It was a few years into my business that I finally developed an operations manual. At the time, both of my sisters were working with me in different capacities. My sister, Amy, began the document as she recorded her work as my bookkeeper/accountant. My sister, Jill, didn’t call it an operations manual. In her work experience, she had heard this document referred to as your, ‘Hit by the bus’ document. It’s a little dark; the idea is that if you were “hit by a bus” one day, how would your employees know what to do? How would your business continue to operate without you?
Fast forward several years and I began working with coach Fabienne Frederickson of BoldHeart.com. In one of our meetings, she asked, “What would it take for you to go on a vacation from your business for 1 year?” Less dark and more ‘growth’ oriented, this question still boils down to: How would your business continue to operate and grow without you?
Most business owners cannot imagine being away from their business for a day (sometimes it’s hours) without being needed for critical decisions and work to be completed. The idea of taking 1 day a week or a few days a month to step out of the business and work on deep thoughts for problem solving and growth is a pipe dream. Most entrepreneurs would immediately squirm in their skin at the thought of being completely incapacitated or 100% unavailable for a year, let alone just a few weeks.
What happens when disaster strikes?
You need not plan for the worst to at least make a plan. However you want to frame the question, ‘hit by the bus’ or ‘a year vacation’, today is the best day to start asking it. Start documenting your business in the hopes that when you step out for a few days, a week, a month or more, or when disaster strikes or an opportunity arises, you will be ready.
Today I was hit by a bus, now what?
There is a Chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now." It may be the case that disaster has already ‘struck’ for you and now you are furiously trying to plant trees and put systems in place to keep your business afloat while you handle the emergency. There is nothing like a flood to test the water-fastness of your boat! You will quickly see the holes and areas that need to be addressed.
When the worst happens, it helps to clarify the tasks that are absolutely the most important. If you are available to make any decisions, you will be choosing the highest priority items (i.e. urgent and important) and not worrying about answering your 20,000 emails. It will become glaringly clear what must get done to keep the business moving along.
Consider the Gift
We are often thinking about ‘planting trees’ and setting up systems but never really getting around to it. Things are just too busy with the day to day work. However, imagine the worst case scenario happens. For me, a “worst case scenario” has actually occurred several times in the lifeline of my business. Every time, there has been a tremendous gift that has come from the forced downtime to recenter. Most recently, one of my children was hospitalized for 3 weeks, pulling me and my husband out of our work to care for his needs, our other children, and ourselves. This time, systems were in place to ensure that marketing still happened; yet there were scheduling snafus and other issues that cropped up that I will be seeking to remedy quickly.
In addition, I have a new found desire to strip away the excess, again, and focus on the most important, client-relevant work.
For business owner Ryan O’Ramsay Barrett, founder of O'Ram Corporate Advisors, disaster struck when he was playing with his children. In what can best be described as a ‘freak accident’ he damaged both his knees simultaneously, was rushed to the hospital and then underwent surgeries and weeks of rehabilitation. One day he was planning the next networking event to find his ideal client and the next he was staring at a hospital ceiling trying to remember how many days he had been in the hospital already. His thriving business depended on his presence and now he would not be back in the office for months, at best.
What gift came out of this disaster? Ryan said, “I realized how much I was holding on to that my staff were ready to take on. Because I could not go to the office, it gave me a chance to refocus on the business instead of working all the time in the business. I am finally creating the systems that I have been meaning to work on for years. Surprisingly, the business did not diminish in my absence.”
Start Planting Trees
Here are a few questions to ask to get your “operations”, “hit by the bus”, “year vacation”, “backup” plan in place:
1 - What absolutely must happen on a daily basis in order that my business make money?
2 - Who is responsible for those tasks? Who can be responsible for those tasks?
3 - Where am I storing information that others may need if I were not available to provide the answer?
Start by planning for 4 hours off per week, in the middle of the week, when you will be 100% unavailable to complete client work or answer questions for your staff. Expand this to 1 day a week and then 1 week a month, 1 month a year. During this time work on your business to create an option for you to step away for your business for up to 1 year.
If you are stuck, not sure where to begin or need help documenting your processes, just reach out. I am here to support you.
Schedule a time to talk.
Post-It notes on your desk and computer; papers and books on horizontal surfaces; business cards and freebies from events you have attended: all of these things you can see and touch. They may nag your psyche to deal with them every time you see them but once you handle the stuff, you have a sense of relief. You feel both visual relief and mental relief.
But what about the things you can’t touch? What about those things that are obscured from view in your computer, phone and other digital devices? It’s easy to pretend they are not there or piling up because it’s hard to see them accumulating but they pull on your psyche and put pressure on your hard drive nonetheless.
What’s your plan to handle the digital clutter?How do you handle the files, photos, and emails that build with each click and finger swipe? It’s not so different from paper clutter it involves both the file and the information in the file. You need a way to bring that clutter out of obscurity and into your awareness. Like paper, you also need a way to save the important stuff that can be accessed when needed. And you need a fire safe or back up plan, just in case.
Set a time to handle it. Set a consistent time to work on deleting old files. These things pile up quickly and it is easy to think, with growing storage capabilities that you can keep everything you create or receive. But, device storage is finite and shifting through old computer files to find what you need is not any more fun that sifting through piles of paper. The less you have, the easier it is to find the document you need when you need it. It is also easier and more convenient to backup your files when you have fewer of them. Try deleting 10-20 files every day or having a 1 in 2 out policy from now on.
Create a file organization system. Having a system within your digital files is just as important as having a physical filing system. You have the added benefit with digital files of being able to search for them however, when you want to share documents, back up only certain folders or even delete old files, it is easier when you have structure. You can match your paper filing system, use labels and create naming conventions. There are different tools available depending on where you are storing your files, too. For instance, some applications like iPhoto create the file system for you, others like Evernote have the ability to create folders and groups of folders and Windows Explorer or Apple Finder allow for multiple layers of file folders.
Set up your backup plan. Having a backup plan is like having a fire safe. You want someplace to store the very important files so that when your computer or phone crashes you do not lose all of your data. In the past, you may have stored your files on a CD or other disc that you could put in a fire safe box. More and more you have applications that sync across devices so that your phone backs up to your computer or to cloud storage. Cloud storage is having an instant link to your Stack & Store Unit. You may pay monthly or have an option for free storage as long as it is less than a certain amount of files. This is another reason to keep your file system neat and tidy. You will pay to back up all your files, even the ones of your ex-boyfriend that you haven’t see in twenty years.
For more tools and tips, check out Digital Clutter this Thursday at 7pm EST, available via Zoom or in person at MedStar, Bel Air, MD.
Today's blog was written by Jennifer Flynn, Business and Lifestyle Strategist, and founder of The Balance Maven. I am thrilled to be able to share her insights and wisdom with you!
It’s not what you think. Productive people don’t have 10 more hours in the day. You know THAT would be great, right? They don’t necessarily have more money although that helps, too, sometimes.
It’s not more time or more money.
When I was preparing for my wedding, I had nine months to manage all of the details. Everything came together beautifully and I used all the time I had. I worked on the weekends with my mom. I remember a conversation keenly at that time. I don’t remember who said it but the idea was that if you had nine months to plan a wedding, you would fill them and you would get the work done. If you had 15 months you would fill them and you would get the work done. If you had 2 months, you would fill them and you would get the work done.
Your activities will fill the time you allow for them.
Do you see what is happening here? The work of planning the wedding does not change. You need to find a venue, select the right wedding attire, arrange for food, notify people, design the theme, look and feel, and more. If you only have two months, you will streamline this process and if you have 15 months your planning will expand to fit the time allotted. In both cases, the outcome, having a wedding, will be the same.
The most productive people decide exactly what they are trying to achieve and focus all their efforts on this as though they only have two months to metaphorically, “plan the wedding”. All roads lead to their desired outcome. The conundrum comes when:
1 - Your desired outcome is unclear.
2 - Your boundaries are unclear.
You will be successful when, like the most productive people on the planet, you become:
1 - Clear on your desired outcome.
2 - Clear on your boundaries (and lovingly communicate them).
At this point you may be thinking of all the reasons why this is NOT POSSIBLE for you in your life. I assure you, I have made every excuse you will come up with myself. You don’t have enough time, enough money, enough knowledge, enough support, enough space, enough focus, enough clarity, enough direction, enough… The list could go on forever. Or, my other favorite, you have TOO MANY ideas, activities, irons in the fire, plates in the air.
You need only two things, both of which you can create for yourself right now.
I would love to hear what your desired outcome is and how you will clarify your boundaries. Share them in the comments below.
If you would like support in understanding these two areas for yourself, schedule a time to talk. I would be happy to help you through it.
Being an entrepreneur and business owner is hard! Once you have your business up and running it's not uncommon to hit a few snags: scalability, staff retention, launching growth projects, getting enough sleep!