Hey there, this is Julie Bee, and you’re listening to They Don’t Teach THIS in Business School. Welcome, and thanks for being here!
I’ve recently started interviewing other business owners for this podcast, and one question I ask all of them is what they think future business owners and entrepreneurs need to learn in business school. It’s not a jab at business schools, but it’s more about highlighting lessons that are only learned through experience.
I realized that I haven’t answered that question yet, so that’s what this episode is about. If I had the opportunity to influence the academia of business schools, the one thing I would suggest they teach is this.
How to distinguish between urgent work and important work.
Urgent work, especially for business owners, often shows up like a fire. There’s a common phrase in the business owner world – putting out fires. I know many business owners who operate in a state of constantly putting out fires. I’ve been someone who has done that, too.
And listen, sometimes business owners will go through a period of putting out fires constantly. It’s the nature of the game. But the other side of this challenge is that when business owners are constantly putting out fires, they’re usually NOT focused on the important work they need to do. Because the important work, the work that helps a business grow and innovate, is rarely a fire.
If you can’t update your website today or tomorrow with new messaging that will drive new business, because a client or an employee has an urgent need, it’s probably ok. It’s only a couple of days.
But if you can’t ever get that new website launched, the one that will help you grow your business, because you’re constantly putting out client fires or dealing with people or process problems, then it’s time to examine how you work.
I think part of a business owner’s job will always have an element of firefighting to it. But as a business grows, the business owner must grow with it. Part of that growth is making sure that a lot of your time is invested in those things that will propel the business forward – and that rarely comes from putting out a fire.
Urgent work still has to get done, but over time, the business owner should see less urgent work land on their plate. You build teams, processes, and automations that can handle a lot of that urgent work.
Hey, this is Julie Bee, and you’re listening to They Don’t Teach This in Business School. In today’s episode I’m talking about urgent versus important work, and how a lot of business owners spend most of their days putting out fires.
If you’re constantly putting out fires, there are a few areas to examine for possible improvement. First, ask yourself if you are micromanaging. If you are, that’s the place to start. Next, look at your standard operating procedures and ask if they are complete. Could your team or someone else run the business based on the existing procedures? If not, update your procedures so that you can rely on them to run your business.
You can also implement automations that may help prevent fires in the first place.
And finally, the most important thing I think is asking yourself why YOU are the one who puts out the fire – especially if you have a team. If you don’t trust your team, work on that – the process documentation will help. Or, you may need a different team in place.
But some business owners continue their role as chief firefighter because it is comfortable for them. It sounds counterintuitive, but a lot of business owners would rather put out fires than dedicate time to the important work that will grow their business.
Why? Because the fires are easy for them to deal with – they have a lot of practice. They know what to do. Some people even like the chaos.
The important work,though…the work the business owners put off while dealing with fires…that work is often uncomfortable. Challenging. Sometimes scary. It’s uncertain. Sometimes it’s unclear.
And working on that important work is what separates a business owner who is a good manager from a business owner who becomes a great leader.
For the business to grow, the business owner has to eventually become a leader. Part of being that leader is knowing what work you need to work on that will benefit the entire company – and then doing that work. That requires the business owner to stop putting out all the fires and focus on important, business-changing work, even when that work is uncomfortable, has a lot of unknowns surrounding it, or carries a lot of risk.
Because that work is what makes a good business a great one.
I’m Julie Bee, and thank you for listening to this episode of They Don’t Teach This in Business School.