We all have the same 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week and more or less 365 days in a year. So why is it that some business owners and managers coolly stack up achievements like flapjacks off a griddle, while others struggle just to keep up? It’s easy to think that those people are just smarter or more talented. But in most cases, it’s simply not true. In fact, many will openly admit that they’re not the smartest person around. Instead, they have discovered or stumbled upon productivity secrets that allow them to work smarter, instead of just working hard.

Fortunately, these are secrets that can be learned. Achieving a high level of productivity for yourself and your business is largely a matter of time: how you’re using time and how you’re structuring your day and your operations to enable you and your employees to make the most of every moment. A look behind the scenes at how some of the nation’s most productive landscape professionals think and act will reveal productivity tips you, too, can use to achieve more each day, week, month and year.

A clear vision: setting goals for success

If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s hard to make much progress. Having clear, well-defined goals is a critical factor to creating a successful landscape business, says landscape business consultant Ed Laflamme of The Harvest Group.

“It all starts with a clear vision and creating a plan moving forward. A common problem with 90 percent of the owners I see is they’re too myopic. They get lost in the daily activities. Because of that they fail to do proper planning that guides and directs the company. A lot of that is lack of clear vision of where they’re going. Once they have that vision and start to identify and work on challenges and opportunities, almost explosive things start to happen with growth and morale.”

Laflamme cites the late Burton Sperber, founder of ValleyCrest Landscape Co., as a great example of a landscape business owner with crystal clear vision. “If you asked him, ‘What’s your vision?’ he would say ‘to build the premier landscape company in America.’ Period. And he did it. Everyone knew what he was going to do and they worked with him to accomplish it. A lot of challenges can be overcome if you just have a clear vision and share it with your company.”

But just having the vision isn’t enough. Once identified, the next step is to set short- and long-term goals for achieving it.

Choosing the right goals

While long-term goals set the tone for growth, it’s consistent action that makes it happen. Mid-and short-term goals help ensure that each day’s actions move the company forward. And regardless of the type of goal, frequent review helps keep those actions on track toward the ultimate vision. One of the best kept secrets of highly successful business-people is they not only set annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily goals, but they also develop routines and systems to keep these goals top of mind and share them with their teams.

“I’m big on setting goals,” says Tom Heaviland, owner of Heaviland Landscape Management in San Diego. “At the beginning of the year we set goals, both professional and personal. I’ll review and share them with members of my executive team. I review the goals with them quarterly. And then I review mine weekly. And that gives me the starting point for how I organize my time.”

When setting goals, Heaviland looks for initiatives that drive value and help move the company forward in the direction of his ultimate vision. To him, value doesn’t just mean profitability — although that’s important. It also means building a strong brand for his company: being recognized as the vendor of choice for his customers and also for his 165 employees, as well as potential new team members.

Personal versus business goals

Just as mind and body are connected and the health of one affects the health of the other, so the personal well-being of a business owner or manager affects their company’s productivity and vice versa. Personal goals are therefore just as important to keep in mind as businsess goals. Tim Lake, owner of T. Lake Environmental Design, a full-service landscaping provider headquartered in Dublin, Georgia, places a high priority on both.

“You need to write this stuff down. I have a personal plan, on which I’ve listed 15 life commitments. I write down what I want and when I want to achieve it. I find it helps to set goals 10 years out, to create commitments in your life toward decisions and activities to achieve them.”

Lake uses the “Five Fs” concept for greater clarity in goal setting: Faith, Family, Friends, Fitness and Finance. “Faith and family often get pushed to the side. The things I generally regret are times I didn’t spend time with people I love the most. You can’t get that back.”

Delegation: Leveraging human assets for higher productivity

What goals to set depends to some extent on the age of the company — and on the number and quality of employees available. Most landscape businesses start as the proverbial guy with a truck, working his behind off to win and take care of customers. The owner of such a company wears virtually all the hats in his business, from field tech to accountant.

Maurice Dowell, owner of Dowco Enterprises Inc., a full-service landscaping firm in Chesterfield, Missouri, was one such business owner. “When I first started out I did everything — I sold it, I typed it up, I did it all.” As his business has grown, he has gradually shifted the majority of the day-to-day operations of the company to his team. Dowell is quick to explain that the higher up in the company an employee is, the goals they are responsible for are for a longer term.

“We say that the crew member works in the moment. The crew leader is responsible for the day. The field supervisor is responsible for the week. The production manager is responsible for the month. And owners and managers are the leaders responsible for the quarter, the year and beyond. The majority of my time now I’m living three months to five years out,” he says.

Mark Utendorf, owner of Emerald Lawn Care in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, has enjoyed steady double-digit growth since purchasing the 5-year-old business in 2007. He also has shifted many of his responsibilities to his employees over the years. Starting with just one employee, Utendorf now manages a team of nine. “I try to delegate as much as I can, and I’ve gotten to the point where I can do that more freely. I’ve never had a stronger team and that has a big impact on profitability. But it’s important to have the best possible people.”