Friday, August 17, 2007

Fighting Fires vs Focus

Where has the week gone?!? It seems like only yesterday that we were driving home from New Mexico. I guess it seemed to fly by because it was so busy.

On Monday I drove to Kansas to work at our business location there and to meet with a couple of customers. On Wednesday I returned home late and spent yesterday and today at our business location here in the Panhandle. After being off last week (although admittedly I did work some from home part of the time) I had a rather large pile of things that had accumulated while I was out of the office. I have been diligently checking items off of my "to do" list throughout the week and feel that I accomplished quite a lot -- but not everything that I had planned.

That "to do" list is critical to keeping me on task. I spend some time each morning reviewing items from the previous day, adding additional tasks that have popped up, and thinking about priorities so that I can organize my day in a fashion that moves me toward my goals. Without planning, it is easy to become sidetracked into tasks that need to be done, but may not be as important as other things. I rank my tasks according to priority -- I use a modified Franklin-Covey time management system. I always allocate some time for working on long-term projects that are not necessarily "critical" but are important to my long-term goals.

The daily "fires" can be a killer if you do not spend time on the things that will prevent the fires from occurring. The best way to describe that is to give an example from my past. In a previous job I was given the task of evaluating an operating distribution warehouse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I was to determine if it should remain open and if so, how it could be turned around from a loss situation to a profitable one. It was a disaster. The warehouse was disorganized, the products were not in assigned locations, the computer system was not set up to match the warehouse, the inventory was off by several hundred thousand dollars, and the employees had no clue what to do. They were working 14 hour days in survival mode.

The "fires" were to get products out the door to meet the orders that were coming in on a daily basis. The solution was to get the warehouse and computer system in order and the employees properly trained. It took almost 3 months to get everything lined out and functioning on a reasonable basis. Then it was a matter of "trimming" the operation so that it became more efficient. I focused on the most important factor in the situation -- correcting the issues in the warehouse. Piece by piece, as the "operating system" was corrected, the fires began to disappear.

While correcting the warehouse operations I also had to work with the salesmen to adjust how they were working their territories. They were doing everything backward. Without going into detail, we turned the division completely around in less than two years. It went from a loss of approximately $350,000/year to a profit of over $400,000/year in that two year time frame just by re-focusing everyone's efforts.

My point is that when you focus on the deep issues -- the things that will move you toward your goals -- the panic response to daily fires disappears. That doesn't mean the occasional issues won't come up, but they become fewer and much farther between.


Ranando said...

You must always stay focused on your goals. I like to imagine myself already at my goal, then I work backwards to put my plan into effect. Follow the plan and before you know it, you're there.

I think of business plans this way:

If someone was to take your child, there's nothing you wouldn't do to get your child back, as long as it's legal.

My busines is my child and there's nothing I wouldn't do to help it succeed, as long as it's legal.

Failure is not an option

Anonymous said...

Here's my scheme for dealing with annoying projects thought up by people and then dumped on me. First, take the project and put it in a folder, and throw the folder in a cardboard box. Wait to see if you ever hear of it again. Usually you won't. If you do, get it out, tell the instigator you are "looking it over." Wait to see if he asks about it again. If not, throw it away. If it comes up again, then gen something up that is hard to understand and pass it back. Usually these things come from some dimwit who just wanted to be able to go to a meeting and say he made a suggestion anyway.

CDO said...

Sometimes it is difficult to stay on task. Sometimes It is difficult to take care of the little things that have to be done, when the big things keep overwhelming. Sometimes it is best to "paint the closet" first. Because if we keep painting the big rooms we may never get the closets painted.

Something that I do to try to keep the mind free on weekends so that I can concentrate on family time and down time is every Friday before leaving work my last task is to review and re-write the to do list. When I do this I make notes about each task and priortize it the way it is at that time. As much detail as necessary is put on that list. This gives me the opportunity to walk out of the office knowing that on Monday morning I can walk back in and with a quick read, I can pick back up on the items right where I was on Friday.

I have found this very useful the older and more forgetful I get. This way, I do not have to think about it at all over the weekend with fear that I will forget something, because it is all written down on my desk.

Wow - why did I have to say all of that.

Guess it was for me!