Question:
I am a small business owner/manager, and I just don’t have enough time in the day to do any future planning. I know this is important, but taking care of business now takes priority. You can’t tell a customer that you are planning for the future when problems and issues that need to be resolved are in the present and need to be handled here and now. What can I do to make time in the present to work on the future?

Answer:
Every business large or small has the same problem. It is the difference between working in the business (where priorities are set by what happens in the present) and working on the business (where priorities are set by you dividing time between what happens in the present and what you want to have happen in the future).

Large businesses have a crucial advantage over smaller businesses because they have the resources to put staff in place to handle daily operations and also provide additional personnel to work on future planning. But there is an answer for the smaller firm. It is to prepare your work day schedule in advance for both current and future issues and of course adhere to it despite disruptions.

To accomplish this, first list the most common disruptions you face in your daily work. They could include customer requests, orders, complaints, supply disruptions, financial issues, and/or personnel problems, among others. Second, list the things you want to accomplish in the future.

For the first list, which are basically routine daily issues develop a standard response such as processing an order and projecting delivery time, getting further information about other issues, acknowledging complaints. The need for a standard response is evident in the sense that it could be learned by another person in your business and while not a full answer to the issue, it enables progress toward a solution while you are occupied on future planning. Be sure to write down the process and also prepare a data entry form to be used by anyone working on the issue. These forms can later be used to track progress in resolving the issue.

For the second list, which is basically longer term issues of future plans and objectives, develop a time frame coupled with needed actions and long-term goals. Again, a data entry form would be useful to track progress in reaching the goals. You will want to track both the effort you can make over time and the results you expect.

The next step (and this might be the hardest of all) is to plan your day allowing time for effort on both list 1 (the routine) and list 2 (the future). Most important of all is to adhere to the schedule and to monitor your progress in doing so. Planning for the future requires a longer term perspective than a daily one, so having monthly goals requiring daily effort is optimal.

Small business usually have at least one and likely additional personnel available. The manager should pick a staff member to be responsible for both proactive work on daily issues to prevent problems and reactive work when problems do arise. The key always is for the manager to effectively balance daily routine issues and long-term issues simultaneously.

There is an old saying that the squeaky wheel gets attention. You need to make the future a squeaky wheel.

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