The Biggest Problem in Business (and what to do about it): The Time Flow Problem

1) Frontload, frontload, frontload

For every task that you and your employees need to do, plan it out. Create a timeline, consider stakeholders, muster resources, define the scope of the task(s), make sure everyone knows what (s)he needs to do, et cetera. Spend time on Q&A in the beginning, and make sure that you cover as many foreseeable aspects of the project as possible (premortems help). For instance, if you are going to hire, make sure to write a good job description, clarify what kind of person you want to hire, and only then do you sort through the pile of resumes and conduct interviews.

2) Prioritize

This is a tough one, especially because most businesses have more fires raging than anyone could humanly put out (if not, kudos, and you probably don’t have a time flow problem). It helps just to take a moment to realize that you are definitely going to burn, and to decide exactly which burns you’re going to get (might as well, right?). The most difficult part of this task is accepting that you just can’t do everything, because you likely see yourself as an incredibly competent, resilient, powerful person. And, you’re correct! But, even the most superhuman people have limits, including you, and that means you’re not going to be able to get all of those fires out before they cause damage. Pick your poison, and start dousing the rest.

3) Hire more people and pay them properly

I tell both my business school students and my clients that companies should always be hiring, and always hire ahead of their needs. Think about it: by the time you’ve figured out that you need to hire someone new, you usually have so much on your plate that things are falling through the cracks. It might actually cost you less in the long run to have employees that take longer lunch breaks because they don’t quite have full plates than it might for you to drop some balls. And, of course, make sure you pay a proper wage for your talent, because otherwise you are inviting an expensive turnover problem.

4) Change your policies

Policy exists because someone was a moron. You probably lose a ton of time doing (or paying someone else to do) little admin tasks that you probably don’t even need to do but for company policy. Rethink the bureaucracy, and consider exchanging it for something useful, like trust. Trust is really expensive, in part because of its higher risk, but the expected value of good, established trust is positive in the long run even when there are a few people that burn you.

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Orin Davis

Orin Davis

Self-actualization engineer who makes workplaces great places to work. PI at Quality of Life Lab (www.qllab.org). Consultant. Professor. Startup Advisor.