Last week, a client (let's call her Carol) was telling me about her upcoming three-week vacation to Australia. She spoke of the trip with mixed emotions.
Carol was excited about going on such a fabulous journey. She was also dismayed at the thought of returning to the mounds of work that will surely await her.
Together, we worked out a plan. We first identified all the routine tasks that Carol performed. Then we assigned each one to an employee who could cover that task temporarily, for the three-week period.
One person will open and sort the mail and distribute any mail that required some response. Another employee will intercept all the incoming email and distribute or respond to as much as possible. Carol asked her salesperson to attend a mixer that is coming up during her absence.
Reaching outside of the company, my client arranged with her bookkeeping service to pick up the check logs and the incoming invoices each week.
One by one, she delegated every routine task to someone who could perform that activity for the three-weeks of her trip to Australia.
At this point, we discussed the bold strategy. If those people could perform all her routine tasks for three weeks, why not let them keep on performing those activities? We went back through each task to see what would happen if she just doesn't take the task back.
Carol discovered that there was no reason for her to resume performing those routine chores. If her people could do it for three weeks, they could do it from now on.
Then it hit her! What was carol going to do with all the time that she'll have when she returns from her trip? With none of the former routine tasks, she'll have at least 15-20 hours per week of available time. For Carol, the answer was easy. She will block off significant chunks of time for:
Planning and developing strategy. There was never any time to really concentrate long enough to make significant progress with this before. Strengthening relationships with key customers. Now she can spend quality time with her best customers and with up-and-coming customers to truly understand their needs and their future plans.
Identifying possible new products and new markets. Carol will be able to build on her company's core competencies to develop new products and services and to break into new markets with existing products.
Finding ways to increase profits. Rather than just glance at the P&Ls, Carol can analyze them in light of her current plans and future direction. She'll be able to identify and reduce unnecessary costs, collect her outstanding receivables faster, and enjoy more profits.
Meeting with new potential customers. Being the owner of the company, Carol is very effective in convincing large, prospective customers to establish new business relationships with her company. This can lead to massive inflow of incremental revenue.
What does all this mean for you?
First, this technique works well when you're planning to be away from your office for an extended period of time. So why not plan a vacation?
The emergence of creativity, ideas, and information as our most valuable resources, and the pervasiveness of the global, 24-hour business world have changed our concept of "time equals money". Now, it's "results equals money". And you know that more time at the office does not mean more results. In fact, it often means fewer results and more mistakes.
What's the answer? The solution is to take some time away from your business. Free time makes you sharper. Free time provides the rejuvenation you need to restore your confidence and sense of well-being. You come back from time off with a new perspective, a higher energy level, increased creativity, and often, a breakthrough idea. Take one vacation a year, get one breakthrough. Take two vacations, get two breakthroughs. Take three, get three.
Secondly, make arrangements to let go, for the time of your absence, of the activities that are consuming your time. Many of today's high performers seem to have a common theme: the "Superman/Superwoman" ideal; i.e., Taking on everything and trying to get it done by tomorrow. Success or failure seems to be measured by the state of busyness.
Face it; you can't do justice to everything at once and you often don't have perspective of all you have going on. It's like tossing another ball to the juggler... 33 at once for the average busy executive. Focus on what counts. Take aggressive action to let go.
Let go of tasks that someone else can do - Good delegation is a key skill for managers, yet the average manager spends 45% of his or her time on tasks that could be done by staffers. "I can do it better and faster", you say. Sure you can, but ultimately, you are judged on what you can cause to happen, not just what you can do on your own. As a general rule of thumb, in non-critical cases, if another person can accomplish a task 80% as well as you, delegate.
Let go of your need to say, "Yes" to every request - Those around you will give you all the work you are willing to take. This is true in both our business and personal lives. Some of the most stressed people around can't say no to the next fund-raiser, the next committee, the Little League, the church, etc., etc., etc. Politely, but firmly say "No". Examine all the organizations where you spend your time. Which ones can you "let go"?
Let go of some meetings - The typical manager spends 17 hours each week in meetings plus 6.3 hours getting ready for those meetings. Nearly a third of that time in meetings is wasted. That works out to be about six full weeks of the year of useless meeting time. You've seen the symptoms: hastily called meetings, no ending time stated, no agenda, no official record of what was done or said, no follow-up. If even one hour per week is saved, it could mean two additional effective workdays per year!
Skip some of the meetings or send someone else.
Finally, don't take it back! Instead of returning to your routine tasks, figure out which tasks you perform that REALLY make a difference. Only a small percentage (usually only about 20%) of the tasks you personally perform REALLY make a difference in your business! The rest is just stuff. What are the 2-3 things that YOU do to drive the business? When you can focus on high impact tasks, you can significantly increase your productivity.
Let go of the routine and don't take it back!
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Gary Lockwood is Increasing the Effectiveness and Enhancing the Lives of CEOs, business owners and professionals.