“I’m behind before I even show up each morning”
“I agree we need to be more active online, but who’s going to do that?”
“I spend most of my day putting out fires”
“I’m too busy to get involved in an accountability group – maybe next month/quarter/year”
We are so busy!
Does those statements sound familiar to you? I hear comments like this every week from the small business owners I work with. Not enough time is the most common complaint. If only we had more time, we could plan more, prepare more, document more, move to that new software system that will ultimately be a huge time-saver, etc
According to data collected by Microsoft (based on “the activity of millions of workers who use the company’s business applications”), many of us “spend the equivalent of two workdays a week in meetings and on email.” That doesn’t include instant messaging, phone calls, and non-scheduled conversations with co-workers.
And how do we spend the other three workdays?
Some focus on the areas they enjoy (whether it’s sales, finance, operations, etc.), and neglect the areas they don’t enjoy (whether it’s sales, finance, operations, etc.).
Some spend it paralyzed with indecision. Or procrastinating by scrolling social media endlessly.
But most of us spend it on the tasks that are clearly urgent – they must be addressed in the next 30 days. Which doesn’t leave any time for the tasks that are important but not urgent – the tasks that will move your business forward rather than just round and round in an endless hamster wheel.
So while the Eisenhower Matrix for prioritizing your work looks like this:
For most people, it ends up feeling more like this:
If that second grid feels more like your reality than the first one does, then you are most definitely not alone! Part of the fun and joy (!) of owning your own business is feeling as if you are always spending your time on the wrong thing.
How can I move “Later” to “Sooner”?
There are all sorts of tools, books, courses and templates out there to help overwhelmed business owners better manage their time.
I’ve read and worked to implement the concepts in David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.
I have worked to get into the habit of setting aside more time for planning after reading Atomic Habits by James Clear.
I have used a Pomodoro app or my own timer on my phone to help me focus on certain activities.
I’ve tried Inbox Zero to stay on top of my emails, so they aren’t hanging over me, glaring with the number in the red circle that feels too big to ever catch up.
This number was 11 an hour ago, and now it’s 43??
Beyond the books and the apps, I am the owner of dozens of “To Do List” notepads.
I have sticky note reminders on my monitor – “Does this make you money?” “Focus on the long-term!”
And – the craziest thing of all – I have somehow over time developed a reputation for being the super organized one, the person who is on top of everything. When I’m helping other people, I can break up their tasks, keep them on topic, start and end the meetings on time, make up the efficient agenda, you name it.
When it comes to me – I’m a mess. Yup I said it. I can be super on top of things for YOU my clients. Not so much for me.
A Simple Plan?
But this summer, I tried something new that worked better than anything I’ve tried before. I made more progress with my goals in three months than I had in over a year before that. And here’s the thing – it doesn’t require reading books, adding apps or staying on top of your email.
It comes down to two pretty simple things.
First step – find a group of busy business owners like you and pledge to hold each other accountable.
Second step – check in weekly to share your accomplishments.
Okay, I admit it’s a bit more complex than that.
But the key elements of success here are the accountability of sharing your goals with others and reporting back to them – and the ability to break your bigger goals (the urgent but not important ones) into very small pieces so that you can those pieces done in very small time increments.
Sounds simple, but it still takes some commitment.
The first step is thinking about your longer term goals. Not just “where do you want your business to be in a year – or two years or three” – but what do you need to do differently to get there?
Take the more vague goal of “growth” and try to transform it into something more specific. And again, not just “increase my revenue by xx%” – but HOW will you do that? New customers? New products or services? A price increase?
I suppose now you’re thinking, ‘If I had the time, I would have already done this part!’
But I am here to tell you much of this information is already in there somewhere. You’ve thought of some ideas, but haven’t had time to sort it all out. And that’s what the accountability + very small pieces method is about.
Turning Big Goals into Very Small Pieces
If you can take your goals and break them into small tasks, it will feel less overwhelming and more possible to you. It’s amazing what you can get done in just 15 minutes.
Are you doubtful that you can actually see much of a return on your investment of 15 minutes a week? If it was that easy, you would be doing it already, right?
Well, yes and no. If you’re anything like me, you do look for the quick and easy tasks to check off your To Do List for the quick win. But that’s not the type of task we’re talking about here.
Our goal with 15 minute tasks is to think about the items that are less urgent – but more important to the future of your business. We aren’t putting any fires out – we are thinking big picture and then taking it down to its smallest pieces.
And here’s something else to consider. Sometimes it’s easier to help other people figure these things out than to figure them out yourself. So start the process by meeting with a couple other business owners. Talk about your end goals and then help each other work to break one bigger goal into a bunch of smaller pieces. You are all smart and you’ve achieved a lot already – this is a very doable step.
Keep breaking the tasks into smaller and smaller pieces until you can get one of them done in just 15 minutes. Or at least you can make good progress in that amount of time.
What can I do in 15 minutes?
Let’s look at a couple examples from businesses I have worked with-
Example 1: What’s the first step?
One business owner was spending so much time trying to keep up with quoting projects that he couldn’t find the time to hire someone to do it for him. The group asked him, “How would you get started with the hiring process?”
“Well, I don’t have time to write up the job description so I haven’t had a chance to post anything.”
The group pushed back: “Do you think there might be job descriptions available online as a starting point?”
“That would be a good starting point.”
“Then do that now. Get it taken care of right away and you’ll be that much closer to hiring someone.”
When the group met again the next month, not only had he created the job description (which took 15 minutes), he had posted the job, interviewed a couple people and made an offer. The first step was holding up the process.
Example 2: Delegate or automate?
In a different Roundtable group, the group was discussing delegation options.
One member spoke up: “I hate doing payroll but I don’t want to pay someone to do it because it’s not that hard and I know I can do it.”
He acknowledged that it’s not a good use of his time but he still wasn’t sure he was ready for the added expense.
I heard from him later that day. He called his tax accountant and discovered that not only do they do payroll but this service is already wrapped into his monthly fee for accounting services. So he was able to offload the burden of payroll to his accounting firm – at no cost to himself, just with one phone call.
What are some other tasks that are Important to the future of your business – but not Urgent, meaning they need to be addressed to solve a short-term problem or need?
And can we really break them down to just 15-minute a week tasks? Let’s take a look at some other examples.
If you have 15 minute a week you can:
- Put together some social media posts from existing content – or with the help of ChatGPT or another AI tool
- Create/find a draft job description to customize for hiring
- Have a short one-on-one conversation with a key employee to remind them of their value to the company
- Write an email to delegate a task to another person – inside your company or outsourced
- Read that one article you’ve been saving that seems too long to commit to it but might be full of great ideas for your business
- Throw together a quick SWOT analysis for your business to help you think about how to focus on your strengths, seek out opportunities and protect against threats
- Give yourself permission to search online for potential competitors and see what you can dig up that might help you see how you stand out
- Reach out to past customer(s) by email or phone to just catch up and see how they’re doing – which can provide great insights or lead to another sale
- Ask ChatGPT to summarize that business book you’ve been meaning to read
- Do some out of the box brainstorming on future product or service ideas – no idea is too crazy
What other examples can you think of?
Help yourself by helping your peers at the same time…
Love the idea of accountability + very small pieces, but not sure how to get started? Join a group of your peers while I facilitate and organize the whole thing for you – you just need to commit to showing up! Check out more at FOCUS on the Future!