I have been dealing with some organizational issues lately. Here is something that has really helped me that I ran across at Verve Coaching blog. They did an excellent job so I want them to get credit.
This week, I want to take a closer look at how small business owners and executives can implement and manage these operational protocols, once they’re created.
The single most important tool for implementing and managing your operational protocols is a calendar. The smooth operator’s calendar is a highly functional, readily accessible, and easily updated structure for managing all things that occur in time. More than just a list of dates and appointments, the smooth operator’s calendar serves up reminders for all tasks that must be completed according to a schedule, and aids in the allocation of time for the workload at hand.
Think of it like an external hard drive for the brain. Our brains provide us with a certain amount of on-board memory, or mental resources, which we can allocate in whichever way we choose. All too often, people in leadership allocate a disproportionately large amount of “memory” for two very simple processes:
- Remembering what there is to do at any given time
- Worrying about forgetting to do something
These two processes together waste tons of mental energy. The smooth operator’s calendar offloads this work to an external structure, freeing up oodles of brain space for higher level functions, like communication, strategic thinking, and creative problem solving.
In order for a calendar to function well in this capacity, it has to have certain characteristics. A simple hanging wall calendar will not suffice. A day planner is slightly more functional, but it’s still very limited in its functionality. The best calendars I’ve seen are software programs like Microsoft Outlook, iCal, or Google Calendar.
All of these programs offer features which I consider essential to any smooth operator’s calendar. Namely, the ability to edit or reschedule events quickly and easily with the click of a mouse, the ability to schedule reminders and alerts, the ability to change views (for example, from one day at a time, to weekly or monthly), and the ability to sync up to mobile devices.
Why does all this matter, and what do calendars have to do with operational protocols, anyway?
The answer is simple. Operational protocols address the what’s, when’s, and how’s of running your business smoothly and effectively, but they only make a difference to the extent that they’re followed. To reap the full benefit of having well-documented operating protocols, you have to be able to “walk the walk”, not just “talk the “talk”!
By providing a structure that tells you what needs to be done (according to protocol) at any given time, a calendar makes it possible to run your business according to your standard practices and procedures, without having to constantly remember what to do, or worry about whether or not it’s getting done.
In part two of “The Smooth Operator’s Calendar”, I’ll provide some specific coaching on how to set up your calendar in a way that best supports the fulfillment of all of your operating protocols.
By providing a structure that tells you what needs to be done at any given time, a good calendar makes it possible to run your business according to your standard operating procedures or protocols, without having to constantly remember what to do, or worry about whether or not it’s getting done.
Operating protocols are designed to ensure the completion of important tasks related to the smooth and consistent operation of your business.
These tasks occur in time, just like anything else that requires doing. In other words, if I were to draw a timeline representing all of the tasks related to a particular area of my business over the course of a week, you would see that many of these tasks must be performed at specific times (1p daily), or at specific intervals of time (daily, weekly, etc.). In addition, you would see that each task requires some amount of time to complete. Anything that gets done requires time.
So, there are two fundamental principles to follow when using your calendar:
First, tasks related to the consistent operation of your business must be performed at regular intervals, and second, anything you do requires an allocation of some amount of time.
While these principles may be common sense for most people, most people are also guilty of ignoring them on a regular basis. For example, who among us can say they’ve never scheduled some task in their calendar, but neglected to consider the time it takes to actually do what they scheduled? The guilty are many, and the innocent are few!
For anyone with a full plate, this kind of scheduling problem throws a big wrench in the work plan. When things don’t get done according to schedule, they get brushed aside, ignored, shoveled onto tomorrow’s schedule, or added to some list that ends up being promptly misplaced.
Smooth operators are masters of their own time. They schedule all tasks related to standard operating protocol in their calendars, and they block off appropriately sized chunks of time in their calendars to complete the tasks they’ve scheduled.
Here are some guidelines on how to use your calendar to ensure the smooth and consistent operation of your business, and the best possible allocation of your time:
- Assuming you’ve already spent some time documenting your operational protocols, go back through everything you’ve documented and make a list of all the different “things to do” that show up in your documentation.
- Next to each “thing to do”, make a note of how often that thing needs to be done (hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.).
- Next to each “thing to do”, make a note of how much time it usually takes to do the thing.
- Go to your calendar (Outlook, iCal, or Google Calendar) and start plugging in (creating appointments for) all the things you need to do, one item at a time.
- As you add items to your calendar, think strategically. Think about the flow of work, and any additional resources required for each item. Try to find the optimal days/times for each item. For example, if you’ve scheduled time to go to the bank and drop off the deposit, and there happens to be a dry cleaner next door, schedule “drop off/pick up dry cleaning” for the adjacent time slot. Think about what makes the most sense, and what constitutes the most efficient use of time.
- Make sure each item in your calendar is scheduled to take up as much time as is necessary to complete the task, OR, to attain the desired level of completion (if the item will take more than one appointment to complete).
- Use your calendar software to schedule an alarm or reminder for every item you add to your calendar. The louder, more visible, and more annoying your reminders are, the better they will work.
- Always leave free blocks of time in your calendar to allow for interruptions, unexpected appointments, or shifting priorities. If you’re calendar is completely full all of the time, these unexpected occurrences will throw you off schedule and stress you out. You need to be able to shift things around at a moment’s notice without getting too far off track.
- Particularly where operating protocols are concerned, make sure that every regularly occurring task that you’re responsible for is entered as an item in your calendar as a recurring appointment. If anything is missing from your calendar, your mind will continue to manage it, which means more energy spent unnecessarily on remembering what to do and worrying about whether or not you forgot anything.
There are an endless number of tricks and strategies for effectively managing your calendar. The handful I just described are specifically aimed at helping you implement and manage operational protocols for your small business.
I think it’s also important to mention that for most businesses staffed by more than one person, all of the tasks related to standard operation are distributed amongst the staff members. This means that contrary to my advice in the list above, if you manage or lead other people, your calendar will not contain all of the tasks related to operational protocols. Your calendar will contain all of the tasks related to operational protocols for which YOU are directly responsible, AND, all of the tasks related to managing your staff. Your staff’s calendars will contain the tasks related to operational protocols for which THEY are directly responsible.
I hope this series on the Smooth Operator’s Calendar has been useful! If you have any questions about setting up or using a calendar to manage operational protocols for your small business, please leave a comment on this post and I’ll respond. Otherwise, here’s wishing you a smooth operation!