Remodeling is a complex business for companies at any size, but I think it's safe to say that, in general, growing companies move from simple to more complex. Higher sales volume typically creates a need for more field employees, more office staff, more systems, more paperwork -- more everything.

That creates more time demands, not just for the company owner but for everyone on the team, which in turn creates a critical need for everyone to spend their time more wisely.

Assess the Situation

One way to measure how well you and your team spend your time is to ask how much of your day is spent "putting out fires" and how much is spent in planned activity. Over the years, I have asked many remodelers to assess the way they spend their time according to these two methods — what I call "reactive" vs. "proactive." Although company owners' roles are fundamentally the same, the ways they approach demands on their time are dramatically different. Some remodelers will answer 80% reactive and 20% proactive, some just the opposite, while others are right in the middle at 50-50.

What I find important, however, is that when I talk one-on-one about this issue with remodelers, I find that those who spend most of their time — say, 70% — proactively end up working fewer hours but are more productive. They spend more time working on the business, not just in it. As a result, they are more profitable. They reap another benefit, too: They are less stressed out.

The flip side is also true: Remodelers who spend most of their time reacting to unplanned events tend to work very long hours but actually get less work done. They are well-intentioned but are constantly overwhelmed, so they feel bad about not keeping their promises to team members and clients. And they tend to follow their business wherever it leads them instead of steering their company where they want it to go.

Stop the Fire Fighting

If you fall into the reactive side of the ledger, your challenge is to find ways to change the ratio. The first step is to take inventory. Keep a log for a couple of weeks of how you actually spend your time. The results will tell you not only how much time you spend on issues that seem to pop up out of nowhere but how many appointments you had to cancel and how many evenings and weekends you had to work to make up for lost time.

Next, identify those reactive activities that can be converted into proactive ones. For example, most remodelers are interrupted throughout the day by calls from clients, team members, or subcontractors. By anticipating some of those calls and proactively making first contact yourself, you not only control the process, you also reinforce your professional image.

Another strategy to reduce interruptions is simply to ask a caller if you can call them back in a few minutes or at a specific time to address their issue. Unless it's an emergency (and the more proactive you are, the fewer emergencies you'll run into), most of the time the caller will respect your wishes and allow you to stay on task.

You and your team may never eliminate reactive time completely, but if you strive to become proactive 70% to 90% of the time, you will all think more clearly and make better decisions. The reduced stress will make everyone more pleasant to be around, and that will lead to greater productivity and more success.

Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Services, Bethesda, Md., and the author of 30-Day Remodeling Fitness Program . He can be reached at (301) 229-4600 or