Systems: 3 Excuses for not setting them up

Creating systems in your business are crucial for survival and success, yet so many of us never get down to getting these into place.  We spin our wheels and get distracted and remain super busy, exhausting ourselves in the process. We are overwhelmed and our businesses suffer for it. Are you guilty of holding yourself back with any of the following excuses?

I read a while back that an excuse is just a lie we tell ourselves in order to feel better about not achieving as we should.

Excuse 1: Setting up a system is an overwhelming, hopeless chore

Reality: Setting up a system creates an ordered process. Once you have mastered a system, it becomes an exhilarating way of freeing yourself up and maintaining a steady course in a complex world. You may even consider it fun because it produces a gratifying sense of clarity, focus and accomplishment.

Excuse 2: It is impossible to stick to a system

Reality:  This could be true. It is impossible to stick to a system if…. your system is a poor fit for you and maintaining it is a difficult chore.

However, a well thought out system is sustainable. If you build your system around the way you think and design it to grow and adapt around your changing needs it will serve you for years to come.

Excuse 3: Creating systems is a non-productive use of time

Reality: You may feel that it would be more productive to call on customers, attend meetings, to write a proposal or even to catch up on your sleep.

In our fast-paced environment with more and more demands on our time and ability to make choices, those who have systems will thrive.  Those without systems will be disorganised and overwhelmed, unsure of which way to turn.  Eventually, they will flounder.

You cannot afford not to have business systems.  They are indispensable tools to keep you on track and to help you automatically execute tasks or outsource them so that you can focus on the more interesting aspects of your business.

5 Ways to Streamline your Business

Streamlining your business saves money. It saves time. It saves manpower. All it takes is a little time to think about how you are currently doing business and how you can improve on what you are doing. For business owners who are too busy to reinvent the wheel, here are some proven ways to ensure a more streamlined business.

1. Change direction if you need to

Streamlining isn’t limited to cutting back and dropping activities. You need to start by consolidating or changing the work you do to align it with your goals. It may feel scary now to change direction, but it becomes scarier later when you don’t reach your goals.

2. Reduce time

A task will expand to fill the number of hours given to it. Usually if you give an employee 3 days to finish a task, they will take 3 days to do it, yet if you give them half a day for the same task, they will also finish it. I have found that being results focused and specific will help save time. If you give a person an exact deadline to complete important tasks (eg. Wednesday at 14:15), they will become more productive.

3. Motivate your staff and offer incentives

In my chicken farming days (many moons ago) I had to slaughter a certain number of broilers a day. I realised that my staff’s priorities were not necessarily my priorities and that I would not get the result I needed if I simply paid them for a day’s work. I put myself in their shoes and thought about what would motivate me. I had excellent results when I told my staff at the beginning of each day what the target was and that they could leave once the target had been met. Sometimes they worked so well that they finished a day’s work at noon! There was no compromise on quality either, because the work was not deemed done until I was completely satisfied with the quality.

4. Systemize your processes

Think of how you can make things easier, faster and cheaper. Create template emails, template forms and documents, auto responders, automatic payments, a “roles and responsibilities” chart, digital timesheets, etc. Solve your problems once. If a task has to be repeated, create a system for doing that task. This will also ensure that you have a standardized way of doing business.

5. Use remote workers

Only pay for what you use. See my post on the 8 Ways small business owners can benefit by outsourcing. You have an incredibly diverse talent pool at your fingertips and can choose the best for your business. Your overhead costs are less. Your business becomes more productive and streamlined.

The tickler file – then and now

I first encountered this very simple but effective system when working for a lawyer years ago.  Every time we worked on a file, we would reschedule it for follow-up after a certain time.  For instance, if we sent a letter of demand to someone, we had to proceed with further steps if the person had not responded within 14 days.

The tickler file is a system meant to tickle your memory, and to help you keep track of details you don’t want to think about or have lying around on your desk.

This is how we used it.  You have 31 folders – these represent the 31 days of the month.  In addition, you have 12 folders, one for every month of the year.

The daily tickler files help you organize the papers you need for projects that need to be done on a certain day during the current month. For instance, you have sent out a quotation to do work for a client, and you want to follow up within 3 days.  You just stick the quotation (or a small note) into the daily tickler file to be done in 3 days’ time.  Another way to use it is to track whether you need to remind someone about a payment due.  When planning your day, you consult the tickler file to see what you need to do.

As you do each item on the appropriate day, you discard the reminder.  If you cannot do it on a particular day, reschedule it in the file (but make it a top priority, so that it does not get postponed too long).

The monthly tickler files are there to remind you of long-term items.  You could, for instance, have an index card in each folder containing the birthdays for that month.  It is also for items like insurance that you update yearly, or when you’d like to follow up something, say, in six week’s time.

Of course, there is a paperless solution to the Tickler Files.  Best of all, it’s free.  Have a look at FollowUp.  Once you have registered, all you have to do is make a quick note of when you want to be reminded about something, along with the details (eg. Contact details, file details, etc).  FollowUp will send you an e-mail to remind you at the right time.

What systems to you use to remind you of what needs to be done?  Are there easier ways to do it?  Please comment below.

Tweaking your system can have a huge impact on productivity!

When you examine your business with the eye on increasing productivity, remember that it is seldom necessary to make major changes.  Rather look at what you have, and then find ways in which to streamline it.  The illustration below is an example of a small change that made a huge difference.

In an open groove mine in Johannesburg (South Africa), the production manager was not satisfied with the rate at which ore was brought out of the mine.  He was sure it could be improved on.  Sitting in his beautiful office with a view over the city, he decided that the problem was in the equipment, which was rather dated at the time.  So he ordered new loading equipment and new trucks.  It was a tedious process because of all the red tape in the organization, but a couple of months later the new equipment arrived.

The production manager eagerly awaited a report of increased productivity.  He was surprised and disappointed when he realised that there was no significant increase in productivity with the new machines.

Sitting behind his desk, he decided that the problem surely must be with the operators of these vehicles.  They probably did not know how to operate the new heavy duty machinery.  He then arranged training courses in driving and operating heavy machinery for all his mining staff.  The mining staff enjoyed the break from work, with the accompanying free meals and tea-times during training.  Once back on the job, they tackled their jobs with enthusiasm.

The production manager eagerly awaited a report of increased productivity.  His rage boiled over when the report showed only a slight increase.  He flew out of his comfortable chair, left his plush office, donned a working outfit and visited the mine for himself!

At the open groove mine, the problem was evident immediately.  Because of a rock jotting out on the side of the road in one place, only one vehicle could go either up or down at a time. Traffic going up and traffic going down had to wait for each other at that spot.

The surprised production manager had the rock blasted away immediately, and the traffic started flowing freely.  His next productivity report was very rewarding.  Production had more than tripled.

What “rocks” are preventing you from achieving optimal productivity?