Busy Doesn’t Mean Productive

saving time working from homeA friend of mine who has owned her online clothing business for seven years starts each conversation with how busy and stressed she feels every day. She has a small staff, works crazy hours, and if she could hire someone to take bathroom breaks for her, she would.

Sleep isn’t one of the tasks on her To-Do list. She says that she can get by on four hours a night. In her world, the early bird catches the worm and annoys everyone around her who isn’t working half as hard as she works.

One day I convinced my friend to let me come to work with her on Bring Your daughter to Work Day. She doesn’t have a daughter, she’s tired of being tired, and I’m good at acting immature so there was no argument.

When I met her at her home office, I felt as if I was on a CSI mission without any murders to solve, no dead bodies to find, and no annoying “bum bum” sound between scenes.

I was determined to experience, first-hand, how someone can spend a ridiculous amount of hours in her home office every day, yet not accomplish anything. After only a few hours the issues were as clear as the glasses on one of her employees who thought they made her look more stylish. The issues included where she was wasting time, which habits were annoying her staff, and that she needed to explain to her staff what stylish means.

Giving my friend suggestions about where she needed to improve was about as comfortable as telling someone that the child she thinks is adorable and gifted, is actually a spoiled brat. Fortunately my friend was open to my suggestions.

Delegate.

My friend has a hard time letting go of tasks to the point of micromanaging. When she does delegate, she insists on doing most of the tasks herself or redoing whatever it is she has asked someone to do, like when my neighbor cleans up after her housekeeper leaves. I explained to her that delegating works well if you clearly explain what you want someone to do and then follow up near the deadline date. When someone knows you’re going to follow up, they’re more likely to follow through on any task you’ve given them.

Focus on the big picture.

My friend likes to obsess over small, insignificant tasks like making sure the shipping supplies are stacked by height and organizing the coffee area that her staff rarely uses. She’s so busy worrying about the little things that she rarely finds time to post the next week’s schedule until the weekend before. Her employees don’t know what hours they’re supposed to work during the next week until late Saturday. She’s finally agreed to create the schedule one week in advance and loosen up about the shipping supplies.

Listen to the experts.

My friend bought her company from a longtime friend of hers who wanted to retire somewhere warm. (Apparently, people in their 70’s don’t like to shovel snow or slip on ice.) Although he lives four states away, the former owner is always available to give her advice, share shortcuts and even do video chats to train her staff. She refuses his help because she wants to prove to herself that she can run the business on her own, like a toddler who says, “I do it myself.” When she realizes her stubbornness is costing her time and money, she’ll accept help when it’s offered and listen to someone with experience.

Train everyone to cover all positions.

She hasn’t taken the time to teach all of her employees how to log in orders, how to price items or even how to handle customer service issues. That means that she has to be available night and day and can’t take days off. (Her husband refers to her business as “the other man.”) When she finally trains each employee to cover any position and handle customer complaints, she’ll be able to take some time off to recharge.

I wasn’t sure whether or not giving my friend suggestions would help or hurt our friendship until the next time I saw her. For the first time in years she looked rested, seemed less stressed and best of all, didn’t say once that she was too busy or too stressed. She did mention, though, that I could update my wardrobe.

I think my friend is more open than I am to suggestions.

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