The most difficult thing to accomplish is something you’re putting off to the point when it becomes increasingly worse. The task may vary based on each of our businesses but there are some common ones: bookkeeping, invoicing, and updating records.
I shared about my gardening failures and didn’t mention that very early on I hated doing even the most routine maintenance such as mowing the lawn. It would take me 40 minutes to do two very small sections of grass and everything bothered me. The lawn mower bag was hard to empty, the motor stalled, it was like pushing a boulder around my yard.
Recently I went outside to mow, grumbling all the way, and realized that it had only taken 10 minutes and wasn’t such a chore after all. I considered why with all that free time since I’d just earned 30 minutes of my life back.
Now I have a system so the whole process of accomplishing a routine task is much smoother:
Sprinklers start every morning,
I cut the grass in the afternoon when the grass is dry,
I empty the bag immediately when it gets full,
and most importantly…
Regular maintenance makes it all easier
I realized that the motor didn’t stall once and I didn’t need to stop when I was halfway done to empty the bag. Since I had just mowed the weekend before it wasn’t such a chore. Instead of waiting a month (or two) and letting the grass grow so much that I had to fight it, only making it worse, I was staying on top of mowing and now each time it was much easier.
And we do the same in our businesses. We wait until April 14th to sort personal and business receipts for the past 12 months. We gather names and ideas and tasks on a dozen scraps of paper and in emails but can’t get them in one place. We don’t check our metrics or do billing until we have months to catch up on. And the more we put off these regular maintenance items, the harder it becomes to get motivated, tackle the task and stay on top of things.
You’ll hear this from the entrepreneur who says “I have a list but I haven’t emailed in 3 months and now I don’t know what to say.” Procrastination gets in the way and there are more and more obstacles in the way until we’re paralyzed in inaction.
So how do you solve such a phenomenon when you see it happening around you? My favorite hacks are to use triggers and assistants.
Triggers are the first step in a system. For my mowing it’s Saturday afternoons after the grass dries, I’ve done errands and before it gets too hot. That’s my trigger to roll out the lawn mower and get it done.
Systems don’t have to be complicated to be effective! It can be as simple as: mow the lawn, empty the bag, put away the mower.
Regular triggers can be added to your calendar – take 10 minutes to stretch every 2 hours you sit at a desk. Clear out 10 emails by delegating tasks every afternoon. Run reports and track conversion rates every Friday. Archive any incoming newsletter one day after they arrive if they’re not read.
You’ll be most successful at keeping these routine tasks completed if you automate. Direct all unsubscribes to one folder and handle them once a day. Filter all customer support to one place and respond daily. The more you automate with the use of technology, the less you’ll find yourself procrastinating.
When the task is irregular it can be difficult to set a trigger so you’ll want to internalize the first step of the system. If you’re reading a newsletter and see something you like in the formatting, the copy or the design don’t leave it in your inbox. Move it through a system by forwarding to your assistant with a few notes. If you get a customer support email and note that you need to make some changes in a program or be clearer in your copy don’t leave it to fester. Copy those thoughts to your program manager or into your online management system for programs.
David Allen covers this in Getting Things Done when he writes
“If there’s something that needs to be done about the item… then you need to decide what exactly that next action is. “Next Actions” again, means the next physical, visible activity that would be required to move that situation toward closure.”
As you can see, it’s not just setting triggers and automating them when possible. Having support can really take these maintenance tasks and keep them from being overwhelming.
But if the assistant doesn’t know what to do and you assume all is well you’ll find a much bigger mess to clean up when you take back responsibility.
So create systems for these tasks, all the important things that you need to do on a regular basis to keep the business running smoothly:
Updating contacts in InfusionSoft
Responding to unsubscribe requests
Approving new members into a private forum
Answering basic customer service requests
Formatting your newsletter
Updating and renewing web domains
Tracking business receipts and financials
You have to be willing to dig in, have clarity around what needs to be done, and teach your systems to someone on your team. If you find you don’t want to do it on your own then work with an Online Business Manager who gets it. Then your system will consist of checking in with your team and you can go on to build your business without the undone tasks weighing on your mind.
And for me, I can walk to the mailbox without dreading the day I finally unearth the lawn mower and tackle the jungle formerly known as my yard.