Don’t let daily pressures obscure the big picture
One of the commonest complaints I hear is from directors and owners who know they are spending too much time working in the business, and not enough working on the business.
The risk in getting too absorbed in the day-to-day is that the bigger picture gets neglected. Long-term objectives and strategies don’t get the attention they need, leading to missed opportunities and slower growth, or lost motivation and burn-out.
Spotting the danger signs is rarely enough
Most people I work with are aware of the risks and conscious that they need to dedicate more time and effort to working on the business than being immersed in it. But what’s interesting to me as a coach is why it can prove so difficult to make the change that’s so clearly necessary.
The most frequent reason I’m given is simply a lack of time. But that’s more often a symptom than an underlying cause, as we all have the power to divide our time up differently if we choose to. So we need to delve deeper and ask ourselves why we struggle to balance the competing demands of urgent vs important and of short-term vs long-term.
An appearance of rationality
A client of mine who runs a professional services business had long been using the familiar important/urgent matrix for planning and prioritising their workload. But they agreed when challenged that it didn’t really help – they were still finding the same unresolved items on their ‘important’ list.
When we explored this in more depth we discovered that it was how my client felt about each item on the list that influenced their actions, and not where it was plotted in the matrix. It was their sub-conscious preferences and biases that were dictating what was dealt with and what was ignored.
Once they understood the less obvious, more emotional drivers that they attached to their work, it became much easier to set priorities that would be respected and acted on – and to adjust for the unconscious responses that had previously got in the way.
Only do what only you can do
Of course there are still only a finite number of hours in the day. So what do you do when all the necessary tasks simply can’t be done in the time available?
Short answer: seek help.
Many of my clients describe finding and securing the right support as the most significant step-change in successfully managing their business. Freeing themselves up to work at the macro level is crucial for their growth as business owners and for the growth of their business.
But it can be hard to let go and to delegate, especially in smaller companies where the owner is used to performing many different roles. So make a habit of checking in with yourself and asking who else might be able to do what you’re doing right now.
Focus your effort on the work you’re uniquely qualified for. And never be afraid to ask for help.
Don’t assume – measure
We are all prone to making assumptions that, if they remain unchallenged, quickly harden into ‘fact’, so it’s important to seek measurable evidence and to test our assumptions.
One of my clients who works in the performing arts felt they weren’t dedicating enough time to evolving their creative strategy, blaming their ‘lack of discipline’ and beating themselves up for ‘frittering away’ the day.
But when we scoped out what their ideal day and ideal week would look like, and started tracking how their days and weeks were actually spent, it turned out the two were remarkably similar.
The big difference now is that they don’t waste their time worrying that they’re wasting time.
Tips for staying vigilant
Carving out that quality time to look at the big picture is not a once-only action; it needs to become a habit. Here are a few simple ways to stay alert and defend your way of working on your business and not get submerged in the day-to-day.
Draw up a ‘Time Pie’ and segment it into your ideal day or week, then record how you actually spend your time and compare this with your ideal. Where are the variations? What do you get hijacked by? What do you put off, and do you know why? Identify the least productive time and reallocate that to working on the business.
Create an important/urgent matrix but take a few minutes to be honest with yourself about how you feel towards each task. For the ones you don’t feel good about, ask yourself whether you can adopt a more positive attitude and develop a more productive emotional response.
Ask yourself if you could delegate more. If you have a team, are you investing in the right people to enable you to take that step away? Make sure you spend time coaching and teaching and not just telling and directing. If you are a sole trader, look outside the business and ask for support – most people will be happy to help, so don’t be shy of asking.
In the interests of privacy all client references have been changed.