When other people’s priorities are not yours
The Work-of-the-business v the Work-of-the-business-owner
Small business owners often ask me if I can help them become more productive and to get better at time management. Or rather the complaint is that there are always a thousand other things getting in the way of the stuff you would much rather spend your time on, instead of the never-ending emails, phone calls, crises, admin, quoting, employees calling in sick or needing help tying their shoe laces. No one ever seems to be able to get anything done without you.
It’s one of the great frustrations of small business. Everything is down to you, the owner. When a client is irate, when a supplier is unhappy, the bank has an issue or when the toilet paper runs out, it’s down to you.
And of course, you being you, you do fix it all, you are the ultimate juggler and the balls rarely ever crash when you’re on the job, but it means the work you actually want to do, gets put off and off and off.
No simple answers
All small business owners have to face this challenge and, sadly, I have no simple answers.
Move along folks… Nothing to see here.
I can suggest a few principles, though, that may help make you more productive and actually get the things you want to get done, done:
- Other people’s priorities don’t always have to be your priorities.
- The important work you want to get onto, the business development work is the only work in your business that cannot be delegated to others.
- The important work you want to get onto can always be put off another day, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.
- If you don’t make the business development work your priority and set dedicated time aside for it every week, it will not get done and your business will struggle.
Covey and the 4 Quadrants
One of the classic works of personal development of the eighties is Stephen Covey’s book: “The 7 Habits of highly effective people”. In The 7 Habits, Covey talks about the 4 quadrants of time management (see the image) And Covey himself has taken this idea from famous general Eisenhower, I believe.
Covey explains that all tasks can be put into one of 4 quadrants. Tasks can be:
- Important and Urgent
- Important and not Urgent
- Not Important but Urgent
- Neither Important nor Urgent
If you experience the problems I outlined in the first three paragraphs above, I know you have little trouble getting the tasks done that are in quadrant 1. The Quadrant 1 stuff is the stuff that must get done now, or else, and I bet you’re generally fine with that It’s the reason your business has survived as long as it has.
Mostly, small business owners don’t struggle too much with the Quadrant 4 stuff either, there’s not enough time in a day as it is, let alone spend time on stuff that is meaningless.
The problems are always in Quadrants 2 and 3. The Quadrant 3 stuff is all the tasks that are generated by other people. It’s the client ringing up and saying I need to have that quote first thing tomorrow morning, it’s the supplier saying I want to deliver this widget after lunch, can you be on site to receive it. Because the client and the supplier sound like it’s really really important to them, you set aside the thing you would have preferred to do and you make it happen. Other people’s priorities. They say “Jump”, your immediate response is “How High”? And when you jump you put aside the Quadrant 2 stuff. The Quadrant 2 stuff is the stuff that is important to you, but it can always be put off another day. The world doesn’t end if you start writing that business plan tomorrow instead of today and the world doesn’t end if you put off writing the new safety procedure for another day.
The world won’t end when you postpone
And the world really won’t end when you do that. After all you’ve managed alright without the business plan and the safety procedure to date… What’s another day? The problem is of course that tomorrow there will be another phone call and another crisis and the day after another one etc.
Obviously, sometimes when a client asks if you can do this thing for them by this afternoon, it really does need to be done, but many times it doesn’t. Often it’s perfectly ok to say: “Sorry I am busy this afternoon and tomorrow. I can get onto it on Thursday and have it to you by lunch time, would that be ok?” I can guarantee you that in most cases the client is going to be fine with that, as long as you are clear and decisive and as long as you actually deliver by Thursday lunchtime.
Other peoples urgencies
We are trained to respond to other people’s urgencies as if they are our own. They aren’t and it’s worth keeping that in mind.
I have worked with and met hundreds if not thousands of small business owners in the past 13 years. From my experience, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that the one key difference between the business owners who have built and are building Great Small Businesses and those who struggle, is how much time they manage to dedicate every week to building their business. I call it “The work of the business owner” as opposed to “The work of the business”.
If you start by dedicating as little as an hour per week to business building and business development, every week, regular as clockwork, no interruptions, phone off, email off, go to a café if you have to, block it out in your diary, nothing short of death is more important… You will start to build a Fun Business that sustains you for years to come… I promise you
Time management and Overwhelm and the 7 Big Questions of Small Business
Business owners frequently ask 7 Big Questions about how to Build a Beautiful Business and Life.
The third of the 7 Big Questions is: How do I get unstuck in my business?
To get unstuck and free yourself of the whirlpool, I have identified “6 questions about being Overwhelmed in business.”
The fourth of those Questions about getting unstuck is: How can I manage my time better? (And get the important stuff done in my business). This is one of many more articles on this site that explain how Time management and Overwhelm hang together, in some depth.
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