How to stop herding cats (and get more done)

herdingcats_thumb[2]  photo by dregsplod

I had a great question come up from the post I used in my newsletter last week:  Who Needs Sleep?  8 Things to Watch Out For.  The question was in reference to point #3 – Constantly fighting fires (living in Quadrant 1) and brought up an issue that I think almost everyone can relate to.  The stuff in Quadrant 1 is IMPORTANT and urgent, so you can’t blow it off without serious impacts, so when things are crazy, how can you find the time to work in Quadrant 2?

Jason did a better job than I did with the question – here’s the actual text:

“In the small business environment where there is only one employee, the owner, what practical ways can we focus on quadrant II and yet keep quadrant I from failing?  I’m sure it’s about balance, but that’s easier said than done.”

So if you’re spending all of your time herding cats and you don’t have  a lot of help, how do you make things better?

As with most things, the answer to this sounds simple (but it’s not), the first step in solving the problem is admitting you have one.  If you don’t recognize that you’re consistently in Quadrant I, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be in a position to make any progress on getting those cats into their place!

Let’s take a quick look at the quadrant 1 again – Q1 is stuff that’s urgent and important…usually it’s a situation where you are reacting to something (a client is upset…or has something they need right away).  Sometimes Q1 stuff is driven by others, but often it’s self-inflicted a result of poor planning, time management issues or just trying to do too much.

The problem with Q1 is that it’s completely tactical, reactive and exhausting.

How do I find time for Q2?

So once you’re into a crazy situation, how do possibly find the time to get out in front of it and start planning?

You have a couple of choices:  The first one is to hold firm, bite the bullet and just block out time on next week’s calendar and make that time sacred with no interruptions.  The other option is to work a little bit harder or longer – set aside some time on the weekend or a planning block of time some evening.

Once you’ve got some quality uninterrupted time, then you need to identify the top 3 or 4 recurring crises that you face.  The kind of thing that happens every month, or maybe an activity that happens with every client.  As an example, I have a client who just got slammed every month when it came time to do monthly invoicing and accounting.  They never allocated time for it and it ended up taking almost 8 hours to get everything accounted for and sent out – which impacted other activities and generally caused a lot of problems.

Once you identify some good candidates of things that take a lot of time, pick one of them and figure out how you could streamline, automate or delegate that activity.  In the example of monthly invoicing, the answer was a combination of upgrading Quickbooks for better automation and training the part time office admin (also known as ‘Mom’) to do a lot of the heavy lifting.

Granted that only saved 5 to 6 hours a month (the owner still had to do some things), but if you can find 4 or 5 examples like that, all of the sudden you’re saving 20 to 30 hours a month and you’ve got a lot more time to play with!

What’s an activity that you do on a regular basis that takes way too much of your time (maybe something you don’t like doing)?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to get out in front of the cat herding…share your thoughts in the comments below!

Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach