As we all know, the pressure to run faster can come from different sources. It might be clients who want everything yesterday or staff who always seem to want us to deliver more in less time. But for many of us, the biggest source of pressure is ourselves – because we like to busy but aren’t always clear what we need to be busy doing!
The busy fool works long hours and can’t turn their phone off. They are a hive of activity but ask yourself this – are they moving their business or project forward? If not, then they are being busy for the sake of being busy – the busy fool.
Understanding what is VITAL v what is IMPORTANT
Many people start their day/week with a “to-do list” which they diligently work their way through from top to bottom. Forget it. Instead, identify the top three vital actions on the list (which are often the hardest things) that can only be done by you. What are the real priorities? Focus on those first and then tackle the next three priorities and so on.
Doing nothing (procrastination) is rarely a safe option. Yet sometimes doing nothing and giving yourself some breathing space to think, stand back and prioritise, is exactly what you need to do!
What is the impact on the business? The danger is we become purely focused on the short term rather than the bigger picture and you get a sense of ‘1 step forward and 1 step backwards’.
Some organisations seem to work harder and longer but productivity goes down. A business full of busy fools!
So here are 7 useful tips to help you be busy doing the right things:
Focusing on the right things to do to move your business forward might seem like an obvious statement but you won’t be surprised to learn that this is a common topic of conversation with clients (hence this blog post!). Have a read of my eBook on ‘winning back time’ (complete the box below to get instant access).
Please leave a comment if you have any additional favourite tools and tips to share.
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I have one client who is leading a great many strategy projects in her business, let’s call her Jane. This means that quite a few managers are indirectly reporting to Jane regarding the delivery of their part of the project. But it turns out that sometimes they are bypassing Jane and going instead to their manager for queries. When challenged about this, they responded by saying ‘you looked busy, so I didn’t want to bother you!’
There is several things wrong with this situation so let’s just take a moment to explore 2 of them:
If case number 1, Jane needs to work with her peers to ensure they direct staff to her rather than try and answer the questions themselves. All managers need to ‘sing off the same hymn sheet.’ No one wants a divisive culture in their business!
In case number 2, then Jane firstly needs to communicate with everyone that she is the main point of contact (and have this reiterated by her manager) and she also needs to make time to check in with the teams and create time when she can be available to support them.
Do you have similar experiences or stories to share? Please get in touch.
I did pretty well at school but performed abysmally in my History exam (and if I am being honest got the lowest grade possible). I remember getting my results and thinking “I wrote 8 pages; how could I deserve that grade?” But truth be told, I wrote 8 pages of rubbish that had little to do with the question! I made that rookie mistake of reading the question at the start of the exam and then focused the rest of my time writing my answer (on 8 pages!) yet never once rechecking the exam question to be sure I was writing 8 pages that drove towards answering the question. I suspect most kids are coached to not make this mistake (I wish I was) yet we continually make this mistake in business!
So the question you need to ask yourself every day at work: ‘Is what am I (and my team) doing driving towards delivering our vision and strategy?’ (‘the exam question’).
It’s so easy at work to get bogged down in the detail or side tracked on a ‘nice to do’ project, and it’s easy to get too focused on the URGENT (which doesn’t drive you forward and creates stress) rather than the IMPORTANT (which does drive you forward). I have been having this conversation a lot recently in my 1-2-1 coaching sessions so thought it worth writing about.
This is a CONTEXT (the why) / CONTENT (the what) question. Get clear on the context and the content becomes clear or in other words, get clear on your strategy and the tasks you need to focus on to deliver the strategy become very clear, other tasks need to be ditched, delegated or deferred because they are a distraction.
Part of focusing on delivering the strategy is being a good delegator and therefore ensuring everyone is working at the top of their game (since they are delegating down as much as possible). When we delegate effectively we can focus on the strategic aspects of our role. I always ask my clients “Are you working on stuff that only you can do and delegating the other tasks?” Often the answer is no because ‘It’s quicker to do it myself’or ‘they won’t do it as well as me’. This is not useful thinking and will definitely distract you from delivering the bigger picture and answering the exam question!
So ask yourself how often you stop at work and reread the exam question before diving head long into your day’s To-do list? The answer may well be ‘not enough’in which case, avoid getting the lowest grade and reread the question more frequently!
I don’t know if you are like me buy sometimes I get fixated on a task or a comment, and just want to get it done now or respond immediately. Yet this isn’t always the best, safest or most time efficient thing to do. There are two aspects to this thinking:
Last week I wrote about separating the IMPORTANT (something that moves your business forward) from the URGENT (something that needs doing now) from the NICE TO DO (something that you would like to do but is neither URGENT or IMPORTANT). You can read the full blog here.
How many of you create a To-do list every day or week and just plough your way through it? I bet your To-do list never gets shorter (tick one item off and add 2 more!) and you never know if you are really using your time most efficiently but nevertheless you plough on!
Separating your To-do list as I outlined in last week’s blog (DO, DECIDE, DELEGATE, DELETE) will help you work out if it’s something you need to do now rather than just thinking you can do it quickly to get it off you To-do list!
Sometimes I react to an email or something someone has said and feel impetuous and just want to respond immediately. This is rarely a good strategy and has gotten me in trouble in the past (does this sound familiar?)! So, holding yourself back and getting some perspective is always a better strategy than just replying now to get it off your To-do list. Sometimes we need time to reflect; time to stand in the other person’s shoes and to get some distance from the situation. When we do this our response is rarely the same as the response we would have given if we had replied immediately.
I try to apply both these strategies to my workload, my emails and my plans and the best part of this is that at the end of the day, I feel a sense of accomplishment and that I have moved my business forward.
If you want to have a chat about this or get some support with your workload then please do get in touch.
Time is a precious commodity, especially for the SME business owner. Using time wisely is perhaps one of the biggest challenges. After all when your business is your passion, it’s almost impossible to decide what you want to do first – surely everything is important?
Efficient use of time is a frequent conversation I have with clients. Indeed today I received an enquiry from someone who runs a small business and is run ragged. As he said, “There are just not enough hours in the day and I need some help to work smarter not longer and harder. Is this something you can help with?”
Well good news, I can definitely help and hopefully we will soon be working together so he can reclaim some of his time back as well as his sanity!
Firstly, we need to do 2 things:
We too often get side-tracked on tasks that feel urgent but in actual fact don’t move your business forward so you have to have an honest conversation with yourself about why you are investing time on these tasks.
Let’s look at some definitions:
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘important‘ as ‘of great significance or value’. When something is important, it’s vital to your business and will move you forward (and can often be big tasks – which is why we don’t do them!)
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘urgent‘ as ‘requiring immediate action or attention’. Urgent tasks are crises that need to be dealt with now to avoid getting out of hand (but they are often small tasks, like answering an email).
Here is a simple well-known approach to categorising and prioritising your evergrowing to-do list:
If you start your day by catergorising your to do list in this way you can be sure you are using your time in the most impactful way whilst letting go of those tasks that won’t make a difference.
Sounds straight forward right? Well of course it’s the application of this that is crucial so if you need some help please get in touch.
As many of you who know me, this is one of my favourite business expressions and along with “step up or step out’ is one that I share with lots of my clients. So thought it was worth blogging about this week.
I was with a customer last week who has an issue with ‘scope creep’ which results in project overrun, stress in the team due to long working hours and ultimately less profitable work. The problem is that clients don’t always know exactly what they want at the start of the project, so the give a brief that is a little too vague. My client is then forced to make some assumptions to ‘fill in the blanks’ and invariably, some of these assumptions are wrong. It’s only when they deliver the first version of the solution/design that their customer’s give a more in-depth brief (based on seeing what they don’t want!).
This is a really good example of ‘slow down to speed up’. If my client had a more thorough briefing process and was more assertive in saying ‘no we can’t start until we can complete this brief’ then they would get to the end result (a great design or a great solution) much more rapidly, with less pain internally and ultimately, with a happier customer.
I always tell clients you need a set of questions that must be answered and a set of questions that ideally you would like answered BEFORE they begin any piece of work. Of course you need to work out what these questions are and how best to be assertive with the customer (this is where my help can be invaluable). But ultimately this will save a lot of time and ensure you are delivering profitable work.
This is a great example of slow down to speed up and is one of many that I come across when working with clients. For some of my customers this has become a bit of a mantra for them and they quickly recognize the value in applying this principle. So are you flying around from one task to another with little time to breath or are you able to ‘slow down to speed up’?
How good are your circus skills? Well if you run your own business you will know that juggling skills are a prerequisite (and if you don’t recognise this you will soon be in trouble). In fact it is one of the reasons so many start ups fail in their first year.
It’s not enough to have a great idea for a business and to have researched there is demand for your product/service, you need to be able to spin a whole load of plates or juggle lots of balls at the same time.
So what juggling skills do you need exactly? There are 3 key areas you’ll need to be good at juggling:
So the main thing you need to juggle is time. And time is in short supply so getting structured becomes super important. Allocating time to working on the business (strategy) and managing staff is as important as delivering client work (revenue). And the first two can’t go out the window when you get busy with client work because if they do, what will you do when clients eventually stop working with you (and trust me, at some point they will)? Those companies who proudly tell me they are super busy and get all their business through referrals so don’t need to do any kind of sales or marketing, will eventually find themselves in a trough and it’s at this point that businesses make poor decisions.
A business in the trough will be desperate to get more work and do one of 2 things: they either discount to win business or take the wrong kind of work on. Both scenarios are examples of poor decision making and will eventually lead to more balls being dropped, short term client relationships and poor staff retention.
So how good a juggler are you? It’s a skill I would definitely recommend gaining.
So much of this is about out-doing each other. To say “I’m busier than you are” means “I’m more important”, or that my time is more valuable.
Here’s the thing: it’s harming how we communicate and work together. Everyone is busy in different sorts of ways. Maybe you have lots of clients or are starting a new business or have many staff demands on you. The point is this: with limited time and unlimited demands on that time; it’s easy to fill your plate with activities constantly. But this doesn’t mean that you should. If you want some tips on winning back time, download my whitepaper on this very topic.
To assume that being too “busy” is cool or brag-worthy is ridiculous. In fact when I start working with a new client, one thing I make very clear (and ask them to commit to) is to never use “I’m too busy” as a reason for not completing the (working on the business) tasks they agree to at a coaching session. After all, if you are too busy to work on your business, then who has the time?
Imagine a business that everyone strives always to be on time and meetings always have a fixed length that is adhered to. Imagine how much more productive that business is compared to the typical company that starts meetings late, and they always overrun. It’s not that hard to do and creates a much more focused, motivated and productive workforce. The alternative (which I am sure we have all experienced) is sitting at your desk until you see the person who called the meeting move and start to round everyone up. I used to work for a company whose Sales Director would shut the door at 9am (for a 9am meeting that he called), and if someone walked in at 9.05, he would ask them to leave. NO ONE WAS EVER LATE FOR HIS MEETINGS! He treated everyone else’s time as importantly as his own.
So next time you are late for a meeting, consider what message you are sending – intentionally or otherwise?
A common problem for many of my owner / manager clients is prioritising their limited time when they have so many things to do. One such client is Leo from Roar Accounting. I worked with Leo for about 2 years and we made great strides in growing the business and helping with that ever-elusive work/life balance.
Roar was going through some rapid growth and the consequence of this could have been that ‘life goes out the window’ and Leo works long hours to ensure the clients receive the best service. However, before this took hold we tackled it head-on. Leo agreed to work with her marketing and admin staff to drill down and work out what she could delegate by looking at the workflow of client enquiries and other tasks.
We are visual beings so coloured post it notes certainly is a good way to ‘see’ what we have to do and move things around to get the priorities right. They have a lot going on!
No one does it as well as me!
Its easy to fall into the same old trap of ‘its quicker to do it myself’ when things get busier and we feel we ‘haven’t got time’ to delegate or show someone else how to do something. This is when one of my favourite expressions comes into play ‘SLOW DOWN TO SPEED UP’.
If a management team just dedicates itself to servicing it’s clients without spending enough time in a ‘strategy space’ (and read strategy as where is the money coming from tomorrow?) then they will suffer the classic peak-trough-peak-trough scenario which is not good for business or your health!
Having been there before, fortunately this time Leo and the team (with my guidance) have recognised this and are freeing enough of Leo’s time up to continue to develop future plans and future business.
If this story rings true for you, i would love to hear your own experience so please get in touch.
Two of the most common issues business owners and managers share with me are that they want to increase revenues yet they don’t have enough hours in the day.
So how can you achieve the former when the latter is such a big issue? Is the answer really to work Saturdays as well as 18-hour days?
Cut backs, lower margins, higher expectations. This all equates to pressure and the feeling of fewer options – resulting in longer working hours and stress. We are expected (and expect) to do more with less time and less resource. External pressure combines with internal cut backs to create cultures of long working hours which become the norm rather than the exception, and anyone who doesn’t buy into this culture is labelled as not caring or demotivated, and most likely will not progress as rapidly as their peers.
But does it have to be this way? As management guru Peter Drucker was fond of saying, one should never confuse activity with productivity. They are not at all the same. The old cliche, “work smarter not harder” is key here; focusing on what is important.
Two areas to focus on are structure and time assignment.
Getting the right structures in your business is crucial, so everyone is clear about their roles & responsibilities and are accountable for delivering them. Having some time recording tools and capacity management will enable you to assess when someone says “I’m too busy”, whether they really are or is just their default position for taking on more work! Secondly, getting clear boundaries keeps staff focused.
Working out how to best spend your time is the next focus for getting a reasonable work/life balance. There are various tools and techniques for this to help prioritise (such as segmenting your time into planning, revenue and admin). Better use of to-do lists (hint, scrap your to-do list and schedule everything you have to do – this will avoid the ever growing list).
What are your tips and thoughts on this challenging area? What has worked for you? Since this is such a big topic. I have written a whitepaper on the subject, which you can download by clicking here.