Do you find there just aren’t enough hours in the working day?
I was stressed. That’s not something I’ve made-up to get you reading. It’s true. And I’m pretty confident that if you are an owner manager, its not long since you felt the same way.
I arrived at work after waking-up early worrying about how much I had to do. I had 87 new emails to read, four Zoom calls and a team meeting. That’s before I started the monthly budget review, spoke to a recruitment consultant about a new hire and wrote a blog piece. Which was all doable, but it was only when I’d got all that done that I was able to do some billable work.
It was for me. The weeks came and went. Every Friday I left work with what appeared to be a manageable week ahead, and then the deluge came, bringing with it umpteen more calls, emails and obligations. It’s not that I resented any of them, simply that they filled the week and more. Leaving me more tired and stressed. And so it went on.
This is a tale familiar to owner managers and to ‘single’ owner managers in particular. My wife runs a business with two other owners who share the burden. I, on the other, hand, made the decision to do this alone and for all the joy and satisfaction it has brought me, it can be quite draining.
So, what to do?
Fortunately, this is something I have thought long and hard about and, if I’m completely honest, it was necessary to fix it not just for the business’ sake, but also for my own health.
If you are in a similar state, I know you’ll want some simple, practical fixes to take back control. Here are six that proved invaluable to me:
Acknowledge the problem. It’s not cool to be over-worked. Being a busy founder is, of course, proof that something is working, but becoming over-loaded won’t help you or your business going forward. It’s normal to switch off in the evenings. To want time away. To have time to think and chat at work. Understanding that means you can start to make changes with a purpose.
Separate your buckets. I have started to break-up my ‘to do’ list into two ‘buckets’. Rather than a single, endless list that can be instantly overwhelming, one has all the things that demand my time and attention and another that, if I’m being realistic, others could do just as well as me. Call them the ‘must dos’ and the ‘could delegate’. The weight instantly starts to drop from the shoulders!
Delegate by trusting your brand. Handing tasks to your team has so many benefits. It creates time for you and it empowers others. It allows for fresh creative input. But you have to trust that it will done the right way. That’s why brand matters. I’ve written separately about the power of brand in any organization. If you know that a colleague (or consultant) won’t just do the job, but will do it by adhering to your shared values, then the business will benefit from every angle.
Prioritize the ‘must dos’. Yes, everything matters but some things still matter more than others. Sit back. Don’t list each activity in terms of the time it takes but by its impact. How will doing it benefit the business? How will not doing it impact negatively? In this way, you can quickly look at the opportunity cost of each and ensure that the really value-adding stuff gets done.
Create thinking space. When I started this business, I met a trusted mentor for a coffee. As ever he was full of helpful hints and tips. As we said farewell he wished me luck and I asked for a single piece of advice to take with me on my journey. “Get a sofa in your office and make time to lie down every week, close your eyes and think”. I laughed and walked to the car. And all these years later, it’s advice that grows in importance every day. The worst thing to do when you are too busy is to sacrifice thinking time. I need it. You need it. Our businesses need it. It’s a chance to focus on making more considered strategic decisions, on people, on challenges. Stop thinking and you are effectively allowing the business you own to stagnate.
Consider partnership. A problem shared is a problem halved. And a business jointly owned is a business benefitting from twice as much drive, firepower and responsibility. It might be a fully-blown partnership, or simply offering an equity stake to salaried employee. Either way, there’s no shame in sharing the burden – and all too often, it’s the long-term route to greater success. If you holiday at separate times you might even manage a week or two without checking your phone!
In short, for all the highs of owning your own business, there are many lows to combat on the journey. One of those is finding yourself indispensable and taking too much on. An exhausted, frantic leader is no use to anyone. Creating time and space will prove to be the most important business decision you ever made.
How many hours a week do you set-aside to think about your business? Is it enough?
Do you trust your colleagues to live by the company values?
How many tasks on your ‘to do’ list could you delegate to a member of the team?