We're all busy. I've got a few plates spinning at any given time family and friends take up what little time is left when I leave the office. People often ask how I stay on top of everything. (Usually not family and friends, who think I work too much). I guess my answer is that I'm hardwired to multitask and generally require less sleep than most people. Good old-fashioned hard work aside, there are three important lessons I've learned to help keep me one step ahead of it all.
Train Your Staff to Suggest Solutions When Raising Issues
This simple rule frees up a lot of my time when everyone abides by it. I have a staff of intelligent, resourceful people. They are fully capable of thinking through issues and developing solutions, and they know that I expect this from them.
This means that instead of this email:
Clint, the new coffeemaker exploded yes, the one we just bought. All of the caffeine junkies are getting cranky with me. Help?!
I would receive this email:
Clint, just FYI, the new coffeemaker exploded. I checked the warranty paperwork and will contact the manufacturer for a replacement. In the meantime, since the staff is quite caffeine-dependent, I got my coffeemaker from home and will use it until the replacement arrives.
That's a front desk example, but this thinking applies all the way up the org chart. This practice also develops the staff's ownership of their respective areas and confidence in expressing their ideas while reducing the tendency to delegate up.
The best way to teach this trait is to always answer their plead for Help!? with "What do you think we should do?" After a few questions, they quickly see that you value their opinion and expect them to come up with ideas on their own, and that you won't do it for them. If you hire smart people, they'll make the right decision.
Being neat and being organized are two different animals. I've seen visually "neat" offices run very inefficiently. To be organized is to streamline workflow. If this isn't your forte, hire a professional organizer. Not only will an organizer assess your workspace and make it more efficient, he or she will also assess your work habits and make you more effective.
Understanding the principles behind favorite organization and workflow acronyms like FAT (File, Act, Toss) will give you powerful tools for getting things done. You can find tons of info on organization at theclutterdiet.com.
Know When to Take a Break
While my staff is great at suggesting solutions, there are some issues that require a team effort. Every now and then, a difficult issue may arise that requires a lot of input and debate. After a while, the discussions start moving in circles and people become frustrated at the lack of progress. It's important to recognize an impasse quickly and take a break from the issue at hand before wasting any more time. Give everybody a few hours to catch up on messages and mull over what's been discussed, then reconvene. You and your staff will have clearer heads and, hopefully, new ideas after the break. The line "no one is leaving until we find a solution" is sure to provide nothing but annoyed employees.
To give credit where credit is due, I have a lot of great people (both on staff and as customers and vendors) who help me get things done. That said, using and teaching these time-savers keeps me on top of things and frees up more time to do things that create growth and value in my company. (I also get to take vacations with my wife and 7-month-old daughter, like I'm doing now.) With practice, these lessons will become second nature for you and your staff.