“I just wish my dad was around more,” said my daughter Pam to her 7th-grade teacher. When my wife, Natalie, heard this during a parent conference, she said, “My husband is the only dad in the back of the room doing things like videoing her shows and recitals.”
But when Natalie told me what Pam said, I thought to myself, “Ouch.” The reason is I thought being at every dance recital with my big camcorder was enough. My daughter saw through me, though.
The problem was I was there in body, but my mind was on work, specifically my family’s plumbing, heating, cooling and now electrical contracting business. The video camera caught what was going on, but if you’d asked me the details after the show, I couldn’t have told you. I was too busy thinking about the disgruntled customer I had just come from and who I needed to call back or go see after the show was over.
Vacations? Forget it. My wife and I would go someplace nice and my cell phone would ring again and again. It was not relaxing. And then there was the big backlog of work that would take me a week to get through once we got back.
One day, the stuff hit the fan. The chaos I was accepting day after day was hurting me and everyone around me. I had to get my life back. I needed to put systems and processes into place at my company so my staff could handle more on their own (the way I would do it).
Also, I wanted to be able to delegate responsibilities to others in a way where stuff actually gets done and doesn’t boomerang and land back on my plate.
So, I went home and made my wife a promise. I said, “For the next two years, I will be around even less than I am now and you deserve to know why.
“I’m going to finally document the policies and procedures for everyone at the company so they can know how to do their job. I’m going to train young, willing people and provide the skills and a career path. It’ll take building a hands-on training center and writing a training curriculum. It will be nights and weekends of teaching — but once I get things into place, we will be able to go on vacation without interruption.”
To this day, I don’t know why I picked two years, but it was exactly that. We were sitting on the beach drinking margaritas and nobody called. I turned to my wife and said, “Notice the phone isn’t ringing?” She smiled and lifted her drink for a celebratory toast.
I was a man with a plan; no one was going to stop me from that uninterrupted vacation we envisioned.
Bite the bullet
So, where did I find the time? Part of it was just working more during the week and on weekends. But I also got smart and hired a professional writer with industry experience to help me and that accelerated the process.
I also got better at defending my boundaries at work. I told my staff that unless the building was literally burning down, I was not to be disturbed during a certain part of my day, which I dedicated to getting systems and processes into my company.
If this sounds daunting, you’re right. It was hard. And it will be for you, too. But unless you bite the bullet and do this now, you will be on this spinning hamster wheel for the rest of your life. What I want you to do instead is stop and direct some serious time, energy and money into sharpening your ax by implementing systems and processes because it will make your life going forward so much easier.
The other thing I did was get aggressive about managing my time. Here are five things you can do:
1. Find out where your time is really going: For one week, write down everything you do from the time you get to work to the time you go home. Full disclosure: After three days, I was so horrified I had to stop and make some changes!
2. Practice time-blocking: Set aside two hours of undisturbed time to work on your systems and processes at least once a week. Aggressively protect this time. Shut the door, turn off email, draw the blinds, pull up your systems document and go. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get done in two uninterrupted hours.
3. Consolidate your personal and professional calendars: You need to see everything in one place to understand what’s on your plate. Put the time you plan to spend working on getting your life back on your calendar even if you move it because if it’s not written on your calendar, it is not real and it will not get done.
4. Prioritize action over perfection: I finally learned to say to myself at the end of a long day: “Good enough for today. This is going into place. I can always make it better down the road.” Done is better than perfect. My car that’s on the road will always beat your perfect car that never gets out of the garage.
5. Stop dumping and start learning how to delegate properly: It will involve developing specific steps that people you hand things off to can follow: exactly what you want to be done, what outcome you expect, what resources are available and what happens if they drop the ball. It’s what I teach clients; it’s called the Steps of Delegation and it is always done in writing.
Here’s what I’ve heard: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Start now. There’s an uninterrupted vacation in your future.