Putting Out Fires
By Thomas Houck
sleepless night,” said Sid, who had been in business for six long
and hard years. “The stress from running this business and trying to
keep everyone happy is killing me. I haven’t taken a day off in
three freaking months and I’m completely exhausted. What the heck
entrepreneur continued: “My friend Art is in the same business as
me, and he takes the weekends off, coaches his kids’ football team
in the evenings, and isn’t the least bit stressed out. How does he
do it? My business is getting more difficult as each day passes,
and I don’t know how to get my arms around it.”
valuable asset any business owner has is his or her time. The most
successful entrepreneurs have the best time management skills, and
develop a system to prioritize the things that they must do in their
businesses and personal lives. They know that if they don’t work
on the important things, the important things won’t get done.
at his wit’s end. Two of his three biggest clients had left him in
the last 30 days, and he was in a panic. When he asked them why
they were leaving, they both said that they felt as if he had
forgotten about them. Sid was shocked, because he thought that he
had good relationships with these clients. His thinking was
simple: He never heard from them; therefore, he had assumed that
everything was fine.
guilty of the same mistake that many entrepreneurs make—namely,
management by crisis. Those who screamed the loudest got his
attention. The flaw in this “putting out the fires” method of
operating is that fires beget more fires. What’s more, sooner or
later, those who are quiet start screaming if no one pays attention
Practical business assistance: Sid saw his business crumbling
around him, but he had no idea how to stop it. Knowing that he
needed help, he turned to a business consultant who had guided his
friend, Art, back on the road to sanity. Together, they examined
how Sid scheduled his week, and immediately the problem became
clear: Sid’s first order of business on Monday mornings was to check
the answering machine. Whoever sounded the most upset got Sid’s
attention. That’s hardly a recipe for providing a quality customer
business pro then taught Sid a “Calendar Care™” system. This
strategy required Sid to mark each day for the coming month on his
calendar with a symbol, depending on what his priorities would be
for that day. The symbols were:
$ for days when Sid would work in his business doing
things related to current and future cash flows.
picture days, when Sid would spend time working on his
business to make it more effective in the future.
for days off, when
Sid would do no business-related activities.
It was a
revelation for Sid to learn that the most important days were the
off days, because they kept him fresh and focused for his workdays.
Enlightened communication: Next, the consultant asked Sid to
examine the meetings he held with his staff, so they could examine
how he communicated. “What meetings?” Sid asked his advisor,
“Everyone’s supposed to know what he’s doing.” It was painfully
obvious that Sid needed to learn how to keep the entire staff
focused, and keep the most important things in the forefront of
their attention. This strategy is what the consultant called the
“Monday Morning Focus Meeting™.”
utilize this technique, each Monday, Sid gathered all relevant team
members together first thing, in an uninterrupted meeting. There
they’d discuss and write out the following:
outstanding items from the previous week that had to be
top 10 current cash flow items. These would be projects they
were working on that needed to be completed so that they could
get paid for them.
top 10 future cash flow items. This would include potential
customers who were close to hiring the company, as well as
marketing and sales efforts to generate new customers to add to
top three big picture items that they were working on to make
the company operate more smoothly in the future. These might be
things like implementing new technology, expanding into new
product or service areas, or hiring new staff.
these items were written out, one of the team members would take
responsibility for it, and move it forward by week’s end. The team
members and Sid would then schedule these tasks into their weekly
calendars, so that the most important matters could be worked on.
This gave Sid a method of knowing who was doing what so that he
could make sure it was getting done.
filling his calendar with work-related items, Sid’s next step was to
prioritize. First, he’d list the three most important personal
things he needed to get done for the week. Then, he added these
things to his calendar, as well. This helped him balance the
professional and personal parts of his life.
couldn’t wait to begin using this new system. He immediately saw
the benefits, but he knew it would take a month or two to work out
the bugs and get his team members on board.
successfully implemented these techniques into his business. After
returning from a fabulous two-week vacation with his family, two
years after first meeting with his consultant, he called the
business pro to thank him. “I must admit that I was a little worried
that I’d be coming home to a disaster at the office, but everything
went fine without me,” Sid confided. “I can point to our work
together as the turning point in my business. The fires are
out, so I sleep well, have happy customers and, most importantly,
get to spend time with my wife and see my kids grow up.”
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