Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Have You Noticed It's Getting Harder To Get Things Done?

The present economy has forced a lot of us to cut back staff and give those who remain working more stuff to do. This may very well backfire and leave a company or business hurting just as they need to be getting stronger in spite of the effort to get lean and mean.
Has this happened to you? Whether you're a customer or supplier, you contact someone, agree to have a project done or at least underway by a certain date, you call back and they haven't even started. Or, worse, you're on the other end of that situation: they call you back and you're embarrassed to say you haven't had time to get the work done.
It doesn't need to be this way and for the sake of your future in any business, it shouldn't be; it better not be. Recessions and Depressions have a cleansing effect--they weed out the, um, well, weeds. The rotten tomatoes, the bad eggs, the old, lame and unfit. With lousy time management skills, lousy management skills overall, you will be weeded out. Now is the time to get fit when it comes to these vital skills and if you do, when times get better, you will reap the benefits.
Here's a few observations and ways to avoid common mistakes. Are you falling prey to these?:

1. Have a detailed checklist of what you need to do today, tomorrow, next week, next month--and stick to it as best as possible. Outlook has a scheduling function, if you like it, use it. If you want to use a daytimer, legal pad, another computer program, great. But USE them. Add detail daily--in other words, if you've scheduled yourself to call XYZ Corp once a month just to touch base, add particular details like followup on the last order you shipped them...telling them about some new product coming next month that suits them perfectly...those kinds of things.
2. As you do things on your checklist, check them off, and if you don't get to accomplish them, schedule them tomorrow, or next best day--don't let something slip through the cracks. Examine your "to do" list often during the day to make sure you're doing these things at the best time. Examine at the end of the day...did you get it all done, or re-schedule? I still use a sheet of paper with a list of things to do and I have a pencil in hand all the time.
3. When you're on the phone have a pencil in your hand and paper ready...always--if I had a dime for every phone conversation that lasted several minutes, then I asked the guy on the other end if he'd written it down only to hear "oh wait a minute, lemme get a pencil", I'd be a millionaire. But at least he's getting the pencil. Don't waste our time by not being ready when you ought to be. Have a pencil handy from the start of the call....or be at your computer so you can document what needs to be done. If you tell yourself "I'll have to remember this when I get off the call" something can and will come up, and there is a good chance you'll forget.
When you email or tell someone "OK, I'll do this" cc yourself if you have do, but do it, don't forget it.
4. Lunch-- what an absolute timewaste. I'm spoiled, I work out of my home. If I'm hungry, I just get a quick sandwich or snack and I'm back at work immediately. However, I guess we have to avoid being accused of being slave drivers, so a lunch break is something we have give employees. However, here's my major gripe: does everyone in an office have to take their lunch break at the same time? Why not stagger it a bit? The whole AP department is out and you need an invoice number now? The USA has 4+ time zones. It would be extremely effective and efficient, to leave at least one or two back at the office who can answer calls if need be--because not everyone from coast to coast is taking lunch at the same time you are. This leads to the next few points...
5. Vacation--try to have vacations staggered a bit too. Offer an extra day to employees that may take vacation during an off period. Vacations occur a lot during crucial build-up times to sales peaks too, for certain industries. Companies should not grind to a halt because some staff are on vacation. Effective management and time management means things are designed to go smoothly even when someone takes time off.
6. The Secret Key will anger your customer--by "secret key" I mean this: so and so is the only one in the office that can answer a particular question or find a particular document. If that person is at lunch, on maternity leave or on vacation, and you have a customer who wants to know....you've got a good chance of thoroughly lousing up the customer's day. Remember this too: we all die sometime. What if someone, God forbid, passes away? Get your staff to familiarize others around them with what they do and give briefings on where things are in case they happen to be gone. Football teams always have a backup quarterback they pay decent money for. Take a hint.
7. Technology can help--if you want to have staff come in earlier or stay later, that's fine. But try subscribing them to a system of access to their work computer from home or when they have to travel. Supply them with Blackberries so they can keep on top of their email. This may prevent things from piling up and allowing them to be more efficient. Use conference calls or web conferences, which eliminate the need to spend the whole day travelling.
8. Allow for the unexpected--if you keep on top of everything using some of the suggestions above, you'll have the great little gaps in your work day that allow for spending more time on research, competitive shopping, etc. And, in the event that something happens and you suddenly get busy, now you are prepared and you don't have a pile of unfinished stuff that gets even bigger. Think of the last two minutes in a football game. Teams prepare that "two minute drill" for good reason. It's hoped in most games it won't be needed, but when they find themselves in a close game and they have only two minutes or less to take the lead and hold that lead, time management is crucial. And it is not just in the last two minutes that managing the game and the clock become important--a team that is still capable of winning will have managed well the entire game leading up to that point. Customers will remember the company that could keep its head when all around them were losing theirs, just as we remember those games when Joe Montana took his team all the way down the field to take the lead and win the game.

Many I talk to in various businesses are remarking on this same subject that I used as the title of this piece. If you can avoid having the same thing said about your business think of how much further ahead you will be when times get better as they inevitably will.