- Self-mastery, not time mastery, is the essential ingredient in the recipe for control in your business
- A 30% productivity improvement is actually simple. Improving productivity is the best way to improve profitability
- Move from reactive to proactive to master yourself. Get rid of time wasters
- Daily lists mean you can ‘switch off’ and get home to your family. The goal of being a business owner is to build the vehicle that gives you the life you want, not to be at work 24 hours per day
Right now, many business owners are ‘flat tack’ trying to keep up with customer demand, challenges with supply caused by Covid and the shortages of staff that have been widespread. If I had a Dollar for every time I heard ‘I am working all day sorting out my teams and how they are working on jobs. Then, when I eventually get home and after I’ve eaten a quick meal with my family, I need to do the orders for tomorrow, reply to emails and check the quotes…’, I’d be a very wealthy person! Yet, even though it seems obvious to say it, we all have 168 hours in a week, so how is it that the best business owners and managers don’t seem to be running around all day, with no time to breathe, let alone work on their businesses?
The best leaders have learnt the art of self-mastery. They recognize that time management isn’t a ‘thing’, because the clock never stops and cannot be mastered. Time relentlessly marches on, no matter how much or how little of it we think we have. The only thing we can master is what we do with the time we have, who we become in that time and hence the outcomes we achieve with it. To move from ‘chaos’ in your business, you must learn the skills of self-mastery. It will give you control back in your life and, if done properly, significantly lift you and your business’ productivity, leading to more time to do what you love (time with family, pursuing your favourite hobby or sport, travel…) AND more profit to pay for the lifestyle you want.
What are your time goals for your day? How many hours each day do you want to spend investing in your business? Lee Iacocca, the former CEO of Chrysler Motors, said that if you as a business owner or executive can’t get home by 6pm to have dinner with your family and relax for the evening, you are doing something wrong. He was right!
Once you have set the goal of how many hours you want to work each day you can limit your time at work by doing one really quite simple thing: Focus on being proactive rather than reactive for the majority of the day. That includes building a team that work so you can focus on the highest-value tasks. To begin that, here are some easy-to-follow actions to take:
First, remove the time wasters in your day. The best solutions are typically the simple ones, so make a list of every task you do, in 15-minute intervals. That may include meeting clients, preparing presentations, having team meetings, reviewing the cashflow, checking the budgets and the like. The key here is to be very specific, very granular so that you have (after a week or so) a good handle on the things you actually spend time on, rather than the too-generic ‘I’m so busy’ you may be faced with otherwise. Now order that list into daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly tasks so that you have a clear set of the routine things you do, what repeats and how often. (As an aside, just measuring the tasks you do will improve your productivity. Because you are focusing on it, you will start to do things differently and that will lead to better outcomes).
Now that you have a list of all the things you do, the second step is to prioritise it. Particularly in smaller businesses, or when starting out, the temptation is to do everything yourself to save money and until you are up and running, that is understandable. But it is essential to prioritise based on your role, not on saving a wage. The job of the business owner or senior executive is to be the ‘rainmaker’, to do the things that do the most to grow the business.
Use the ABCD method to set out the absolute priorities that only you can do, the next most important and then the Cs and Ds. The As will be things like sales, marketing, meeting and serving the best customers – in other words, the highest-value tasks that make your business the most profit. Bs are also things in your bailiwick as the owner – team meetings, leading, motivating, inspiring, so make sure you have them clear in your mind also.
Here is where things get interesting, and you start getting mastery of yourself. The Cs and Ds are not things you should be doing. They are the things you can get others to do, more cheaply and probably faster and better. They are the routine tasks every business has, things like office admin, getting supplies or whatever the routine things are in your business. If you know you can pay someone $25 per hour to do the C and D tasks and you can make a sales call in that hour that is worth $500, wouldn’t it make sense to hire an assistant as soon as possible?
Before you get too excited, there is work you need to do, though. You cannot delegate before you systemize and to help your team really grow and improve, you need to also train them. Again, keeping things simple means you don’t have to have massively complex systems, but a clear set of ‘how to’ manuals (which could be audio, video, written – there are plenty of tools available) setting out they processes of your business is essential. Delegating before systemizing is abdicating. It will lead to pain down the road, so invest the time and effort setting up properly upfront.
Once you’ve systemized the routine tasks and hired the best people you can find, your journey to improved productivity isn’t quite over yet. Ongoing training may be needed, so don’t cut corners. When asked to imagine the impact of training someone who then left the business, shrewd business owners reply “Yes, but imagine not training them and they stay!”
If you’ve gotten this far in your business, you are well one the road to real improvements. The groundwork is in place, so it is time to do some building…one of the first things to build is structure into your day and week using a Default Diary. A default diary consists of the tasks you should be doing in the hours you’ve set aside for work (8am to 5pm, or whatever goal you set for yourself). Remember, you have the ABCD list, so by putting a timeframe against each task (never an hour, because that just says you haven’t actually thought through what it will really take!) you can drop that into your diary easily. Put the A-list items upfront (team meetings first thing Monday morning, with customer-facing jobs the rest of the day, perhaps?) Of course, not every hour in your day should be planned, but if you work an 8-hour day, a good rule of thumb is to have 7 hours for planned, proactive work and 1 for reactive stuff. If you’ve trained your team, you will be able to give them permission to make decisions, so you don’t need to have a permanently ‘open door’ policy (which sees too many managers reacting to whoever walks through the door!)
The final piece in the productivity puzzle is the Daily Tasks List. Every business we’ve put this into has seen a 20-30% productivity improvement directly from it. In essence, do today’s work today and plan tomorrow before you leave for the evening. So, every night before you wrap up, while the day is still fresh in your head, write down the tasks you will accomplish the following day. There is a clear relationship between writing and brain stimulation, so actually WRITE the list on a piece of paper, don’t type it up. That way, your brain gets to process the task and you’ve given yourself overnight to subconsciously find the best ways to do the tasks, so when you arrive the following day, you hit the ground running. Not wasting time in the morning wondering what the day holds means you can accomplish more and, with practice that becomes a virtuous circle.
Once you have the daily tasks sorted and working well, you can move to the Friday List. Really what this means is that before you leave for the week, you follow the same thinking you did for the daily tasks, but now for the following week so that on Monday you know what the week holds. As an added bonus, you can now leave work with a clear head and dedicate the entire weekend to your family, friends and rest, which is surely the goal of building a business that works without you in the first place!
Everything about self-mastery starts with you, the business owner, executive, leader. The tone for your business or division or not-for-profit or government department is set by you and the example people see and experience. So, why stop there? Why not help your senior leaders to also achieve self-mastery? Then they can help their people and so on. Imagine the power you can unleash in your organisation through effective and consistent mastery.
Before your team goes home every day (and then once they’ve learnt this new way of working, you can expand to Fridays as well), get them to send you their Daily Task List – a quick photo on their phone and they can email or SMS it to you. If you are a fan of agile, use Daily Standups to communicate overall priorities, using the Daily Tasks Lists. It is not about checking up on staff, it is about making sure everyone knows what is happening and is a quick and easy tool to ensure everyone is across what is needed. Then on Monday mornings do the same for the week, using the leadership team meeting (which we’ve already agreed is on YOUR A-list) to get the team ready for the week ahead…
Once you’ve got the system working, you won’t want to check daily lists all the time. Do it every once in a while, just to keep a finger on the pulse. Remember, mastery is a learnt skill and like every thing worth doing it is worth doing well.
You’ve got this!
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