Are you driving your business, or are you being driven by your business? By driven I mean, your typical day starts, you get up early, rush off to work, do a few hours of preparation, paperwork, do some marketing, pay some bills, move stock around, basically doing any day to day task. The doors open, the customers start streaming in, and you’re busy all day. Dealing with customer queries, staff queries, the things they don’t know, problems that pop up. Before you know it, you’ve missed lunchtime. Or if you’re lucky enough, someone managed to buy your lunch, but then you’re still rushing around. Next thing you know it’s time to close up, and you start the process again the next day. By the time you get to the weekend, you’re exhausted.
Unfortunately, that only allows you time on the weekend to catch up on the work that didn’t get done during the week. You sit back in your chair, and you reflect, what am I doing? I’m making money, but I feel like I’m working three times harder than I need to be to make money. Wasn’t the reason I started this whole thing was to get more free time and to make my own choices? Instead, you feel as though you are dancing to everyone, else’s agendas and helping everyone else’s needs.
If you feel like this, you’re not alone. Most small to medium business owners are pretty much in the same boat. So how do you change this? How do you transform it from being driven by your business to driving your business? Wouldn’t you like to arrive at work just a little bit earlier? Open the doors, spend quality time with key customers, have time to reflect on what’s going on, plan the day, meet objectives, and then wrap things up quite nicely so that when the weekend comes, you’re able to have time to yourself? Wouldn’t that be great? The answer is not that complicated. Unfortunately, for most small to medium business owners, you can get caught up so much in the day to day that you don’t have time to get above the parapet and see what’s going on. That’s mainly because of the law of triviality.
Law of triviality is C. Northcote Parkinson’s 1957 argument that people within an organization commonly or typically give disproportionate weight to trivial issues. Parkinson demonstrated this concept with a mock council meeting presiding over a number of decisions:
- Budget and placement of the nuclear reactor $10M.
- Decide on a bike shed $2,350.
- Refreshments supplied at meetings of the joint welfare committee. Monthly $4.75
So the bike shelter took roughly 45 minutes of the council’s time. The morning tea took over that, and the the nuclear reactor took 15 minutes. What’s wrong with that picture? The law of triviality cites that we tend to immerse or do things that we are more familiar with, in the case of the bike shed, everyone on the council had an opinion on the shed such as colour, location, style of construction. The morning tea was even more involved because it didn’t require a lot more expertise.
There were opinions on cost and need.
The nuclear reactor, however, took the shortest amount of time because the counsellors realized they knew very little about that. They delegated that to experts. Ironically, the most important element on the list was the nuclear reactor. This law of triviality is where we tend to occupy ourselves with a lot of things. We’re more comfortable with it. As business owners, we know different, unfortunately, what happens is we don’t want to deal with the more difficult decisions if we’re to be honest with ourselves. Such as staff, performance management, planning, budgeting, checking, where we’re going, understanding our strategy and pulling that apart. It’s easy to do because that’s what we were good at, that’s why we started our business, and that tends to be all-consuming.
It’s a lot more challenging to clone yourself and replicate yourself so that you’re able to train others and inspire your team to step into the breach. So when they’re dealing with a problematic customer, query or confrontation, they’re able to step up instead of saying, “Oh, I’ll get the boss in here,” because they don’t want the conflict. They don’t have the tools. More importantly, they don’t have the motivation. What you need to do as a business owner is to create the space so that you have time to think. Some of these techniques are around effective delegation strategies, but they’re not easy. They take time, and they take a little bit of trial and error and the ability to accept failure. Our entire society is currently set up to punish people who fail. Successful business owners learn form their mistakes and grow.
The time vampire is trying to do things that you’re not an expert at and not core to business growth. The rise of computer software and electronic accounting systems has distracted small business owners who think they can save a bit of money by doing it themselves. Unfortunately, that is never the case, and the reason I would put this forward is you’re trained to be a business owner of the industry you’re most successful in. If you’re dealing with your own accounting system and doing the processing work, you take time away from reading the results and acting on them.
What I often recommend to my clients is to keep a time diary for a week to a month. Track how much time you’re putting into the various tasks in your business then after the week or even two weeks or a month, sit down and review. How much time can you save? What can I delegate? Where am I wasting time? How can I be more efficient or not put the time in on those areas? Now that’s an effective way forward. If you adopt this approach, initially you’ll struggle. It’ll take twice as long to achieve, but as you build momentum, you clawback more time from the future. And then all of a sudden you get your weekends back.
There are several techniques and strategies to achieve this. But once again, it’s more about your own personal motivation. How much are you prepared to change and adapt to get this time back? Or are you going to say, “Hey, I’m too busy, I’ve got to deal with the next customer,” or “I’ve got to sort out the next problem.” Unfortunately, we all fall into those traps. It is the law of triviality.
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