Getting a lot done and being productive are two different things. They can only come together if you are fiercely objective and disciplined about your priorities – and that can be an uncommon trait among small business owners.
One of the hardest things for entrepreneurs to do is to prioritize their time effectively. That’s because every day starts and finishes with more tasks on their to-do lists than they can possibly get done.
So, when the phone rings, e-mails ping and the lineup starts outside your door, it is easy to get off track. But I am willing to bet that you are aggravating that situation by inserting non-value-added tasks and errands better left to someone else to do. Making progress on high-priority tasks, rather than low-priority ones – that’s the productivity your business needs from you.
Yet, I see examples all the time of business owners making bank deposits, fetching mail, dropping off invoices, collecting money and paying bills themselves. The completion of such tasks are all required for the successful administration of any business.
But who says it has to be you, the most senior officer of the company – you run a one-person plumbing service or a 40-employee manufacturing company – that has to be the one to do them?
While such tasks may have brought you welcome distractions and breaks from the office under the guise of entrepreneurship, the truth is that every small errand contributes to big gaps in focus and productivity. I bet it also bugs your staff, who wonder why your part of an important project proposal is behind schedule with a client deadline approaching while you see fit to stand in a bank lineup. You’re setting a bad example.
Picking up mail, dropping off invoices and making bank deposits are not what a business needs its owner to be doing. It needs the owner to be working on tasks that only the owner can do. Everything else should be delegated
Be careful, however, to whom you do the delegating. When you decide who to offload some of these tasks to, consider that not only are you, the owner, incredibly overqualified to be doing these things, so, too, are many of the people you may be tempted to delegate them to.
If all but the jobs for which you are uniquely qualified to do should be assigned to subordinates, shouldn’t the same principle apply to them? Burdening those below you who also have unique skills likely isn’t what the business needs, either.
When I ran this scenario through my head in my own business, I got all the way down to the receptionist and bookkeeper. I decided that they were also too valuable at the tasks they were uniquely qualified to perform to have them darting out of the office on errands.
So, you ask, who eventually got such jobs? A local courier company.
I was so convinced that even my least expensive staff needed to stay focused what they could uniquely bring to their jobs that I hired a bonded courier company to pick up our mail from the post office box every morning and come back in the late afternoon to pick up and drop off our bank deposits.
This gave me more time to run the business, the receptionist more time to support our office team and the bookkeeper more time to keep the books. Meanwhile, an outside company that specialized in running door to door, picking things up and dropping them off, got to do more of what it was good at.
There was a temptation to see the monthly invoices from the courier company as a luxurious expense, but I knew it was paying off in spades in output, collaboration and focus from my team. It was a more productive way to do business.
If my business could have talked, it would have thanked me. Yours will, too.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and sold seven businesses.
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