Those crazy cats over at silicon valley with their outlandish ideas. What use are they to us — the small business owners fighting it out in the trenches? Well, quite a lot actually.
You may have heard of Google’s “20% Time”. The concept is simple — Google’s engineers are allowed to dedicate 20% of their working hours to personal projects.
You would be amazed at what products have come out of this initiative — Gmail and AdSense to name just two. That’s a pretty impressive outcome.
But what does this have to do with you?
How 20% Time Can Benefit Your Business
I think most small business owners would readily admit that they can easily get caught up in their day-to-day operations. One can easily spend weeks and even months without stepping back to take a look at the bigger picture, which eventually leads to stagnation.
On the other hand, incorporating 20% time into your working week drives innovation. The concept is quite simple — you afford yourself a set amount of time in the week to work on more speculative and/or experimental ideas relating to your business, without any concern for the return on your time investment. I like to call it “indiscriminate innovation”.
Editor’s Note: It should be the goal of all small business owners to detach themselves from the mundane, day to day operations of their business. You can easily hire someone to do the tedious stuff while freeing yourself up to working on tasks that will actually grow your business. So I would argue that 20% time should really be more like 80% time.
Unless you are operating at a desirable level and have no desire to build your business, I believe you can benefit from incorporating 20% time.
You Can Make Time
I’m going to jump the gun here and assume that some of you will claim that you can’t afford time for such “frivolous” escapades. The argument against frivolity aside, I am confident that anyone can make time.
First of all, it doesn’t have to be 20%. It could be 10%, or 30% — it’s up to you. Whatever feels appropriate. And once you start, you will soon discover that this time is more valuable to you than other tasks you perform as part of your role.
Engaging in 20% time can help you step back from your day-to-day operations and see the true value (or lack thereof) of what you actually do. Is everything that you do of vital importance, or are there areas in which you can be more efficient? Furthermore, are there things you can be doing to build your business, as opposed to simply maintaining it?
How I Use 20% Time
This strategy is something I have used to (what I would consider) great effect over the past few months.
My freelance writing work makes up the bulk of my income, but I am extremely interested in building alternative revenue streams. Such projects are typically rather speculative (to say the least). But when it comes to my 20% time I don’t concern myself with the end product and focus more on what I can learn from the process.
That has most certainly been the case with a guide to freelance writing that I’m currently working on. I’ve never written an eBook before, nor do I have any “training” or experience in doing so. I was procrastinating endlessly over the project until I looked at it from a “20% time” point of view.
I realized that I was never going to be “ready” to take on the project, but I found that by approaching it without enormous expectations and seeing my invested time as a learning process if nothing else, I was galvanized into taking action.
A wonderful side effect of working on 20% time projects is that they represent the great unknown. Anything you’re working on could be a complete flop or an enormous success. My freelance writing income is predictable (boringly so?), but who knows what will become of my 20% time projects…
What Have You Got To Lose?
Okay — for the skeptical amongst you, here’s the deal.
You give 20% time a go. You spend a portion of time this week to exploring ways in which you can develop your business and/or innovate. My advice goes no further than that, because what you choose to do will of course vary wildly depending upon your circumstances.
Once you’re done, take a step back and observe what you achieved. Perhaps nothing, perhaps something. But the most exciting thing about 20% is the potential. If you’re not setting out to innovate — if you are simply “existing” as a business — where do you think that will take you in the long run? You may find that the concept of 20% time soon becomes rather addictive — for the possibilities if nothing else.
Unless you are making an effort to develop as a business, you will eventually stagnate. And 20% time is the natural enemy of stagnation.
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