Al Levi: Urgent versus important
Play offense and be proactive in your business.
Everything in business is important! Not everything in business is urgent — thank heavens!
The trouble starts when all your focus is on fighting fires — dealing only with urgent items — leaving no time to focus on any important, but not urgent items. When all you’re doing is firefighting day after day, how will you ever work on the importance of fire prevention? The answer is you won’t!
This is the daily struggle we face as business owners, and even more so as contractors. All of it feels like it’s urgent. This is especially true when there’s an unhappy customer yelling at you and threatening to post their unhappiness online to everyone on planet Earth. Breathe.
Now, you and I both know if everything is urgent, there’s no way to prioritize and maximize your own day or your staff’s day. You must carve out time to work on the important, but not urgent projects that will fix the problems happening at your company today — just like they did yesterday — and are likely to continue until the final moment you put the key in your office door.
You’re probably really good at playing defense at your company. There’s a value to that, but that means you’re never playing offense. Defense is always being in a reactive mode, going through your business life triaging disasters time and again. Offense is being proactive and staying ahead of potential troubles.
WRITE IT DOWN
Here’s a worthwhile exercise for you:
- Take a yellow legal pad or open a blank Word document;
- List all the things you’re currently working on;
- List all the things that keep going wrong too often and are at the core of why you have to always be in firefighting mode;
- List all the things you know you should be working on to make your business less chaotic and more systematic; and
- Divide this long list into two columns. Column 1 is the "important, but not urgent" list: The items on this list will have you proactively solving problems and challenges, which will help you grow and be more profitable long-term. Column 2 is the "not urgent" list: The items on this list are “nice” to get done, but they don’t move the needle — profitability — like the items in Column 1 would.
Isn’t it saner to spend at least a portion of your time, energy and money every day working on the important, but not urgent versus spending time on the not urgent? You bet it is. I’ve done this and I’ve had clients do the same. They all agree it’s the only way to operate effectively.
One item that you must have in your Column 1 is the creation of systems, and that means committing to the creation of your operating manuals. It’s the best way I know to play offense and be proactive. That’s because it’s the very best way to empower the staff at your company to fill their positions without you and other managers having to micromanage them.
The operating manuals I had at my own family business are the same ones working hard at contracting companies just like yours. They put into practice how to separate the important, but not urgent and the not urgent. And the order the operating manuals create automatically decreases the number of "urgent" issues you have to deal with overall.
For example, if you’ve never defined in writing how to prioritize the calls you book and how to dispatch them with a defined priority, you’re acting as if all the booked calls are urgent. Manuals guide staff on how to properly prioritize those calls.
Note: The CSR and dispatcher manuals I have do this, and it works great!
Another example is if your plumbing company has 10 plumbers — all of whom are an hour from the shop. They’re scattered in all different directions, and each of them are selling and doing a toilet reset call. What’s the chance that they can do it the company way if you never defined it in writing? The answer is probably zero to none.
They’re going to do it the way they were trained (hopefully, they were trained somewhere at some time), which leads to inconsistent levels of performance for your customers and a higher chance of potential callbacks. It can even shortcut the sales process because manuals are designed to also be a sales tool because it gets the tech talking to the customer about your company’s best practices. This helps the customer make an informed decision, and it helps your techs know every step of the process to do a good toilet reset.
Your company best practice should also have techs questioning whether or not they should even be resetting a toilet that is 20 years or older versus offering a replacement with a new toilet.
Isn’t it time to go on the offense at your company?