"You're never 'too busy' to do something. You simply have other priorities." -Armen Stein (Microsoft Access MVP)
I was in a meeting with Armen Stein recently, and the above quote (paraphrased from memory) struck me as particularly insightful.
The topic came up in the context of taking on new client work. When we're in the middle of working on a large project, it's tempting to feel like the current project must be seen through to completion before starting on anything new. While that may be the case in some situations, that's a conclusion you should only arrive at after considering the alternatives.
When you say you're "too busy" to do something, what you're really saying is that the thing you are "too busy" to do is simply not that important to you.
West Point is one of the most difficult colleges to complete.
The classes themselves can be challenging, but there are other more academically rigorous universities one can attend. What sets West Point (and the other service academies) apart are all the other demands that get placed on your time. The administration liked to boast that their goal was to provide enough work to keep cadets busy for 25 hours every day. Even a midshipman can do the math and realize that it's not possible to do everything that's asked of you.
An important part of the West Point experience was identifying which one hour of requirements you could forego each day.
How you set your priorities is closely tied to your business strategy.
There is no right or wrong approach, per se, but there is a right and wrong approach for your unique situation. For example, if most of your revenue comes from selling a $20 software product, you better spend close to zero minutes supporting each new customer. The name of that game is SCALE, and you can't scale if you hand-hold every new customer.
On the other hand, if most of your revenue comes from selling $20K+ custom software projects, you can afford to spend a few hours making sure each new customer has a great onboarding experience.
For my own business, I have a few guidelines that I follow when prioritizing our work:
- Ground to a halt over ... every other issue
- Our fault over not our fault
- Hard deadlines over soft deadlines
- Long-time clients over new clients
Ground to a halt over every other issue
Many of the Microsoft Access applications we support are business-critical.
If the application does not work at all–e.g., a hard crash during startup–then some of our clients could have an entire department full of employees who cannot perform any aspect of their jobs. When this happens, we drop everything else and address the issue until the client is back up and running.
Our fault over not our fault
Consider this the "You break it, you bought it," guideline.
There are many reasons an Access application may need to be fixed:
- A bug that we introduced into the code
- Misunderstood requirements
- A change in a third-party dependency upon which the application relies
Here's a real-world example: sometimes an application needs to be changed because a third party updated the format of a data file. This type of third-party dependency issue–driven by events beyond our control–would get lower priority than a problem of our own making (e.g., a logic error in code that we wrote).
Hard deadlines over soft deadlines
Hard deadlines are those imposed by third parties over which the client has no control.
- A scheduled IRS audit
- Trade show
- Industry conference
- Statutory launch date (i.e., a date required by law)
Long-time clients over new clients
About two-thirds of our annual revenue comes from clients whose relationships we measure in decades rather than months or years.
While this is not a high-growth business model, it is one that has allowed us to avoid the feast-famine cycle inherent to most custom software consultancies. We've maintained these long-term relationships by never taking these clients for granted.
Your priorities will be different than mine.
The important thing is to recognize that every decision you make when managing your time is a result of how you set your priorities, whether that's done consciously or unconsciously. My challenge to you is to consciously think about what your priorities are and then apply them explicitly when making decisions about how you manage your time.
And remember, of course, that "you're never 'too busy' to do something. You simply have other priorities."