How Successful Restaurant Leaders Bend Time to Accomplish More

By Donald Burns, Foodable Industry Expert

Time. Seems like we never have enough in the day.

But what if you saw that you actually have plenty of time in the day? 86,400 seconds each and every day. For some people that might seem like plenty. For others that might seem like not enough. So how can some restaurant leaders get so much done each and every day? It all comes down to this… Your relationship with time.

Do you see time as your friend or your arch enemy out to destroy you? The answer to this question is quite revealing and it is one you might want to explore. You will never learn how to bend time to your will unless, you learn to respect time for what it is. A valuable asset.

Let’s explore what time exactly is and is not.

Understand the Four Time Dimensions

The foundational core is understanding that you never really control time. It never stops. You can’t call a timeout or hit a button to go back in time (not yet). Do you hear that tick, tick, tick on the clock? That’s time telling you that it waits for no one.

So what can you do? Control your attention and focus.

You see there are actually four dimensions on time that you spend various amounts of each day in. Each of these dimensions want your attention. Those that learn how to use time and not be used by it, respect each dimension and allow only a certain amount of their precious 86,400 seconds each day to be allocated to each one.

Distraction - this is the dimension that calls to you when you are stressed. Some might call it escapism. It could be something like watching that video on the Internet of the cat typing on a keyboard (which you’ve already seen 10 times,) walking to the vending machine to grab a snack (even though you just had lunch 30 minutes ago), mindlessly browsing social media with no clear intention (you might have gone on to post something and then got sucked into the rabbit hole,) or asking Siri questions like “how much wood could a woodchuck chuck?” If you spend most of your time here in this dimension, you find that you’re not really living a life that people would call "inspired." You’re probably not very happy either.        

Delusion - this is where the “busy people” tend to spend most of their attention. They always seem to have to do list that get longer and longer each day (with not a lot of progress.) This dimension is very much like mental quicksand. The more you tend to fight, the deeper you sink in over your head. If you ever took 20 minutes to reorganize your desk or went through and organized those 1000 emails sitting in your inbox (just so you feel like you accomplished something) …welcome to the dimension of delusion.

Demand - this is the danger zone for most restaurant leaders because many of the things that pop up in this dimension are actually critical to daily success in your business and they do require your attention. Things will happen every day in the restaurant that require you to take action. The key thing you want to ask yourself is, “are you the best person to take care of this?” The hard part for many is putting aside the ego that comes from spending too much time in this dimension. We all have a need to feel wanted and in demand and it feels great to help others solve problems and issues. But when you spend too much of your time focusing on the demands of others and not enough on your own goals, we tend to feel stuck on the hamster wheel of life. The biggest thing you can do to break free from this dimension is understand the difference between being busy and being effective.

Flow - this is the promised land. When you are in this dimension you actually kind of lose track of time. Have you ever been so focused on an activity or around someone that you just kind of became immersed in the moment? Like the chef who is so focused when he plates a dish that he actually does not hear all the noise around him in the kitchen for a few brief minutes. Or when you are having dinner with that special someone and you are so focused on them they don’t realize the room is packed. When you’re in the dimension of flow there is no past, there is no future, there is only the present moment.

If you look back and reflected on your day, you surely would see a pattern of which dimensions you tend to spend your time in. The key to improvement in anything is self-awareness. Once you are aware of your pattern, you can then make better choices. When you make better choices, your life and your restaurant will change.

Most managers seem to struggle with the dimension of demand, so let’s talk about a few ways you can get control of this monster.

Train Your Team to Seek Solutions 

When you always solve the problems for your team you take away their opportunity to become problem solvers. Think about it. Now be honest...Did you know how to do everything you do in your current job role without making a few mistakes? Of course not. Now, you might throw out the "it's from years of experience and developing good judgement." True. However, good judgement comes from learning from your mistakes. You need to allow your team some room to make mistakes. This does not mean set them up for failure. It means letting them stretch their cognitive muscles to find solutions to problems. A leader in this role is more of a safety net and is there to offer assistance before they fail. 

If your team is afraid to make decisions or approach you with a new idea then that is a reflection on you. You have built an imaginary wall (built from fear) that is holding your restaurant back from maximizing its potential. Trust builds teams and outstanding brands. Without it you'll be stuck in a perpetual limbo of average and being average sucks. 

If you are clinging to a mindset that you must control everything and everyone, just know that you can't possibly control everything. When you try to control everything, you actually control nothing that truly matters. The tighter you make your grip on things and people, the more they will slip away. 

"The biggest lies we tell are the ones we tell ourselves." 

So, if trying to control others doesn't work, what are you to do? The only thing in this world you control is you! Your thoughts, your beliefs, your reactions, and most importantly, your actions. 

Write It Down

It’s understandable that if you work in the restaurant business, your life will move at a pretty quick pace. So quick at times that you think you can remember all the things that need to be done.

David Allen, the founder of the GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology recommends getting things out of your head onto a trusted place to remind you. His theory is that you only have so much psychic ram or memory storage in your brain. It’s far better to write things down and review them at least once a week.

Now, if you just write down all the things you need to do then you just end up with an overwhelming to do list. Let’s not do that. Instead, when you need to write down something, you should ask yourself these questions to instill clarity and priority.

  • What is the result I want to get from this?
  • What is the next action?
  • Why is this important?
  • Who is the best person to accomplish this?
  • What is the deadline for completion?

Let’s take an example. Let’s say you’re working on a server training manual. So the thought process would be like this:

Server Training Manual

Result: An updated, comprehensive training manual that instills our values and standards for the service team.

Next Action: Schedule a 15 minute meeting this Friday with the leadership team to discuss.

Why: A consistent and constant training is the foundation for an outstanding guest experience.

Who: Sally. She is great at turning training into high energy learning workshops.

Deadline: First meeting this Friday. First draft in two weeks. Final training program in 30 days.

You see, when you ask better quality questions you get better results. If you’re not seeing the results you want, then you just need to ask yourself better questions.

Schedule It!

People who have learned to bend time know that their calendar is the most valuable tool they have. They schedule everything. If you want to avoid those dimensions of time that tend to consume your attention, and get control of your calendar.

You must turn all the things you should do, into a must. Maybe, you want to join the gym and get in better shape. Why haven’t you? Too busy? It’s not that you’re too busy, it’s just that you have not made it a priority or have asked yourself quality questions to discover why it is important to you.

The things that you “should” do rarely come together. They tend to only happen when all the conditions fall into place. When the opportunity, plus the right timing, and the proper resources align, then those “shoulds” tend to happen.

Successful restaurant leaders don’t wait for things to happen, they prioritize and ensure that they will happen by scheduling it on their calendar.

Here’s the other secret about time: it doesn’t care what you do with it. Time can be cold and heartless. At 12 am it starts a new day, with no real concern whether you wasted or invested it. That is all up to you.

Ideas, thoughts, intentions, and lists of things to do are worthless if you don’t get into action mode and make them happen. You don’t control time, but you do control your attention and your focus. Sometimes, that requires self-discipline and the ability to prioritize the things you need to do during your day. That only happens when you take control of your calendar and schedule small blocks of time to work on the things that move you and your restaurant forward.

Distraction, delusion, and demands are constantly trying to pull your attention in their direction. While it is impossible to ignore them all the time, you do have a say in how much of your time each day you are willing to give to them.

Again, there's 86,400 seconds each and every day, that is all you get. You can’t beg, borrow, or buy more. Your time and the time of others must be respected.

When you respect time and value it for what it is, then and only then will you be able to bend it to serve you.