Once your business has been properly set up with operational programs and effective management techniques, you can reduce the number of hours you spend on the job. I refer to this stage as "maintenance mode" - you maintain the business operations, the business begins to operate more on its systems.

That doesn't mean you can arbitrarily kick back after struggling for years to make the business successful. However, if you have adopted systems that assist you in keeping a tight rein on the company, reducing your time spent at the office is not only possible, it makes a lot of sense.

Employees who are trained and given the authority to do their job will, predictably, do the job well. Since we can't be successful if we spread ourselves too thin by attempting to keep our hands on all the company's activities, we need to train, motivate and manage top-quality and talented employees.

Also, when it comes time to sell the business, we need to be replaceable. How much is the business worth if we can't be replaced? Not much. Preparing a team that can perform the day-to-day operations can pay off at sale time.

Another consideration is the value of your time. Do you intend to spend many more years working from early morning to evening? If you do not, then you need a plan.

I believe that plan can include you working three hours a day in your business.

I am not joking. You can work three hours a day. I'll prove it by telling you precisely what you will be doing during each of those hours. If you accomplish all the actions on the list for each hour (not too difficult to do) then you can depart the office three hours after you arrive.

When you are running the business in maintenance mode, the activities you complete become more important than the amount of time you spend in the office. However, you must complete all the tasks, and you must complete them in accordance with the planned schedule. Part of that schedule requires you to begin your day promptly at 7 a.m. and then continue to execute the planned activities until 10 a.m. - then depart.

Hour No. 1

If you are only going to work for three hours during the day, then every hour (actually every minute) must count. Not only is your time valuable, but your appearance must carry the necessary impact. So, beginning at 7 a.m., you arrive dressed for success, professionally groomed, and begin your day by greeting your team. You are the leader, the coach and the motivator. Look and act the part.

Activity 1 - Your first activity will be to address your employees. Here you review yesterday's performance: what went well, what needs improvement and who should receive recognition. By assessing the team's performance, oversights are identified and outstanding performance is recognized.

By accomplishing this brief review on a daily basis, shortcomings do not continue until the next formal gathering of employees. Similarly, recognizing exceptional performance by hard-working employees doesn't go unnoticed for weeks or, worse, is forgotten. Excellent performance may not continue unless it is recognized. Recognizing employees serves as an effective motivator to other employees. Everyone likes to be commended, particularly in front of their fellow workers.

Activity 2 - Besides motivating employees by positive recognition, your next activity is to spend approximately 15 minutes conducting what I call a "Power Meeting." Here you motivate the group as a whole. By sharing a positive "quote of the day," you help focus your employees' thoughts on doing their best - while being proud to do so. You have probably read or heard me speak about the power of these simple yet moving messages. They are commercially available. If you can't find some that you like, contact me and I'll share some of the ones we use.

Activity 3 - After the meeting with employees, it's time to review the procedural systems in the office. Are they working? What needs to be changed, added or modified? Keeping up-to-date on what is working and what is not will streamline office procedures and eliminate ineffective ones. You want to make sure all the reports you receive are necessary and provide the data you need to make informed decisions.

Activity 4 - Since the customer's first contact with your business is with your customer service representatives, we always need to keep in touch with how telephone calls are being handled, and answer any questions CSRs may have. The same with the dispatch department. Since it schedules and directs the technicians, it is valuable to monitor dispatchers' activities. By spending 15 minutes with CSRs and dispatchers, you get a feel for the business they are processing and how they are doing it.

Activity 5 - Often there are issues individual technicians may have. They may need to speak with you (or you need to speak with them), so spend some time, if necessary, talking with technicians. While in the shop, walk through the "replenishment room" to keep contact with the team.

Although it doesn't take much time, an important activity associated with all your other duties is to be certain to smile and wish everyone you see a successful day. That genuine smile conveys many positive thoughts and feelings for the team. It's a definite part of the motivation process.

Hour No. 2

Activity 1 -Communication is a key part of an effective manager's job. So we will have to initiate and respond to written communications frequently. During your second hour there will be e-mails and letters you need to write. Focus on these actions without interruption.

Activity 2 - Next review the financial reports and data so you will be knowledgeable about the financial health of the company. Specifically, you will want to see the accounts receivable, accounts payable, general ledger, inventory reports and especially the cash flow data. Stay in touch with the financial health of the business.

Activity 3 - Marketing requires planning and monitoring, too. So your next action will be to review the performance of your company's marketing efforts and to plan new campaigns as needed. This time is when you will monitor the success of your advertising. Are the ads in the various Yellow Pages books producing the calls and revenue you anticipated? Make adjustments for those underperforming.

Activity 4 - These days it is difficult to conduct business without speaking to professionals that you have a good business relationship with, including accountants, attorneys or other experts in their field. Maybe not everyday, but as needed, now is the time to make these contacts.

Activity 5 - Checks need to be signed by the boss. Your last activity for this hour is to review (first!) and then sign the necessary checks so the employees and vendors get paid and the business continues to move along. While you are signing papers, this time is also set aside for signing letters, authorizations or any other documents that need your attention. The items will vary from day to day, but by addressing these things at the same time you will maximize your efficiency while at the office.

Hour No. 3

Activity 1 -During your last hour at the office you will have time to interview any new hires. Recruiting and hiring the right people is so important these days that you need to be directly involved with the process. See the people who will be representing your company before they are on the job.

Activity 2 - Employees have concerns from time to time about something in the company that particularly affects them or which they would like to discuss. Having an "open door" policy, where anyone can see the boss and voice their opinions or ask questions, serves a very legitimate need. Set aside approximately 30 minutes for this activity. And, of course, make the policy known to everyone in the company.

A few guidelines will keep the time you spend to a minimum and avoid long, drawn-out and unnecessary counseling sessions. First, require concerns to be in writing and submitted in advance so you may review them and prepare for any discussion. Having a forum for concerns doesn't mean that anyone can drop by and gossip or just chat for no reason.

Activity 3 - While you are in the office, more e-mails, letters or messages may arrive. Before you depart at the end of the third hour is a good time to make a final scan of these new communications, responding to the most critical of them. Some days you will have more than others, naturally. However, save 15 minutes of this final hour at the office for your next activity.

Activity 4 - Now, meet with the service manager. Since he or she will know there is a meeting and will be expected to review the performance of the service department, he or she will be prepared to discuss any incidents or actions that need your attention. A routine like this assures the service manager will consistently be ready to share the activities of the department, requiring him or her to stay organized.

It's a real incentive to be prepared to share information if you know a meeting will be scheduled at the same time every day. It keeps time efficiently spent as well.

Activity 5 - One more action: smile and greet those you see as you depart. You have probably accomplished more real work than many of your counterparts at other companies. Your people are on the job, trained, motivated and prepared to operate the company any time you are not there in a professional and effective manner. Congratulations, you did it!

I don't suggest you make all of the modifications to your schedule in one day. Nor is the new plan going to work if the systems needed are not in place, or if the employees are not trained to do their jobs well. When the preparation is completed, though, you are ready for the three-hour day.