When I speak to overwhelmed small business owners for the first time, they are really suffering from not being able to cope with everything that they have to do.

There are just too many things that need doing, they might be the only person available to do it and the only person that understands it.

They are a bottleneck in their business.

This can create enormous stress.

There is not enough of them to go around to get everything done.

Does that sound like you?

So whats the solution?

Clone yourself!

OK, so cloning yourself isn’t possible, legal or ethical.

But most people love the idea!

Why is that?

Quite simply their clone would know everything that they already know.

They would have the same attitude and the same work ethic.

They would make decisions in the same way and with the same answers.

They would operate with the same values and instinctively know the right priorities.

There would be no time spent managing them and no miscommunication.

Business Owner Cloning Service?

Overwhelmed Small Business Owners want to clone themselves!

Unfortunately, the business owner cloning service doesn’t yet exist, so what’s the next best thing?

Here are 7 ideas that have had good results in one way or another with overwhelmed small business owners I’ve worked with and might be worth considering.

No 1: Delete

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Peter Drucker

When I speak with overwhelmed small business owners it becomes clear that they are often busy doing activity, but aren’t clear how it fit in to their objectives. It’s as if doing more things should create better results – but it ain’t necessarily so.

Some things are so low on the value-added “food chain”, or were so unrealistic to start with, that they simply sit on a to do list looking angry and making you feel overwhelmed.

But they don’t need doing. Now or ever.

So delete them from your to do list!

If you can’t quite bring yourself to delete them, then park them. Create a parking list – a sort of car park for ideas – and put them there.

Declutter your to do list.

Delete unnecessary stuff.

Then deal with the rest.

No 2: Systemise

Let systems run the business and people run the systems.” Michael Gerber

Turn anything that you do repeatedly into a system or a process, this makes it much more efficient.

You don’t have to remember the steps each time, you don’t have to think about it afresh each time.

You just do the fewest steps needed to accomplish the task and achieve it in a more efficient way.

Quite often it turns out that overwhelmed small business owners ARE the system – whilst they really should be OPERATING a system that they have created.

Are YOU the system in some areas?

What are the actual steps that you are following?

Could you put those into a process that is easy to follow?

One particular issue that wastes time and makes you unproductive is looking for information – finding information and paperwork is often a time drainer and adds to the sense of frustration and overwhelm. So create some really simple ways to classify information – and then stick to it.

For example, have a set of headings that you use consistently and use the same ones in your paperwork and on your computer. At least you will have the same filing system to look in and the same thought process to follow wherever you are looking for information.

No 3: Streamline

Everyone has complicated lives, but the more you can simplify it and make it work for you, the better it is going to be.Lewis Hamilton

Review the systems that you do have and take out unnecessary elements. Take out the complex elements that add little value. They may also be the bits that create errors.

Sometimes systems have built up with little work-arounds here and there that aren’t needed any longer or only apply to a very few situations but slows up the bulk of them. Maybe you need a separate system for more complicated items.

Maybe it would be worth redesigning the system from scratch, now that you have more experience of what is really needed and eliminate some steps.

Maybe re-ordering things will do the trick and erase more steps – what happens if you do things in a different order?

Some steps in a process are prone to generating errors and inefficiency. Can you eliminate any of these things:

  • Manual data entry
  • Double handling of the same item
  • Interfaces between different systems
  • Confusing or uninformative numbering of transactions

No 4: Delegate

“From a young age, I learned to focus on the things I was good at and delegate to others what I was not good at.” Richard Branson

Get someone else in the team to do tasks for you, particularly repetitive ones and the ones that don’t play to your strengths.

If you’ve set up a system and documented the steps, then delegation of repetitive tasks is much easier. Just have them escalate the complex ones to you and tell them what the criteria are for those.

Be careful that you delegate and don’t abdicate. You are still responsible for making sure they do it right. Sometimes people “delegate” by throwing a problem at someone else and walking away. This is abdication and you are setting them up to fail. You need to specify what you want doing and help them do it right before stepping away to let them get on with it. On the flip side you may also be a bit of a control freak – an understandable and useful trait in a business owner – but for delegation it can be a problem. There is a temptation to require them to do the task in a particular way. This may well feel like micro-managing to them. It doesn’t give them scope to do it in a way that work better for them. It means you won’t benefit if they can see a way to improve the process.

Delegate the task, show them what outcome you want (and measure success only on that basis), then show them how to do it and allow them to tweak and improve the process – as long as you get the necessary outcome. So it’s up to you to specify clearly and in sufficient detail what that is!

If you’re overwhelmed, it’s not whether to delegate, but what, how, when and to whom.

No 5: Outsource

“Once companies begin to outsource, they never go back.” Barry Lam 

If there is no-one in-house to do it, then you need to delegate to someone outside the organisation – to outsource.

This is probably for either:

  • Tasks you hate – and will never get around to
  • Simple tasks – that require time not skill and anyone could do
  • Specialist tasks – that require so much knowledge and experience to do them well that you are almost guaranteed not to be able to do it well enough yourself, or the learning curve would be too great. For example, designing and building a website, or creating a database.

This is a different skill from delegating, but very similar. It requires the outcome to be specified much more clearly. If you just throw the problem at them to solve you will almost certainly get something back that you don’t want, don’t like, is too complex and too expensive.

If you can write a clear and unambiguous brief with a budget limit then both parties know where they stand. Not sure if you can write the brief? Then work with them to write it! Use their experience to help you write it. Ask them whether there is any ambiguity in it and what the cost will be. Check it with someone else if you like. Better to spend time on getting the spec right than to find out after the event that you gave them a blank cheque for the wrong thing!

Writing a good spec is a skill worth learning – it’s one that will save you time, money and frustration.

No 6: Blocking and Batching

“You can make a lot of mistakes and still recover if you run an efficient operation. Or you can be brilliant and still go out of business if you’re too inefficient.” Sam Walton

A lot of overwhelmed small business owners are constantly switching between tasks, never quite getting anything finished, always fire-fighting, always juggling multiple things at the same time.

One solution is to group similar tasks together.

Do a lot of the same thing all at once.

The cost of switching tasks is enormous.

Research has suggested that the lost productivity due to switching costs is as much as 40%  This is even more acute where the task is complex or less-practised. Don’t try multi-tasking things that you’re not good at or that are complex!

The benefit of doing lots of the same thing at once is that you get into a rhythm and work efficiently and usually more effectively.

So Block out time in your diary, switch the phone to divert so that you won’t be disturbed, and allow you to concentrate on the task in hand.

Then Batch items together, do similar tasks or a large number of the same tasks to get ahead.

For example:

  • don’t write one blog post, write ten at once, or at least the outline of them
  • don’t send invoices daily, send them weekly all at once
  • don’t do staff appraisals spread out across the year, do them all in one week.

You will get into the “swing of things” when you do several of the same thing.

You wouldn’t bake one muffin at a time, you’d make a small batch.

You wouldn’t cook five individual portions of roast lunch for the family, you make a roast lunch for five people – in one batch.

So why not apply the same logic to your tasks?

Don’t spend 30 minutes a day on a marketing task, spend two and a half hours a week in one sitting – which probably becomes 2 hours anyway as you’ll be more efficient.

No 7: Simplify your mental model

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein

Businesses have lots of moving parts, but thinking of all the moving parts does not help you to cope with them – it just helps you feel overwhelmed!!

When I speak to overwhelmed small business owners they seem to have too much in their head that isn’t sorted into manageable or coherent chunks.

I’ve created a simple model that sets out 6 areas of a business. It is designed to keep things simple and manageable – for me and for you!

Each area requires a different type of thinking, so although there may be several tasks and lots of moving parts under each main heading, they are all about the same basic theme.

Focusing on one of the 6 areas at a time means that you can go into some depth on each one.

It’s much easier and more natural to think about your management style when thinking about people and job roles, than to think about management style alongside sales processes. So set aside bigger chunks of time and focus on one area of the business with issues that are similar in nature and require a similar way of thinking.

In my mind there are also only 4 main roles of a business owner – we tend to get bogged down in the detail and the task, but actually there are only a few roles of a business owner and you can consciously move between them – but only if you are aware of them!

Whether you pick my models or other models, the point is to adopt a simplified way of looking at your business and your role so that it is simple enough to hold in your head. Then every task fits under one of those headings and doesn’t require its own head-space.

These simplified models also make tasks easier to prioritise – simply prioritise under each category and then prioritise the most important categories, but also making sure that you spend some time on each category. Then you have a few shorter to do lists, each of which looks achievable with a few priorities, rather than one long impossible one all jumbled up.

Prioritisation allows you to focus – and when you are focused you are more productive.

Conclusion

So there we are, 7 things that overwhelmed small business owners can do to beat overwhelm, stop fire-fighting and start running the business instead of having their life run by the business.

We can’t clone business owners, nor can we transplant their knowledge, experience and “decision-making software” to members of their team, but there are other ways to tackle the underlying issue.

If you would like some more ideas on beating overwhelm, then you might like to download the free ebook that includes a business tool to help you identify your key tasks and create a simple action plan for each to reduce overwhelm.

Just complete the form below.

Feeling Overwhelmed By Your Business?Too much on the "to do" list?

  • Are the wheels spinning but you're not making progress?
  • Doing too much but achieving too little?
  • Are you tired of being the bottleneck in your business?
  • Is there simply not enough of you to go around?

If you are feeling pulled in every direction, don’t have the head-space to think clearly, and have too much “to do list” left undone at the end of each day, then you may be interested in trying this free business tool. With it you can uncover where you should be focusing your time, energy and attention for the best return – more enjoyable for you and more productive for your business.

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