There’s a lot going on with business owners these days – you’ve got the everyday challenges of just running your own business, you’ve got an economy that’s in the tank (and media outlets doing everything they can to make that as scary as possible) and you’ve got an election making a lot of noise and further distracting everyone.
But beyond all that, the problem I see with most business owners today is that they never take the time to look at the big picture. They don’t have a focused view on where they’re going.
Let me know if you’ve ever heard this:
“That’s a great idea! I just don’t know when I’ll get the time to do that!”
Or how about:
“I really should call my best customers, but I’m just too busy fighting fires!”
Now I’m all for hard work, but it doesn’t really matter how hard you work if you’re working on the wrong things. And by wrong things, I’m talking about things that might be urgent but are unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
Time Management Matrix
For a better explanation of what I mean, let’s take a look at the Time Management Matrix that was popularized by Stephen Covey.
Most people (myself included sometimes) spend way too much time in Quadrants III and IV (I don’t know why they use the Roman numerals here…). The fact is that it’s really easy to get sucked into ‘busy’ activities that make you feel like there’s a lot going on, but the reality is that not a lot gets accomplished.
Then there are those people that I think of as professional firefighters, camped out in Quadrant I – they are constantly dealing with a crisis situation, an urgent deadline or some kind of flare-up. It’s usually perceived as important activities, but the real problem is that they only deal with crisis situations and sometimes, if there’s not a crisis, they will create one just so they feel productive.
Both situations cause a lot of problems, but the biggest issue for either is that long term important activities such as personal development, strategic planning, building relationships, etc. are ignored or at least given little attention.
So what’s the answer?
The Importance of Focus
There are people that will tell you that you can solve this problem by using better time management – however I’m convinced that you would just be treating the symptom, not the actual problem.
In other words, you might be able to do more unimportant work in the same amount of time, but that’s not really going to solve the problem.
No – the real solution is to develop the right focus. You need a systematic way to break out of your current pattern and start doing things differently. Here are the steps:
1. Figure out what you want. There’s an old saying that if you don’t know where you want to go, any road will get you there. You’ve got to have a vision, a direction, a set of goals.
2. Figure out where you are. This seems simple, but it’s really important to have an objective and clear assessment on your current situation. That’s the only way you can really…
3. Determine what’s missing / what needs to be done. Come up with a top 20 list of projects or activities that will help you get closer to your goal.
4. On a related note, you need to identify what your constraints are relative to the list of stuff that needs to get done. Do you need more skills? Better skills? Do you need more people? More money? A better network? Better cashflow? What will be holding you back if you start down this path?
5. Finally – you need to prioritize your really big list, pick the top 2 or 3 activities and get started. At this point it’s all about taking action – the right action and making things happen! This is where you need to be focused and accountable.
Now you can do this process on your own, but I guarantee you that it will be much, much easier to succeed at it with the help of someone else – whether that’s a Peer Group Advisory Board, a coach or at least a couple of good friends that can help hold you accountable and keep you focused.
Let me know if this approach makes sense to you or if you know of anyone that’s struggling with the big picture – comment here and let me know what you think!
Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coaching