It could be a green visor for the accountant’s job, a hard hat for when you find yourself doing some manual labor or a magician’s top hat for everything else. It could be that you’re trying to save money or that you just trust yourself more than anybody else, but the bottom line is the same — you are a one-man or one-woman show.
There’s a saying in football: Someone “takes a cross and runs for the header.” It describes the impossible scenario when the same player is both the assist-maker and the scorer. This is an absurd task for even the Lionel Messis of the world. And if football isn’t your thing, you may feel like you are both a quarterback and a wide receiver, that you’re simultaneously pitching and standing as left-fielder, or like you’re playing the matador and the bull at the same time.
If this description sounds familiar to you, now is the time to stop. Hit the brakes and think.
While you’re busy responding to emails, selling your product, coding, laying tiles, scheduling patients, calculating premiums or providing customer service, you aren’t thinking. You aren’t strategizing. You aren’t creating relationships. You aren’t being creative. You are being sucked into the black hole of the mundane day-to-day tasks.
The worst part is that most business owners get that warm fuzzy feeling as they complete yet another routine task for their business. It makes them feel accomplished and in control, but in my experience as an entrepreneur, this isn’t the truth.
If you’re the only person who can solve a problem, you should take a hard look at the essence of the question at hand. When you get an email, ask yourself: “Am I really the only one equipped enough to give an answer?” If the answer is “yes,” ask yourself: “Is there anyone I can teach?” If the answer is “no,” with all due respect, you may be overvaluing yourself.
There are many online resources for managing your inbox, from prioritizing to snoozing. In my mind, once an email is sent to you, it’s already too late. It forces you to go in reaction mode. Your job is to ensure that you are just not needed — that employees, vendors and customers can get what they need from someone other than you.
There are three main candidates believed to be able to take your place as an indispensable part of a process: employees, vendors and machines.
Valuing Your Time
Eventually, it all boils down to: “How much do you value one hour of your time?” If you manage to answer that question — perhaps it’s $50, or $100 — it could help you make smarter decisions. For example, should you pay someone $60,000 per year to do some of your work? Should you outsource a task? Should you get that $299-per-month software? Or it could help with even more simple dilemmas, like whether you should pay someone to do your laundry, call your phone company or go to the bank for you. The list is endless.
With that in mind, does it really make sense to do customer service and sales, or should you delegate? Is there anyone or anything capable of doing your work for less than what you value your time at? If the answer to that question is yes, pick up the phone and hire them. In my experience, doing so means you’ll finally own your schedule and get ahead of the game.
Now, whether you choose to free up time by hiring, contracting or implementing technology, you want to make sure that you do it right the first time.
It takes a whole lot of time to train a new employee and get them to the professional and cultural level that you’d like to see in anyone who’ll be stepping into your shoes. Employee turnover can drain time, money, energy and confidence, so do not take that lightly. Don’t be shy and actually ask candidates to do some random tasks on the computer, write a letter or perform another job-related activity on the spot. You could be surprised about how many don’t pass these tests.
Choosing a vendor may seem easier, but it can be a risky task. While it’s true that a vendor should already have the know-how and the experience, there is more room for error as you’re usually unable to monitor their work in real time. It is highly recommended to create a detailed scope of work and to set expectations so you don’t find yourself dealing with mistakes that could have been avoided by a better kick-off meeting.
If you choose to add machines or software to your processes, you could be en-route to saving many hours on mundane tasks. However, it is recommended having a long enough transition period so that you can truly asses the new process. You may find that somewhere along the flow you missed a need that can’t be fulfilled by your shiny new software, and you’ll be grateful for having the old process as a safety net. You should note that at first, employees may be reluctant to adopt the new system and could point out its downsides instead of embracing it and suggesting constructive tweaks. As a leader, you need to know how to carefully listen to this feedback and determine which are real concerns and which are just the background noises of resistance to changes.
So start owning your time and build a team of pros around you. As Ronald Reagan is sometimes credited with saying: “It’s amazing what can be accomplished by any person if he doesn’t care who gets the credit.”