I want to let you in on a secret – no matter how organized you are, no matter how many hours you work in a day, there will be times when you phone rings off the hook while your email box overflows and multiple clients are waiting to talk with you. It’s just inevitable. So the question is, how do you escape these situations with grace and minimal stress? Here’s how some successful, yet extremely busy, execs do it — including myself.
The problem is that many small business owners live in this permanent “which fires do we need to put out?” mode, choosing to keep their business afloat while forfeiting the ability to move it forward. Anyone who has worked on a skeleton team at a startup knows that this “phase” is unavoidable, but the key is to make sure it’s just that — “a phase.” But how exactly do you move past firefighting?
These four strategies will help you clear the decks and give you the mental space you need trust yourself to make big decisions in the heat of the moment. These strategies, when paired with longer-term organizational systems, give you the mental space to thrive, even when things are wild and crazy.
Be A Good Quarterback — Hand The Ball Off to Your Teammates
What do you do for your business that no one else could possibly do? Now, force yourself to examine everything but those things. Think about what you can hand off. In truth, many of the items sitting on your desk or in your inbox are tasks that aren’t even yours to do. If you work at a small startup, the answer might be to delegate, but the most important impulse to resist is the temptation to take care of every menial task yourself. You might be able to do it faster, but the more time you spend on things that aren’t even on your priority list is detrimental to your business. Know which decisions and tasks you can execute viably on your own, without waiting for input or consensus.
Track Your Activity
Although at times it feels the opposite, when you hand off work to teammates or outsource a task, it’s doubly important to keep track of what’s flying in and out of your inbox. Utilize groups and folders to organize in a way that allows you to find what you need quickly. I like to label each pile with sticky notes for specific action items — draft reports, file, read and sign, and so on.
Often, when I email a client (with a proposal, or a contract to sign) I will put my name in the Bcc: field. When that email comes back to me, it goes straight into a folder called “Follow up.” I check that folder once a week or so to see if there’s anything I’ve handed off that has not come back to me yet.
Reassess Your Game Plan
Let’s face it, sometimes even when you employ a proper game plan, you will fall behind on executing all parts as planned. If you’re really behind, take a look at your looming deadlines and see which (if any) can be reset. Communicate with clients if you’re running behind — you’ll be surprised by how flexible many clients are willing to be, as long as they’re kept in the loop. Transparency is the key to staying on the ball and getting back in the game.
There are only certain kinds of multi-tasking that actually work. For example, if you work from home, turning the dishwasher on, starting the washing machine and then sitting down to write a blog post works just fine. The same cannot be said for monitoring your website analytics and listening to a podcasts while sitting in on a meeting. Studies by Psychology Today and other institutions show that you get more done when you do one task at a time, no matter how counter-intuitive that might seem. An uninterrupted 15 minute block of time allows you to truly focus on moving essential tasks forward quickly, without getting distracted by lower-priority tasks at the same time.
Try turning off email alerts, your cell phone ringer, and any other beeping or buzzing or flashing technology as you work. You won’t fall further behind by disconnecting for a short period of time, and you’ll have more focus when you’re not getting pinged every two minutes.
If you have any questions regarding these steps, or want to hear me explain them in more detail, watch my free workshop this October 15-16 on creativeLIVE. I’ll be answering plenty of questions live on air.