So many leaders have the efficiency equation only half right. Take the business owner who’s enlightened but inefficient. He’s like the absentminded preacher, late to the pulpit with lines of a great sermon running through his head—some written on scraps of paper in his pocket, the rest scattered around his office. His heartfelt attempts to inspire only confuse his flock. Then there’s the unenlightened but efficient boss man. He’s more like the world-class surgeon with arctic bedside manners. His skill would save more lives if he didn’t submarine his patient’s will to live by describing the progression of her disease as if it were a mutual fund chart.
I can’t believe it’s not clutter
Shooting for efficiency without first getting organized is like trying to break the speed limit on a highway under construction. Potholes and roadblocks will fling you into a ditch before you get out of first gear. Organization paves the way to enlightened efficiency and reaching your goals. Can you be productive with a messy desk and chaotic files? Sure, anything’s possible. But it’s easier to get it done without the clutter. Especially when you add a personal digital assistant (PDA)—BlackBerry, Palm Pilot, Clio, Treo, Mio—to the mix to keep mission-critical data at your fingertips. The idea is to conserve time and adrenaline.
All the time in the world
It hurts to see people who’ve yet to balance efficiency with perspective. A few years ago, after a keynote address to Students in Free Enterprise, I judged a national student-business competition. Later that day, I chatted with a supplier manning a convention booth. By coincidence, his daughter had given one of the forty-five-minute presentations I had judged. I asked how he’d enjoyed it. “Oh, I had to stay at my booth,” he said. “There’s the business to get, you know.”
It’s easy to explain. The smarter you are with your time, the more of it you have. Still, no matter how sharp your focus, time-wasting traps lurk in every office. We covered The Meeting, which can rank among the deepest black holes.
Battling brush fires: the six d’s
When’s the last day you didn’t have a high-priority phone call, an urgent e-mail, or a stressed-out colleague begging for attention? Getting pulled off course is in every entrepreneur’s job description. I call my strategy for dealing with daily interruptions the Six Ds. When something pops up, rather than robotically just doing it, I start with the first option. If that doesn’t apply, I move to the second. I keep cruising down the list until I reach the appropriate action.
- Don’t Do It. seriously, some things will simply go away if you ignore them. As you grow more focused, you’ll also grow more resilient to the tug of minor things that try to pull you off your path.
- Delay It. Some interruptions disappear if you simply delay them. Think of all those urgent voice mails, e-mails, and memos you returned to after vacation. You never knew about them, yet they invariably cooled.
- Deflect It. Some flare-ups only get hotter when they’re delayed. If something belongs outside your workgroup, don’t let it clutter up your desk. Pass it on.
- Delegate It. Enlightened entrepreneurs don’t do things other people are paid to do. You’re not hiring the right people if you’re thinking, If I want it done right, I have to do it myself. Delegate whatever you can. Otherwise, mindless minutiae will slam the brakes on your business’s development.
Some brush fires demand your full, immediate attention and need all your effort. But it’s a lot easier to find the time and energy for big challenges when you’ve doused other flareups with the first five D’s.