Most small business owners/managers are normally overwhelmed and have too much to do. This is because they spend virtually all their time working in the business rather than working on the business. While it is necessary to do a lot of work in the business in a start-up to reduce overhead costs and lower the breakeven point, not spending a good deal of time managing the work effectively prevents most businesses from optimizing their results.
Most owners and managers have so much coming at them that they spend little time planning their own time. They react to the “crisis” in front of them or end up doing “busy” work like gift wrapping, mailings, operating the cash register, etc.
Research indicates that most owners and managers spend most of their time on urgent, but not critically important issues and opportunities. Most owners/manages spend most of their time fighting fires and dealing with what they perceive are urgent issues like making a sale, handling a customer complaint or deciding which bills to pay from their limited cash supply. This is called fire fighting. Unfortunately, most of the same type of fires is fought over and over again. Why? The immediate problem is resolved, but the root cause of the problem is not identified and fixed. Having to cope with the same problems over and over is taxing and exhausting. Furthermore, they prevent the owner from effectively managing the business. This phenomenon is usually caused by a lack of good practices, processes and procedures. Not only does this result in exhaustion and stress, but sub-optimal profit results as well. Owners end up working harder and getting less than desired results.
So how does an owner make time to solve “root causes” and find time to “manage” the business? You gather the key players into working lunch meetings:
- Brainstorm solutions to fix root causes
- Develop written practices and procedures
- Players have ownership for the “fix”
To accomplish root cause fixes, owners must have written weekly “to do lists”. For some mysterious reason, most owners do not do this. The owners that do have written “to do lists” normally do not prioritize them properly. They tend to either address the “urgent” issues or they engage in the activities they enjoy doing. As a result, even with written “to do list”, the really important stuff never seems to get done.
The key is knowing how to prioritize your “to do list”. You must prioritize your “to do list” between “A” priorities and “B” & “C” priorities. “A” priorities are those that have the biggest potential impact on the bottom line. An example is do I man the cash register or do I develop an operating profit and loss budget for the business? Not having a profit and loss budget for the business has a tremendous potential impact on the bottom line of the business. Unfortunately, ninety-five percent of small business owners choose to man the cash register, even if they are not busy.
Thinking and more importantly, behaving in alignment with the important priorities is not something most small business owners do naturally. This has to be a learned behavior. If you are not getting the “A” priorities done each week, you are getting sucked into fire fighting. At least if you have a written “to do list” with the proper “A” priorities identified, you will at least know if you are getting them done or not.
The most effective owners/managers and successful businesses are the ones that spend a good deal of time on “the right stuff” (“A” priorities). Do not just let the work come to you and deal with what shows up on your doorstep. Be selective on what you take on. If you get you’re “A” priorities done and nothing else, you will be successful. The unfortunate truth is that small business owners get so involved in fire fighting on “B” and “C” priorities, that the “A” priorities never get done. These are businesses that either sub-optimize their income results or go out of business.
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