I’ve spent a lot of time lately reacquainting myself with my neglected business administration. A lot of time.
It’s all work that needs to be done. It’s tedious and time-hungry, but it’s important. So, each morning I’ve sat at my desk and attacked the task at hand, reassuring myself that my efforts are worth all the hours I’m not spending on my core business.
It took almost a whole week to catch up. It was a busy few days, and yes, I finished a lot of admin tasks. But was it a productive week? An effective week?
I love what I do. I love writing, I love learning about my client’s businesses, and I really love the fact that I have a job that lets me buy lots of office stationery. But I loathe admin.
At the end of that busy week, I had ticked most things off my long list of business administration tasks. I also had the red, scratchy eyes of a late night TV addict and the aching back and hair-trigger mood of a woman who had barely seen the light of day all week.
The high cost of busyness
What I didn't have was any significant progress on my creative or freelance projects, or the number of chargeable hours on my timesheet that I would have liked. My big week of catching up had cost me valuable productive working time, creative thinking time, time to take proper breaks and go for a walk in the sun (or hail, depending on the day), or even the flexibility to leave work a little early and surprise my kids with an after school trip to the beach.
At the end of that frustrating week, I met my financial adviser for our regular check in. Now, I am blessed to have this person in my life—she is insightful, knowledgeable and her wisdom and advice goes way beyond my financial life. After she listened to me moan about the scourge of admin, she gave me a brisk pep talk about managing my time and expectations and getting a grip on my productivity.
One bite at a time
I am a person who likes to work in chunks. I ‘need’ big allocations of time so I can immerse myself in a project and have uninterrupted hours to think and write. I also like to do things myself, so I can be sure they’re done properly (control freak that I am). But when I apply this approach to my admin, it works against me.
My adviser suggested some clever reworking of my weekly schedule by breaking up admin tasks into strategic steps, and then slotting them in my calendar in smaller time increments. (As this approach gave me a legitimate excuse to colour code my calendar and buy some new notebooks, I was all over it).
It was a simple adjustment with a powerful effect. But apart from immediately freeing up hours of my week to do creative, paid work, this exercise made me realise that I needed to take my control dial down a few notches. I needed to recognise which tasks were mine, and which I should be handing over to other professionals with the skills and time to do the job properly, and in less time.
Don't clean for the cleaner
Small business operators often feel like we have to do it all. But some aspects of our business are just not our strength. I certainly didn't start my business so I could spend whole days struggling with Excel spreadsheets, and yet, I spend hours on the wretched things, feeling compelled to perfect them before I send them off to my accountant. But, ahem, is that not precisely what my accountant is there to do for me?
The extreme version of this is the ‘cleaning for the cleaner’ phenomenon. I have many professional friends who are so ashamed of their untidy houses that they run around madly tidying it before their cleaner arrives. Which makes exactly NO sense.
My work often involves writing and editing e-newsletters and blogs for small businesses. For many of my clients, this task is their equivalent of my admin nightmare. It’s important, but it takes time away from their core business, it befuddles their minds, frustrates them and takes forever to complete. Consequently, it’s left to the last moment, or abandoned altogether.
This is of course where I come in. But even when a client has decided to outsource their blog or newsletter, they often feel that they need to put together a ‘good first draft’ before handing it over. And that first draft invariably means a time investment of many hours or even days.
How much do you really need to do?
Sometimes, when content is very technical or specific, this approach is necessary. But often, all a client really needs to give their copywriter is a topic, a few subheadings, some dot points (bad spelling and all), a couple of links and a quick phone conversation. It’s usually a lot easier and more productive for you to read a first draft that your copywriter has put together, and advise any changes you want, than struggling to come up with a draft yourself (that your writer then needs to fix).
Reclaim your time
The hours you would normally spend thinking, writing, screwing up and throwing paper in the bin, agonising, etc. etc., can then be directed to your core business. You free yourself to do what you do best, and hand over the stuff you don’t enjoy or do as well to someone who loves doing it, and has the skill to do it beautifully.
It’s productive, efficient and cost-effective, and the time you’re not wasting on writing your own blog or newsletter becomes available for work or pleasure—those far more important and enjoyable things that you can either charge for or be recharged by.