Alan Stuart is MD of Stuarts of Buckhaven and president of Scottish Bakers

One of the best decisions I ever made was in 1989, when I applied to join the Q Guild, an elite group of butchers from all over the UK. At the time, we were a 16-shop retail bakery business, with one wee butcher’s shop over the road from the bakery. My father and uncle had acquired this business to supply our bakery, shops and cafés/restaurants. After a rigorous inspection, we were admitted and, over the next few years, I rubbed shoulders with many magnificent businessmen, who shared their knowledge and experience freely.

One of them was ’Mr Butcher in London’, who goes by the name of David Lidgate. "Don’t try to re-invent the wheel," was one of his mantras and I have tried to follow that advice ever since. I think what he really meant was "don’t waste time". Time is a rare and precious commodity. It never stops and it is absolutely limited. The effective use of time is probably the most efficient skill you could ever learn. Sadly, it is a skill that only a very few people have.

It is so easy to waste time. Office staff chatter away, smokers nip out for breaks, POETS Day (piss off early, tomorrow’s Saturday) is compulsory for millions and as for those guys working on the roads or the ones who just stand round holes

I recall reading a report on office efficiency a few years ago. It claimed that the employees actually worked between 10 and 15 hours out of 35. Is that the case in your business? Just imagine what the world would be like if we all worked for 40 hours a week!

So maybe in these hard times, we should be looking at ways to reduce time-wasting, starting with ourselves and moving through our entire organisation. How much would a 10% improvement be worth to you?

2011 is going to be another hard year for most of us. Recent years seem to have seen us continually battening down the hatches and weathering the storm. I do believe calmer weather is on the horizon and now is the time to plan for better conditions. If you can improve the effectiveness of your employees through time-awareness training, you will be even better placed to prosper in the good times ahead.