Important vs. urgent

There are four ways to categorize any task:

  1. Not urgent and not important—such as playing computer games.
  2. Urgent but not important—such as answering the phone. It needs to be done now, but may have no significance.
  3. Urgent and important—such as getting an extra gallon of paint so the crew can finish the job.
  4. Not urgent but important—such as working on systems for our business.

Tasks that are not urgent and not important should generally be avoided, unless they are for purposes of relaxation. They are simply a waste of time.

Tasks that are urgent, but not important can also consume a significant part of our time. Yet they contribute little or nothing to our long-term goals. These should be delegated or outsourced whenever possible.

Tasks that are urgent and important are a major cause of stress. These tasks need to be done now because the failure to do so can create other problems. These tasks should be anticipated and addressed before they become urgent. By anticipating you can deal with them while they are important but not urgent.

Tasks that are important, but not urgent help us build our business. Planning and systems building do not need to be completed today, but these tasks move our business forward. Failing to spend time on such tasks ultimately forces us to deal with more tasks that are urgent and important.

As owners of a small business our goal should be to spend as much time as possible on this last category of tasks. The more we do so, the more efficient and smoother our businesses will operate.

Systems development is a team event

Many small business owners get overwhelmed at the thought of writing hundreds, if not thousands, of procedures. I must admit that I would find such a task overwhelming, and I enjoy writing.

So I will offer a little advice: Don’t do it. That may sound strange coming from an advocate of systems, but as the title implies, you should enlist your team in the effort.

The most effective way to do this is to ask them what part of their job is the most frustrating. Then work with them to eliminate that frustration. Not only will you make their job easier and more enjoyable, you will demonstrate the effectiveness of developing systems for the business.

Too often small business owners try to impose their ideas upon everyone else. While the owner certainly has this right, it is seldom the most effective approach. A baseball coach will not get the most out of his players if he constantly ignores their ideas and input. The same is true of a business owner.

If you feel overwhelmed by the challenges of owning a business, remember that you have a team behind you. Use them.

Why do small businesses fail?

According to the Small Business Administration, more than 90% of the businesses starting today will not make it to their 5th anniversary. Of those that survive 5 years, another 90% will fail within another 5 years. After 10 years, less than 1 out of 100 small businesses remain open. Why do so many businesses start with high hopes and end up as another statistic?

The reason most businesses fail is because the owner does not develop business systems. He gets what Michael Gerber (author of The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It) calls “entrepreneurial seizure”. A skilled technician decides he is tired of working for someone else and hangs out his shingle–now he’ll make the big bucks. But there is much more to owning a business than having your name on the sign.

I know because I have been there and done that. For years my business wasn’t producing the results that I wanted. I suffered all the common complaints of small business owners: unmotivated employees, too few leads, low-priced competition. And then I changed my business and my life–I developed systems.

Business success is not always a matter of working harder. You must also work smarter. Working smarter means identifying the results you want, the specific actions that create those results, and then taking those actions consistently. Developing systems and procedures for your small business provides the structure and guidelines that will consistently produce the results you desire.

My e-book, Systems Development for Small Business, will help you identify the results that you want and how to take the necessary actions on a consistent basis.

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