Newsletter #7: Getting Un-Busy

Getting Un-Busy

I seem to hit a popular note when I mentioned my thoughts about the 20 Rule in last week’s newsletter.

During this past week I’ve been lecturing young and up-coming leaders at one of the SA top 20 companies, and many of the issues they raised dovetail with this notion, that 20% of your customers consume 80% of your time, and that 80% of your customers make up only 20% of your revenue. However, my theory is that there is significant value to unlock in taking the work you do for the seemingly non-cost-effective 20% seriously.

What I learned from the people in the classroom this week is that many consider themselves to be too busy, overloaded even, and battle to get through the volume of work. They struggle to deliver consistency. They share similar fears about their future as leaders – what if people don’t believe in me? What if I can’t get people to follow me? What do I do with the responsibility of being someone else’s leader?
So, following on from the 20 Rule, and addressing some of these questions, here is a thought to consider as you go through this week.

How do you get un-busy?
Having too much to do and not enough time is never a good thing. The result is inevitably stress and burnout. It’s what Steven Covey calls Crisis mode, where you’re working on the urgent and important things all the time.  If you find yourself in this position you’re not alone. Most managers share your frustration.

To get out of crisis mode, you have to understand what’s driving your crisis, and you have to make a conscious, sometimes very time-consuming effort to get out of it.  Jot down the top 10 things on your to-do list for the next few days, and then add two columns next to your list: Urgency and Importance. Classify each of your to-do’s giving them a High or Low in each column. By the time you’re done, each item on your list should have two scores alongside it, one in each column.

Then draw yourself a grid like the one in the diagram, and plot your to-do’s in the grid based on their Importance and Urgency ratings. The ones that are high importance and high urgency go in the top left. Those are the ones that are creating your chaos – the top left – Highly Urgent and Highly Important. That’s the crisis mode we do not want to be in. You want to be working on important items before they become urgent (Important and Not Urgent in the diagram, or High Importance, Low Urgency on your list) so that you have time to do them properly. Ideally you want most of your to-do list in the top right: high importance and low urgency.  How do you do it?

The approach is now two-fold. You can’t ignore the urgent and important, so work on them and get them done. However, you need to make time to work on the not-urgent and important items. Get these done before they cross the line and become urgent.

You want to create time for yourself to work on fixing problems so they never occur again, instead of fighting fires. If you only have enough time in the day to work on urgent and important things, then you never have enough time to understand why these things became urgent in order to avoid getting yourself in crisis mode again. For every problem in the top left, craft time in your day to analyze what caused this to go wrong, or become urgent, and work on the systems and processes behind this. Getting the processes sorted allows for consistency and routine when dealing with the same issues in future so that they don’t become a crisis. Being in constant crisis mode doesn’t allow you any time to tighten and improve systems, nor does it allow you do work on those crisis items properly. Chances are you’ll deliver a rush job and end up having more work to do later when these come back for rework and correction.

If you analyze the work you do in a day, 80% of your time is probably spent working on things for which you have not yet created slick, bulletproof systems and processes. (That’s if you’re not wasting time on things that are neither important nor urgent.) This 80% of your day is usually spent doing special requests for customers where you don’t have an optimized system, or your current systems are unable to cope with the particular requests.

For more on this read Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, particularly the chapter on Putting First Things First.

When there is too much work and not enough time, companies usually run to hire more people.  But that shouldn’t be the answer. If people master the use of their time, more can be done with less people.

At Imagin8, I’ve tried several times to employ people, but our systems are constantly being refined so that there’s less and less work for a new hire to do. We keep our organization lean and productive. I’ve managed to increase the number of customers we serve, and the number of transactions we process without adding more headcount. At the same time, our customers get a better and better service. Each time we slip up, we relentlessly pursue the error so that it never occurs again, and in so doing we generally add features to the products and services, and add value to the customer experience. This is usually as a direct result of work I do for the 20%, and at the time it takes a lot more than 80% of my day, more like 180%. But when the work is done, and the new features are added, our systems can handle more customer requests. Work disappears from the 80% side, and falls in to the 20% side.

Next week’s article will look at some of questions I’ve been asked around leadership, and the wisdom behind the notion that you can’t lead others unless you can lead yourself.

If you’ve enjoyed these newsletters, please share this one with three people who might enjoy them too.

Slave to the City Book Signing: 3rd December

I’ll be speaking at the first Porter’s Rule: Slave to the City book signing at Rotary, Killarney Country Club on Thursday 3rd December at 7:30pm. More details will follow when the official invitation is distributed by Rotary. Email me if you want a ticket and an official invite.  Tickets are R150, including dinner.


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