You see, on any given day, if you ask a small business owner how they spend their time, usually one responds with answers like “I handle customer needs” or “I have to manage employee issues” or “I try to balance cash flow needs.” All of these responses, and many like them, are urgent and often dictate how an owner, in fact, spends his or her time each day. They do so handling and responding to what’s right in front of them…the urgent.
The “tyranny of the urgent,” as Stephen R. Covey suggested two decades ago, often forces business owners and professionals to focus on the most immediate need, not necessarily the most important element of their business. Further, Covey identifies such a posture as succumbing to the tyrannical.
Covey conveys that because we often lack a plan, we only have the capacity to handle what might happen to bubble up right in front of us. Customer needs. Employee Issues. Cash Flow management.
These things are all good and necessary items that business owners should keep track of, but when they distract us from the act of planning strategically and then strategically acting, these good things have become tyrannical. This activity-circle ultimately ends up “bossing around” the small business owner. Unfortunately, because small business owners suffer from the “tyranny of the urgent,” the very thing they desire—freedom and independence—gets nullified.
So, how can small business owners counter-act the “tyranny of the urgent” and live a life as their own boss?
Schedule time to plan.
What better time of the year to set aside time to plan then the very end and very beginning. December and January often provide natural points of reflection for humans. Reflecting on the year past for anyone, and certainly a small business owner, can help people resist the oppression of the crazy and tyrannical boss—the urgent.
Here are some tips on how to set aside time and how to maximize that time:
- Schedule Time. Set aside a large block of time away from the office to reflect and plan your business strategy. (If you have a senior leadership team, be sure to include them)
- Protect that time. Tell employees, friends, your Board, your CPA...some one or all of them. Ask them to keep you accountable to taking the time to plan.
- Design an Agenda. When you are finally away, using your planning time, focus on an agenda to maximize your time. Here’s a suggested outline:
- Define: Write out your short and long-term business goals.
- Take Inventory: Think about the past year’s accomplishments, challenges, and emerging opportunities, relative to the business goals.
- Learn from the Past: Use the inventory to identify a small number of things you’d like to do differently.
- Plan Ahead: Develop specific and actionable steps that will directly help you achieve your short and long-term business goals.
- Design and Implement a Dashboard: Identify outcomes you can measure and monitor on a regular basis that will help you understand if you are achieving your goals.
- Schedule (and protect) Quarterly Planning Time: Maintain a regular schedule for continuing to monitor your plan and strategy.
Even though you may have to work hard and sacrifice much as a small business owner, you do not have to be bossed around by the “tyranny of the urgent.” These suggestions to carve out time to ensure you are planning strategically and strategically acting are meant to help you accomplish growth and health in your business. And remember, no excuses, you are the boss!