Are You the Bottleneck?  Here are 5 Simple Steps to Freedom

Do you struggle on a daily basis to keep up with your workload? Do you see some tasks slipping through the cracks? Are you performing tasks outside your ‘zone of genius’? Are you afraid to leave your business to your employees for a few days or you haven’t had a vacation in forever because you have no employees and ‘You’re It!?’

If you answered yes to these questions, you’re not alone. Many entrepreneurs operate under the old adage, “If you want something done right, do it yourself”, which makes them the biggest bottleneck of their business. Especially those without the luxury of venture capital —starting up on a bootstrap budget, assuming the roles of both Chief Cook and Bottle Washer and all things in-between. They are metaphorically rowing uphill without a paddle.

Many driven executives find themselves in that same boat, as they work ridiculously long hours trying to climb the corporate ladder, losing sleep, losing hair, and losing their ‘real’ focus —risking their health and their family lifestyles. All for what? Is this the price of success???

“If you don’t have time to do it right, what makes you think you’ll have time to do it over”

Seth Godin says, ‘Do it right the first time’. However, if you didn’t do it right the first time, there’s still time… and hope for you. It’s always better late than never.

So, where do you start?

Step 1: Determine

To relieve the bottleneck, you need to first determine where you spend most of your time on any given day. Find out what’s taking up your precious time. Try this exercise (here’s a handy sheet for you to document your findings):

  1. Start on Monday and document 3-5 of the main tasks you complete.
  2. Next, document 3-5 tasks (or projects) that you know you want to complete; however, there just isn’t enough time in your day or week and you’re not getting to them.
  3. Now, write down the tasks that you complete that you would rather not be doing. Think hard on this. If you’re doing something that does not bring you joy, why are you doing it? If you’re doing something that is out of your skill-set or zone of genius, acknowledge this to yourself and write it down.

Do this diligently every day for one to two weeks to get a good sense of where you’re spending your time.

Step 2: Prioritize

Now that you have a good sense of what you’re doing, not doing, and probably shouldn’t be doing, take some time to assess each situation to determine where the bottleneck(s) are occurring. What processes are working? Where are they failing? What is adding to the bottleneck? Which ones impact your business the most? Once you’ve answered those questions, take your list and prioritize it in order of the tasks that absolutely need to get done, regardless of where they fall in those three categories.

You may be surprised by what you find.

Step 3: Document

Now that you have your prioritized list, are you surprised? What are the recurring tasks on your list that are a priority? What are the most time-consuming?

The next step in this process is to take your top priority and write down the procedure for this task, step-by-step, in the most efficient manner you would accomplish this. It may not be pretty, but this is a very good start.

I know, you’re probably thinking, “Well, if only I had time to do this.” Here’s a couple ways to accomplish this without taking a lot of your time.

  1. If you have a Bluetooth, you could think of your task while you’re driving and record the steps verbally into your Voice Notes on your cell.
  2. In your home or office, use Google Docs and its handy Voice Typing tool and just talk the steps into your laptop.
  3. You could also have your assistant or a Virtual Assistant document the procedures for you.

Whichever way you decide to accomplish this, if you want to remove the bottleneck, this step is crucial. Write down the steps in a simple manner, thinking more about how you would perform the action, as in a command, rather than writing a whole sentence. Bullet points are good. Ensure your steps are easy for an outsider to understand and follow. As a matter of fact, if you can, give them to someone outside of your organization and ask them to perform the steps and provide feedback.

Once you’re comfortable that your ‘procedure’ is complete, move on to the next priority on your list and document the steps to perform that task, and so on, and so on.

Here are a few examples of tasks (bottlenecks) that you can document:

  • Sorting incoming mail
  • Sending newsletters
  • Invoicing
  • Customer service
  • The administrative, creative and technical list is endless

As an example, let’s create a procedure for Invoicing:

  1. Open the envelope.
  2. Date stamp the invoice with today’s date.
  3. Verify all amounts and charges.
  4. Enter the amount into accounting software.
  5. Stamp invoice with Posted stamp.
  6. Place in Payables Folder.

This step is very revealing in that it will show you which tasks you should no longer be performing. Ask yourself this, “Why am I performing this task?” If it is not bringing revenue into your business, and someone else can perform it just as easily and/or with greater skill, then you should not be doing it. This brings us to the next step…

Step 4: Delegate

As I mentioned, if you have tasks on your list that you clearly should not be doing, consider why you are doing them? You now have a procedure for it. Why not give that task to someone who is better equipped to handle it? What I mean is, your time is precious and if you’re spending time on tasks that are taking away from generating revenue, you’re digging yourself into a hole. Wouldn’t you rather spend time ‘on’ your business, as opposed to ‘in’ it?

A client of mine runs a luxury accommodations business and also owns a pottery studio. She was feeling increasingly frustrated with the whole invoicing process of her accommodations business when she finally contacted me. Working with documents, saving and printing them did not bring her joy and was clearly out of her ‘zone of genius’. Once she was clear about this, she delegated that process to an expert and now, not only has she lost that headache, but she has more time to dedicate to her pottery business, which is clearly where her passion lies. She is happier, her processes have been streamlined and her businesses are flourishing.

Creating systems (procedures) and delegating to ‘your team’ allow you to create a business that you can scale and grow. Michael E. Gerber, in his book Beyond the E-Myth says, “That unless you start your business with the intention of selling it, it will almost always turn out to be a disaster.”

If you’re a ‘business of one’, consider contracting a Virtual Assistant to reduce your workload, allowing you to work on growing your business. You can even hire an Intern or Co-op Student for the short-term.

And if you already have staff, then why on earth are you still doing those administrative tasks that are taking you away from working ‘on’ your business? How can you grow your business if you’re the ‘Go-To Person’ for everything in your office? It’s time to delegate everything you can to those more qualified. Get out of the trenches. As the CEO, your business needs you on a more high-level playing field. Give this step some serious consideration in order to succeed in all areas of your life.

Step 5: Automate

With all the tech tools out there in this day and age, there is no reason why you should not be taking advantage of all the automation you can get your hands on. And you could be surprised at how far you can go. The point is, would you like to have a business where you can barely take time for yourself, let alone your family and vacation? Wouldn’t you prefer to travel and spend time with your loved ones, all the while knowing your business systems are in place and the revenue will still be coming in, regardless of where you may be? For me, this is a no-brainer. And I believe it is for you as well.

It’s impossible to list everything here, but to give you an example of how you can automate for peak efficiency, here are a few common tools many businesses use:

  • Google Docs – a free Web-based application where documents, spreadsheets, and presentations can be created, edited and stored online. Files can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection and multiple users can work on the same document in real-time.
  • Slack – a communication tool for teams and so much more. You can add all the files, images, PDFs, documents, and spreadsheets you’re working on right into Slack and share them with anyone on your team.
  • Asana – project management software. Helps you and your team keep track of projects. Integrates easily with most apps.

These are just a few of the tools many organizations use to create efficiencies and streamline processes. If you would like to know more about how you or your organization can benefit from systemizing and automating your organization, please reach out to me. I will spend more time on these tools in my next blog post, as this is a whole subject unto itself. 🙂

So, to reiterate, if you are tired of being the bottleneck and want to take back your freedom:

  1. Determine what is causing the bottleneck;
  2. Prioritize your tasks so you can start making a difference immediately;
  3. Document your tasks to streamline processes;
  4. Delegate everything that you can, so you can concentrate on generating revenue;
  5. Automate everything you can so that you can Systemize & Thrive!

Because YOU are worth it!