecting the value of their time, you’ll teach them to respect yours.

Bad or Inflexible Scheduling

Are you envious of the nail technician who can drop everything to take a walk-in client, apply — three full sets back to back, and squeeze in an emergency repair without getting tense and harried? Chances are she’s learned to use time management tools to build flexibility into her schedule. She doesn’t double book, forget to return phone calls, or write down appointments. She has a calendar at her station and a place for messages near the phone. She has the receptionist take phone messages while she’s with a client.

Just writing things down will help you manage your schedule better, but you have to take a few more steps to master your time. You should have an idea of the priority of your tasks, how long each task will take, and when is the best time for you to do a certain task. If you prioritize, you’ll be more likely to get the important things done each day.

Knowing how long it takes you to perform every type of service not only will help you keep your schedule, but it also lets you spot problem areas in your own technique. For example, if you find that one client always takes longer to finish because she breaks nails frequently or because she enjoys conversation, build in more time for that client.

You know the times of day you’re at your best. Use those times to do your most urgent tasks. For example, if you get the “afternoon sleepies,” do your full sets in the morning and schedule an hour in the afternoon to do tasks such as cleaning, sending letters, and returning phone calls. This will help you do the most important work when you’re at your best. Remember that part and parcel of good scheduling is scheduling in breaks. Give yourself a rest when you need it and you’ll perform much better throughout the day.

Finally, if you put something on paper, don’t treat it like it’s engraved in stone. If you planned to pick up some things at the drugstore on your lunch hour, but a walk-in arrives at noon for a repair, think of your priorities before your schedule. Can you go to the store later? Is it worth it to you to cut your lunchtime in half to service a client? Whatever you choose, you know you’re in control of your time and you know how much flexibility you have in your schedule.

Phone Calls

Phone calls, whether they’re from clients or friends, can take your attention away from your clients and important tasks. Although some technicians take calls while with a client, others won’t disrupt their service. If the latter is true of you, make use of the resources available to you to keep communication concise and keep your focus on the client.

Obviously, you can use a receptionist or answering machine to take phone messages. You can also schedule a time of day that you can devote to returning phone calls, preferably when your energy is at a lull. Tell people on your answering machine that you typically return phone calls at 10:30 a.m. and at 4 p.m. for example. If you have a receptionist, explain to her exactly how you want calls handled — which ones you will interrupt a service to accept, how and when to give you messages, when you will return phone calls, and how to schedule your appointments.

When you do finally get on the phone, learn to say things like “What can I do to help you?” instead of “What’s new with you?” Get to the point quickly and courteously. Learn to say, “I know how busy you are, so I’ll let you go now,” or “I wish I could spend more time talking, but I have a client waiting for me.” Get on, get to the point, get off.

Again, be respectful of others’ time. If you’re calling a client at work, be as professional as she is and get the business finished quickly. If you have trouble curbing the time you’re on the phone, set a kitchen timer for three minutes and be disciplined about your time limit.

Personal or Family Intrusion

You can’t work without thinking about your spouse, your child, your sleepless night, or your sister’s failing marriage, and your friends and family won’t let you forget it either. Every day it seems someone in crisis calls you or drops by unexpectedly for a heart- to-heart talk.

Or perhaps you just can’t get your divorce off your mind and you’re telling client after client about it.

While your personal time is as important as your professional time, your salon career won’t be very satisfying unless you can focus on your clients. Train your family and friends not to call you at work unless it’s an emergency or at a specified time, such as when your daughter arrives home from school. At home, set aside a specific time to sit down and communicate with your family or call your friends.

For your own peace of mind, keep a pencil and paper handy at your station. Jot down notes as they occur to you throughout the day — you can deal with the items on the list later, but at least get them down on paper so they’re off your mind. When you’re at work give your full attention to your clients and your business, but when you’re home, give the same undivided attention to your family.

Ignoring Personal Needs

Can your body handle the schedule you set for yourself? Do you do things “for the soul” that refresh your mind and bring you back to work relaxed, with new perspective? Your job requires you to give your service and time to others, but you’ve got to give yourself some time as well.

First, take care of your health. Get enough sleep, take a relaxing break or two during the day, eat nourishing food, and exercise. Second, feed the soul. Have fun, be with friends and family, enjoy solitude, dream a little. Schedule time for these activities, if necessary. Just as you don’t want your personal life to disturb your professional life, you don’t want work to drain all your energy. When you’re feeling healthy and have a positive attitude, it’s a lot easier to finish the important tasks in your work life. When you’re tired and grumpy, you won’t feel good no matter how much you get done.

Incompetent Personnel

While it’s courteous to help out another technician when she needs a hand, you shouldn’t extend this courtesy to the point that you feel resentful or that it damages your relationship with your clients. When you do the work for someone who can’t — or won’t — do her job (or who doesn’t do it right the first time), you’re doing the work of two or even three people.

If you feel you’re doing too much work for another technician, stop. And don’t feel guilty; you can help her immensely by guiding her to a class or working with her after hours to improve her technique rather than by doing her work for her. Perhaps she just needs a boost of confidence that you can give her by offering to let her work on one of your clients with her, talking her through the techniques as you go.

If the technician isn’t carrying her weight, you need to take more drastic measures. If she asks for help, politely tell her no. (By saying yes all the time, you’re telling her you will always finish or fix her work for her.) You may wish to discuss the problem with the salon owner. If you are the salon owner, you may choose to put the technician on temporary probation until her skills improve, and ultimately you may have to fire her.

To solve the problem of the lazy employee, learn why she is sloppy or doesn’t finish her work and try to help her if you wish, but don’t take on unfulfilling work.

Disorganized Workstation

If you take out the fiberglass shears, put them back in their place. If you’re right- handed, put your tools on the right side of the workstation. If you spent an hour organizing a drawer, spend two minutes a day to keep it organized. If you get new supplies, put them in a convenient place immediately. When you do it right the first time, you won’t have to do it over.

“A place for everything and everything in its place” is not just an old saw. It’s a modern timesaver, one so important that every table and storage unit manufacturer has addressed it. It’s nearly impossible not to keep your space organized with the proliferation of standard and custom-made organizers available.

If you don’t have the organizers to keep the workstation from being cluttered, call a few manufacturers and ask for brochures. You’ll find many ideas that will clear the decks.

If junk mail, magazine articles, product samples, client cards, MSDS, and the like are cluttering the salon, here’s how to sort it all out: Make piles of similar items, or items that go to the same place. Then, put each pile away in its place, or create a place for things that don’t have one yet.

Sometimes there’s no right place for a certain thing. In that case, make room for disorganization — have a “bottom drawer” or “junk drawer.” But remember to sort through that drawer occasionally, about once a month or so. Throw away any junk you no longer want to keep, put some things away if you find an appropriate place for them, and leave the rest in the drawer.

Making It a Habit

Often, learning to manage time is a matter of changing habits. Make a habit of prioritizing tasks daily, keeping space organized, writing things down on a list or in a datebook, and maintaining a balance between what you have to do and what you love to do.

When you find a time-gobbler, focus your energy on starving it. While it may take some time at first to solve the problem, the solution will save you time in the long run and give you peace of mind as well.

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