Impact verses ease – decision making
How do you decide what to do next? Sometimes being in business can feel like fighting one of those wild bushfires; forever beating back the flames trying to create that all elusive firebreak so that you have enough time to take stock and be strategic.
But how do you decide what to do next when everything is urgent and even worse everything is important! Or at least it seems that way. Small businesses often suffer from a lack of resources because usually it’s only the business owner and they are doing everything. It’s all very well those well-meaning (or even predator like) gurus suggesting that you outsource things, but lack of resources often includes a lack of financial resources to do that too. Business in the 21st-century is tough. We are in the deepest and longest economic slowdown for more than 80 years and many people find themselves in business because it’s the only option given the contraction of jobs in both the public and private sectors. There are countless business start up programs promising that you too can make money from your passion with little or no investment required and if you’ve gone into business on a shoestring, it’s often a long time before you have more than a shoestring to play with.
If this is you don’t give up hope. Remember success in business is almost as much about persistence as is about market demand. Fashions come and go and if you are able to stick around long enough you will eventually work out the right formula to pitch your products/services to get the response you desire and hundreds of buying customers.
In the meantime you need a good coping strategy; a system to decide where best to focus your efforts so that you get the optimum results in the fastest time. Permit me to share with you a model for decision making I came across which fast became my favourite. It assesses the relationship between effort and results, i.e. how easy it will be for you to accomplish something weighed up against how effective it will be in delivering the change/thing you need to achieve.
The steps are as follows:
- Set yourself a clear objective – be specific by using the SMARTER , (i.e. specific measurable, achievable, realistic time referenced, exciting and relevant) goal setting principle. This model works best if you are specific about what you want to achieve. Consequently the best way to use it is to have separate targets for different issues rather than trying to apply it for an overall aim or vision for your business.
- Generate as many ideas to achieve your objective as you can, or list all the activities you are currently fire fighting to achieve it. The more ideas the better, however remember to make sure they are focused on what you have set as your target.
- Next filter your list by giving each item on your list two scores. The first represents effort, how easy it will be to accomplish/do it and the other, the impact it will have on your business. Use a scale of 1 – 10; so for effort a score of 1 would mean it was easy/effortless, i.e. you could do it in your sleep. Whereas 10 would mean it would be extremely difficult or require a lot of effort; e.g. major planning, expertise you don’t yet have time, resources that are currently available, inputs from others that are not currently engaged etc. In terms of the impact, a score of 1 would mean that it wouldn’t make much of a difference in terms of achieving your target and 10 would be having a very big impact or achieving your target.
- Once you have scored all your options, the next step is to review them by placing each item in an impact/ease matrix: a score of 5 and below equals low impact or no effort and 6 and above, high impact or difficult to do.
Place each of your activities in a square on the grid, so something that scored 7 for ease and 4 for impact would go in box 4 and something that scored 3 for ease and 3 for impact would go in box 3.
Things that are in box 1 are by definition difficult to implement and high impact. Think of these as major projects that you might tackle one day; either because you acquire more resources in terms of time and/or money or you gain knowledge that make them easier to do so.
Those in box 2 are quick wins because they are easy and have a big impact. Items in box 3 are thankless tasks – things that at are difficult to do and have a small impact, i.e. they cost more in effort than the returns they bring in. Finally tasks in box 4 are what most people spend their time doing when they are overwhelmed; picking low hanging fruit. Although these tasks have a small impact on your business, they are easy to do so you may as well do them and get the benefit they offer. It’s akin to walking through an orchard and picking the fruit within your reach and eating it even though you aren’t actually hungry.
The magic of the system comes into play once you’ve put your tasks into the categories because the next step is to prioritise them using the grid. Things to do first are in box 2. The quick wins; you will have the biggest impact in the fastest time by doing these first.
Next move onto your low hanging fruit; these activities are easy to do so despite the fact that they only offer a small return, you may as well have the benefit. Major projects need preparation and planning, therefore you can move onto these after you have completed your quick wins and picked your low hanging fruit. Hopefully you will have identified ways to make the major projects easier to implement, but if not, at least you will have the confidence to tackle them because your success with your quick wins and low hanging fruit will spur you on to bigger challenges.
The activities in box 3 – thankless tasks, you never do. Indeed, screw up the paper they’re written on and throw them away! There is never any point in doing something that is difficult if there is an inverse relationship between how hard it is and the impact is going to deliver. This is what’s known as hitting your head against a brick wall in an attempt to knock it down. You may eventually achieve your goal. But boy there are a lot less painful ways of doing it.
How do you cope with the endless tasks in business? Please do leave a comment and share your tips.
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