February 29th, 2012
By Steve Spence
When you look at your business, what is your top priority?
Not easy to answer is it? You have lots of â€œtop prioritiesâ€. There are customers, deadlines, bills to pay, jobs to be done, employees to keep happy, rent to pay, family to consider, paychecks to write and who knows how many more.
In fact, those of us in very small businesses, have lots of top priorities and we usually have to do them all at once! The problem is: that just isnâ€™t possible. So, we struggle along, first putting out this fire and then the next until the day is finally over and when we look back, we usually canâ€™t even identify what we â€œreallyâ€ got done except put out fires.
Well, â€œThat ainâ€™t no way to run a railroadâ€. If we are going to be successful, we need to be able to dictate our priorities â€“ not let them dictate to us!
Granted, this is easier said than done for at least a couple of reasons: 1. Customers and others make so much noise that their claims seem more important than they really are. 2. Our real priorities are sometimes so hum-drum to us that we want something to take priority over them.
Try this exercise: Make a list of all the things you have to do in a week and assign a priority to them. Those with the highest priorities have to be done first â€“ regardless. Those with lower priorities can be put off until next week if need be. Now, start working your list by doing the highest priorities first. Donâ€™t stop or go to something else until you have finished what you are working on. (Yes, I know there are times when you have to give your attention to something else but most of â€œthose timesâ€ are really just excuses to stop doing what we are doing now because we are bored).
When you have finished #1, go to #2 and so on. What you will find is by the end of the week, not only will you have finished everything on your list but you will be looking for something else to do!
Books have been written about this technique. It isnâ€™t anything new. We all like being distracted from the routine things that seem hum-drum and we learn early on, how to do it. Micro-managing and the failure to delegate authority are both examples of this. If you hired capable people, let them take responsibility. If you hired people who are not capable, fire them and hire someone who is (no, Iâ€™m not interested in hearing all the excuses about why you canâ€™t do this â€“ thatâ€™s all they are â€“ excuses). Most often I think we hire incapable people so it makes us feel more important and thatâ€™s a dumb idea.
Okay, now that I have made at least half of my readers angry, let me throw out something else. Just as you set priorities for yourself, set priorities for your business. What is most important? What is least important? Donâ€™t play games with this â€“ really think it through. With each assignment should come an internal debate. For example, which comes first, â€œCustomer Careâ€ or â€œMaking Moneyâ€? Think about it. If you are in business, one of your first priorities has to be making money. You canâ€™t survive without it. Now, does it go above Customer Care? If you donâ€™t take care of your customers, you probably wonâ€™t make much money. Is it wrong to put â€œMaking Moneyâ€ on the list at all? What about employees, paying bills, reducing taxes and unnecessary inventory or being punctual with orders? What about quality or variety? What about community service? They canâ€™t all be top priority and unless you set their priorities for you and your business, they will set themselves according to which one makes the most noise or which fire has to be put out next.
Having a clear understanding of your priorities and your business priorities can make it a lot easier to get things done, feel good about what you have done and walk away from things that lack in importance giving more time for the really important stuff To be sure, there is plenty of that to go around anyway!