Martin Campbell is a serial entrepreneur and MD at award-winning startup Ormsby Street. He focuses on high-growth digital businesses and the use of technology across retail, commercial, finance and not-for-profit environments. Martin has worked with businesses in the UK and internationally and supports young entrepreneurs and startups through his mentoring and training work and his blog The Thoughtful Entrepreneur. In this blog post he recommends an approach to business requests that will help SME owners make better use of their time.
Of all the skills required to lead and run a small business, the one that seems to be both the most crucial and least talked about is personal organisation. At best, a business school education gives some thought to time management and perhaps to prioritisation, but these leave the small business leader completely unprepared for the fire hose of emails, phone calls, and things to do that are essential in running a small business in today’s digital world.
A reality check first: there are far more things “to do” than there are hours in the day, so simply writing tasks in a list isn’t going to work: You have to be OK with the fact that some things are not going to get done – ever. There’s a lot of theory around this, for example, the 80/20 rule says that 80% of the results come from 20% of the activity, which is great if you know which 20%. There are a lot of organisational systems available too, from quick list managers to full-blown GTD (getting things done) approaches, but for many small business leaders these seem to be either too simplistic, or too demanding and costly to implement effectively.
I therefore recommend an approach based on asking three questions of absolutely everything that shows up in your life – every email, phone call, person walking by who interrupts you and every piece of mail, which are:
- What is it?
- Who is it for?
- How do I feel about it?
Once you’ve answered those questions, and captured the answers in your list or organisational system, then you’re ready to decide what to do next to get your day (and business) moving.
1) What is it?
A lot of business communication today is very poorly put together and therefore not clear. When someone “just wanted to reach out” to you – are they singing a number by The Four Tops? Probably not – they’re asking for something. To understand their request, you need to ask what they are asking you to do (the task) and why they are asking you to do it (the big-picture job).
2) Who is it for?
When working with clients, colleagues or shareholders, it’s really easy to end up doing things that deliver more value to others than they do for you. A client might ask whether you can go the extra mile to deliver x, while a colleague might ask, “can you cover me while I…” You know the story. Being clear on why the other person wants you to do something as well as what’s in it for you is essential. If you’re doing something for a client and you don’t know why, then things are likely to come off the rails pretty soon!
3) How does it make you feel?
Good leaders have their own vision and values and are able to shape businesses and teams with clear direction about what should be done. In my experience, the way many leaders communicate with others can be through a clear mission and vision statement, but just as important is how they respond to what comes across their desk. The standards that you set with your colleagues don’t come from motivational posters on the wall, but from how you interact with them and understand what’s “OK” and what’s not.
When you get into the practice of asking these three questions, I’ll hope that you’ll find, as I have, that you’re able to use the framework to describe what your vision is, what it delivers for everyone concerned, and how it’s something that you can all feel good about.
A limited number of places on the “Three Questions” leadership programme at Edspace: Hackney Community College will be offered shortly via The Thoughtful Entrepreneur.
Ormsby Street is a Software-as-a-Service business based in Old Street, London. Formed in 2014, Ormsby Street is developing the next generation of financial data services for small businesses. Its team of high-performing product innovators and software engineers are quietly taking sophisticated financial information and turning it into a next-generation digital tool to help businesses make good decisions about customers, suppliers and themselves.