Did you know that “the average adult makes over 35,000 conscious decisions a day?” If that’s the case, then I imagine that the average business owner makes, conservatively, 100,000 decisions a day. Or at least it can feel that way some days.
There are typically way too many decisions to be made when you run your own business.
The irony is that most business owners will tell me, “I just want someone to tell me what to do next”. BUT – in reality, they became business owners in part because they didn’t want anyone to tell them what to do next!
However, making thousands of decisions a day can be exhausting, so the thought of someone taking over some of those decisions sounds tempting. It can be exhausting being in charge of everything, and that can lead to “decision fatigue” which can affect your ability to make more decisions.
So how does an exhausted and overwhelmed entrepreneur work to minimize decision making and (ideally) focus more on planning than on the day-to-day operations (aka work on the business rather than in the business)?
Let’s take a look at a few options to see what might work for you. I’m sure you’ve seen many of these suggestions before, so consider this a ‘gentle reminder’ to give these ideas some thought once again…
This often sounds like the easiest path when you have employees but can also be the most challenging. Why? Because many business owners are control freaks.
No offense! But it is your business, and you take it much more personally than your employees might.
However – if you ever want to NOT be in charge of everything, then it’s time to think about where to start. If your ultimate goal for your business is to sell it, then you need to consider how well it can run without you making all the decisions.
As a parent who survived raising young children, I can attest that delegation can be a painful path. Why let your 6-year-old unload the dishwasher when you can clearly do it faster – and safer? Well, at some point, you might not want to unload the dishwasher anymore, and now you have delegated that task to someone who will likely be around to do it for you for another 12 years or so.
Many business owners think the same. “I’ve been doing this (financials, HR paperwork, health insurance paperwork, taxes, interview, etc.) since the beginning, so it’s easier/faster/safer if I keep doing it.”
But you will never get that task off your plate until you put up with a little pain and turn it over to someone else. Let them try (and maybe mess up) and consider how many times you will now NOT need to do that task any longer. It’s worth a little pain up front to drop that task from your list and let someone else deal with both the responsibility and the decisions that go along with it.
I was speaking with a small business owner the other day who has an engineering background. He is not comfortable in the sales and marketing world, especially when it comes to digital marketing. It’s practically a full-time job just to keep up with all the changes going on in that world!
So how does a small business owner increase the company’s visibility when he is busy managing the technical side of the business? One option is to find an outside company that specializes in digital marketing and pay them to handle it.
The challenge, of course, is that outsourcing isn’t free. And if you want to hire someone who actually knows what they’re doing, it may not be cheap either. So, the question becomes – what is your time worth? If you pay someone to handle tasks where you are not the expert, does it free up more time for you to serve your customers or find new customers?
Also consider the fact that outsourcing some key tasks means that you are also outsourcing some of the decisions. Of course, you won’t just turn the whole thing over – with no budget or oversight. But you will definitely eliminate many of the frustrating decisions that you don’t like to make because you don’t feel as if you know enough to decide. Should you spend your money on social media marketing or trade shows? Is your line of credit large enough if there is a downturn? Bring on an expert to help you make those decisions with you. Then you can focus more time on the ones that matter – and the ones where you are the expert.
Wouldn’t it be nice if some of the mundane decisions like scheduling meetings and responding to simple emails could be automated, so you don’t even need to think about it?
We aren’t quite at the point where our operating system can manage our schedules like Samantha, the OS in the 2013 movie Her.
But there are some software shortcuts we can use to save time and simplify decision making.
Now granted, these are not huge tasks that take up lots of time or involve some serious thought. A decision to save, delete, or follow-up on an email might only take seconds, but let’s do some math here.
Let’s say the average businessperson receives 100 emails a day (actual statistic) and that about half of them require a simple response that could be automated. That’s 50 emails a day.
Now say we spend 5 seconds on each decision and response. That’s 50 emails x 5 seconds = 250 seconds per day. If we work an average of 250 days per year x 250 seconds per day, that is 62,500 seconds per year (250 x 250).
Stay with me now – 62,500 seconds is 1042 minutes is just over 17 hours per year. So, what if you invested an hour or two setting up some shortcuts to help with emails, calendar scheduling, bill paying, etc.? It adds up. (And yes, I am a nerd!)
‘Sure’, you say, ‘I can automate the easy decisions. But they don’t cost me all the time and trouble that the real strategic decisions do. Certainly, we’re not ready to let “AI” run the company and make the challenging decisions!’
I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for that.
But you don’t need to go it alone, just because you own your own business. Just this week, I facilitated a business owner roundtable group (BORG, but not The Borg) – where small business owners bring their most challenging decisions to their peers. At these groups, you can ‘crowdsource’ your decisions. Not in a bad, giving up control, lowest-common-denominator way. More like a “two (or more) heads are better than one” kind of way.
For the members of these groups, their peers are there to listen to your concerns and share their own experiences and outcomes that might be similar. You can learn from your peers, avoid the mistakes they made, and/or get some advice from someone who can completely understand the situation you’re in as a business owner.
Not only that, but a BORG is terrific for accountability when it comes to those difficult decisions. You know you will see this group every month, so you are also responsible for reporting back to them what you did since the last meeting.
And it can certainly be a relief to know that you are not alone – that others have been through what you’re going through. As a member of my group said just this week, “This is where you come to talk about problems that you won’t talk to anyone else about.” Kinda like group therapy for business owners! *
Creative Decision Making
Looking for other ways to make those ‘in-between’ decisions? You know, not the super simple ones that you make constantly, but not the giant strategic ones that can be addressed in a peer group? Try some unconventional methods.
You could map out a decision tree – looking at the probability of each path and then calculating out the path with the greatest probability of success. (I used to teach this to college students!)
You could put together a list of pros and cons for each decision.
You could follow a checklist recommended by Harvard Business Review.
Or you could just take a break!
I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest the most important option of all. Give yourself a break! Not all decisions are life-or-death, and they don’t all need to be made right away.
Sometimes, leaving the room, your office, the state, or the country, can be the best decision you make for your business.
Only have a few minutes? Go for a walk (without your phone) and just let your mind wander for a bit as you ponder a decision.
Got an hour? Go for a drive and give yourself some time to unwind. Your mind needs the down time, and you might find that turning your brain off lets your subconscious ponder some solutions that you wouldn’t find if you stayed at your desk.
Or maybe you really need a break. In that case, take an actual vacation – with no contact with work at all. Disconnect from the day-to-day issues and you’ll find that you can better see the ‘big picture’ – which can then make decision making go much more smoothly.
*Professional Peer Group Facilitators are not licensed therapists. BORGs are only “like” therapy, they are not actual therapy.
My passion is to help growth-minded entrepreneurs like you find ways to plan for your version of a successful future. I do this through courses, consulting, and a community of like-minded people. Reach out for a free ½ hour conversation if you’re curious to learn more!
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