Have a read of the following symptoms and see if any sound familiar:
- Frequently needed information never seems to be there when you need it. You can never find anything that someone sent you previously.
- There’s never enough time to organise or plan anything properly. You are always doing only what is absolutely necessary.
- You seem to be constantly reinventing the wheel, even if it is something you do regularly.
- You are always rushing to meet closely bunched deadlines.
- Your tools are often frustrating: your computer is sluggish, files get lost, your Internet is slow, or your phone reception is bad.
- You seem to make frequent frantic phone calls to suppliers and associates for help.
Although it is possible to get used to dealing with endless emergencies, working under constant stress is neither good nor enjoyable. Perpetual emergencies waste valuable time and talent, resources that could be better spent learning, innovating, or just loving your business.
The constant panic also drives away clients and even good suppliers. I know people who won’t take on chaotic clients, because they know they will not be able to make any real improvements beyond fighting fires.
How many businesses fail because they could not reduce stress by getting off the perpetual emergencies merry-go-round?
Want more articles like this? Check out the stress-management section.
What are the causes of perpetual emergencies? And how can you do better?
Procrastination: You hate doing the accounts, so you avoid it until you start getting nasty letters from the tax office. I set aside time by booking meetings with myself in my calendar.
If you hate managing your compliance paperwork, outsource it. Outsourcing does not mean zero effort on your part: The act of hiring a bookkeeper is not enough. You still need to put effort into a clear briefing, and commit to working with whatever system they devise.
The curse of the noisiest problem: It still amazes me that there are so many people out there who don’t use simple to-do lists. Without such a list, nothing can be prioritised. The noisiest problem – which may well be a non-problem – then gets the most attention.
Write and follow standard processes: Much of what every business does is repetitive. Like a recipe, recording repetitive processes in a simple step-by-step way can save you a lot of grief. You would include both the method (what you need to do and in what order), and the ingredients (what information you need and where it is stored). Following a recipe makes life easier.
Be proactive, look ahead: Many businesses are reactive – everything can be ignored until it is broken and on fire. Many risks can be reasonably foreseen and mitigated with some simple planning. A little time to think and some self-awareness go a long way.
File with folders: You may well dislike it, but there is no escaping filing. You need a paper and computer-based system that work together and work for you. If you need help setting up a filing system, consult an office administration expert.
Get good tools (and maintain them): Don’t skimp on the tools you rely on. Getting a super cheap “too good to be true” Internet plan will usually end up costing you more. I use separate providers for my phone and Internet accounts, so I don’t lose all my communication channels if there is a billing error with one supplier.
Plan your capacity: A “say yes now then work out how to do it later” approach can play havoc with capacity planning. You should know how much work you’ve got on, and what is due when, before saying yes to new projects. You can deliberately set aside some spare hours every week as a safety buffer for projects to overflow into.
It is impossible to avoid emergencies completely. Change is constant after all. Many of the steps I have outlined above will help you create “purposeful work” – work that is calm, structured, meaningful, and with clear outcomes.
Until then, when you next face an emergency, stop for a moment to take a deep breath. Is it actually an emergency? Take a moment to write down what exactly constitute an emergency for you.
Do you have any tips to reduce stress and prevent turning a drama into a crisis?