Those who run small businesses have some very common challenges.
Significant amongst them is insufficient time to get everything done that needs to be done, and no time left over for “self”
The old cliché working “in the business and not on the business” is a cliché because it is appallingly true.
Most, if not all have also heard about the “urgent but not important to Important but not urgent” continuum, certainly I have written about it in the past.
However, taking some concrete action to free up the time is harder than the easy clichés of business coaches and consultants, so here are a few added steps to take along the path. They come from the “Lean” thinking movement that has so profoundly altered the way we manufacture things over the last 25 years.
First: distinguish between policies and procedures.
Policies are the things that deliver a framework for activities an decision making. Think about it as Google earth focussed on a large region. You can see the shape and limits, but not the detail of the roads, railways and suburban areas. Procedures by contrast are a step by step expression of the sequence of activities that together contribute to the outcome. To continue the analogy, they are the GPS, giving you street by street instructions on how to get from point A to point B.
Second: Make a list of all the things that are recurrent activities, and priorities them against a list of questions you ask yourself:
- Is it required for the business to function efficiently?
- Are there repeatable steps with specific start and end points and efficiency/productivity metrics?
- Does the task have to be done by me, or could someone else do it
- Is it the best use of my time?
Third: Be ruthless about eliminating those tasks that do not add value that make no contribution to your ability to serve customers, and by delegating to others.
Fourth: write the procedures to make the tasks that remain routine, repeatable, and robust. You generally have two options in writing procedures.
- Have a roundtable with all those involved in the task, and map it out on a whiteboard, or butcher paper, capturing all the interactions that occur.
- Take a bit of time, and keep a record for a couple of times the job gets done, then whiteboard it to standardise, and eliminate the unnecessary loops and rework that almost inevitably you will uncover. Think about it like building a house. Start with the foundations, then progressively fill in the external walls, internals walls, followed by the details of the fittings and fixtures.
Once documented, test the procedure a couple of time to “stress test” it, then delegate.
Fifth: Outsource where possible those tasks that take a capability not readily available in your business, or where there is a specialist available who can do it better and quicker, and therefor in the long run cheaper, than you.
Voila! For most small business owners, 4 hours a day.