As business owners, we typically intend to create a meaningful, lasting company that has a vital impact on our community. Yet we often end up feeling like our organization isn’t making enough progress or that we’re serving as the “chief cook and bottle washer”. Why is that?
Simply put, many of us often don’t strike the right balance between working “on” the organization versus working “in” it. We don’t sufficiently delegate and we end up focusing too much on the “Urgent and Important” activities. Sound like someone you know?
I first learned this phrase–work on your business versus in it–when hearing Michael Gerber speak. In his book, The E-Myth, Gerber talks about the overworked, tired entrepreneur who puts in horrendously long hours. The entrepreneur who began as a technically-proficient employee and wanted a better work situation. So, in a moment of brilliance, they decided to open or buy a business.
Let’s start by defining the types of activities that are considered working “on” the business and those considered working “in” it.
Working “on” Your Business:
- Setting Strategic Direction and Goals
- Making Progress on Accomplishing Strategic Goals
- Mentoring the Next Generation
- Writing a Business Plan
- Reviewing Key Financial Indicator Reports
- Succession Planning
- Continuing Education
- Long Term Marketing
- Developing Operational Best Practices
Working “in” Your Business:
- Meeting with Clients
- Producing the Building Design
- Managing the Project
- Invoicing Clients
- Paying Bills
- Driving the Proposal to the Prospect’s Office
- Visiting the Construction Site
- Writing Specifications
You may notice that the activities of working “on” the business are typically non-billable, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t as important or don’t positively impact the bottom line. In fact, they are some of the most valuable activities that you can engage in to become a more profitable and successful firm. As best said by business guru Stephen Covey, “Spending time on Important But Not Urgent activities is the Quadrant of Planning and Leadership.”
Now let’s address the bigger question–How much time should we spend in each category?
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer, such as spend 70% of your time working “on” your business and 30% “in” your business. Although, if I was pressed to give a number, I might generally start in this ballpark.
From my time spent as firm leader of an architectural firm, I understand that firm leaders rarely have the luxury of working entirely on their business. You simply can’t ignore pressing daily issues such as client requests, bringing in new business and managing cash flow. But we must realize that, the leader needs to champion setting time aside for strategic thought, setting a vision, building a welcoming culture, mentoring the next generation, and improving processes. If we don’t make it our priority, we can hardly expect it to be our team’s priority.
So, what can you do to achieve a better balance? Consider starting with these small steps:
- Make a list of your biggest pain points and ways to resolve them.
- Schedule a set day (or even half a day) every single week to work “on” your business. Make sure to set expectations with your team that you can’t be reached during that time.
- Hire a facilitator, gather key company data, and schedule a strategic planning retreat with your key staff.
Need a trusted partner to help get you started? Strategy, succession planning and operational improvement is what I’m passionate about doing for architectural, engineering and construction firms. Let’s get you spending more time working “on” your business!