You start your day off coming into work early, like you usually do. This is a critical time, as you are often by yourself and you can think in peace and quiet about your day, your week, and maybe your month. Any book on leadership or managerial qualities will emphasize the importance of quiet solitude in the morning.
If you feel your day never starts off right, you should increase your store arrival time by an additional 15 minutes until you feel your days are under better control. “Crazy” days are most often those days when we didn’t have enough time to think and plan in the morning.
There is another thief of your productivity. I call them time vampires. They pop up out of the shadows and steal minutes off the clock. At the end of the day, after dealing with time vampires, you are nowhere near finished. So how to do you stop these modern-day “Draculas” and start getting things done?
First, we need to identify what time vampires really are. There are two kinds: task vampires and emotional vampires. Both are powerful. And the extent of how they affect the small business owner or manager can vary, depending on each individual situation.
For this to be helpful, you must be honest with yourself — and not defensive — about identifying where time vampires bite you.
These bloodsuckers usually show up in the form of a crisis, a phone call, or “pop in” visitors. While there are others, these three are usually the top offenders.
- Crisis vampires: This is usually a scenario where there is an urgent need for a hero, and who better than the founder of the company? You can swoop in, save the day, and feel good about yourself because you helped the company avoid a crisis of epic proportions. The reality is, it wasn’t a crisis. It was presented as such but sadly, turned out to be a false flag.
Maybe there’s some urgency. Maybe there’s some importance. Maybe there’s both, and therefore someone of stature within your company needs to act. Do you really need to involve yourself in handling every customer complaint? When situations that do not involve physical harm to employees, which would constitute a real crisis, arrives, ask the informant, “What do you think should happen?” and “What solutions have you tried so far?”
- Time vampires come to you in a panic because you are the easy answer. Teach them to follow through on their decisions. “Probing” the crisis in order to arrive at a simple solution instead of automatically jumping into your superhero costume might take a little time in the beginning, but it will pay dividends in a few short months.
- Phone/emails/text vampires: You are the quarterback of your team. Whether you operate from inside the store every day or you own multiple locations and work from an office, a quarterback needs to be protected, especially when dropping back to pass and scanning the field for opportunities and ideas.
Start getting comfortable telling employees today is not a day you can take calls. You need to make sure you tackle your priorities on your schedule.
For emails and texts, start teaching your employees how to send you messages when there is a problem. Emails/texts should contain a brief summary of the problem, steps taken so far (often this is the part left out because the only step taken was to email you), other people that may be able to help, and why it is being sent to you.
Of course, legally charged situations should be dealt with face-to-face, initially. What we are addressing here are time vampires, not every type of contact you have with employees, vendors and customers.
- Drop-in vampires: This is usually a customer or vendor. These people know there’s a chance you might not be there, but usually they have studied you for quite some time and they calculate the odds. They show up unannounced, and you are forced to spend your time solving their problem.
This solution will take some time to implement, but the payoff is large so it’s worth the effort. I call it “the buddy system.” Every time there is a drop-in, grab onto your number two or number three person or whoever makes sense for the situation. Tell your drop-in, “Hang on a second. If you need work on your car, let me grab Bill.”
When Bill shows up, look at the drop-in and say, “OK, what was the issue?” then look at Bill. Check to see if the drop-in is still looking at you or talking with Bill. If looking at you, make eye contact and slowly turn your head toward Bill. Encourage the direct communication by asking Bill, “What do you think they should do?” This shows the drop-in that you trust Bill, and the drop-in should trust him, too.
When Bill gives his solution to the problem, agree with Bill, which will also show the drop-in that Bill thinks just like you do. You may need to coach Bill a few times on some things, but I promise you after a few months, you will be glad you killed another vampire. ■