When the Unnecessary Becomes Urgent

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It’s no secret that every entrepreneur has parts of their business that they thoroughly enjoy and others that they dislike.   The activities we gravitate towards are in our wheelhouse, we excel at them, they bring us joy, and we are usually able to see results or the promise of results  in a short time.

But then, there are those activities/responsibilities that we keep pushing to the bottom of the the “To Do” list. Maybe we don’t like to do them, they bore us, our knowledge in that area may be limited, or we just hate spending our time doing them.  Strangely, they almost never make it on our list of things that I must get done today.   They are often not the critical components of our business that make it run or generate immediate revenue. (If they are, maybe we are in the wrong business).

We have three storage units that we use to store props, scenery components, and equipment for Masterworks School of the Arts.  They are piled from floor to ceiling, from corner to corner with “stuff!”   They’re my least favorite place to visit but they save us a ton of money and time not having to rebuild and recreate scenery and props that we use routinely.  I hate going there because no matter how many times we clean them out,  the units always seem like they are  a mess.  I don’t enjoy organizing them, I don’t enjoy cataloging them, and I usually come away with bumps, bruises, and nail scrapes because they are crowded and unruly.  But because they are not crucial to our daily operation I can conveniently ignore them 99% of the time.

Several years ago one of my employees told me to stop worrying about the storage units.  She said that was an insignificant area of the business for the owner to have to supervise.  She wanted to take that load off my mind after a production.  She said her gift was creating order out of chaos.  She loved it!!  Getting the three units in shape was her dream job.

Relieved,  I thanked her profusely and told her to go for it.  Whenever we had sets and props from a musical she would volunteer to take them to storage.  It was great.  I thought about it but never checked up or got actively involved in the situation.

Then it happened.  One day we had a concert and needed a piece of sound equipment from storage.  Though I was in dress clothes I said I would run and get it.  The staff told me they needed it back in the building and set up in 30 minutes.  I went to storage and popped open the door to unit 1.

As the door went up stuff came falling down and out on the street everywhere.  Scenery pieces fell.  Paint cans began rolling out of the unit as they were knocked over by the falling scenery. Two popped open and purple and lime green paint came oozing out all over the ground which I stepped in while trying to grab something that was falling towards me.   One piece of scenery lined with 3 inch light bulbs crashed to the ground outside the unit  and all the lights shattered.  For what seemed like an eternity, things kept shifting, moving, crashing, breaking and spilling. It was like a scene from Candid Camera and Poltergeist at the same time.

As best I could figure out,  for a year my employee had just stuffed everything in the unit and forced the door shut.  I was sure there had to be a camera from the show “Hoarders” filming this incredible mess.  Not only did I need to clean the mess up, and get the door closed, I had to find the piece of sound equipment I needed.  Yep, I was feeling all the emotions you are thinking.

As I processed the “event” I realized I really didn’t have the right to blame all of this on my employee and that I really needed to face areas of my business that I don’t like to do.  (Besides she had already left our company almost a month before.  I think she knew at some point I would open that door. )  I had delegated something that was in my area of responsibility because I just didn’t want to deal with it. I didn’t like doing it, and it brought me no joy.  Besides,  it wasn’t something that was important in the daily running of the business.  But left unattended, left unmanaged, at some point it was inevitable that there would come a cataclysmic, ugly, messy event.   When I needed something  in a hurry, that seeming insignificant area became a huge, annoying, pain in the neck deal.

I learned a few things that day.  Begrudgingly I  have had to change  the way I structure my day and the way I handle those off-the-radar and unnecessary activities/responsibilities.

First, I had to face what really happens when I  ignore undesirable responsibilities:

   *Ignoring areas of our business that are out of sight and out of mind usually wind up creating a situation that is  out of control. (On a smaller scale think my storage unit, on a big scale think Enron when the management didn’t pay attention to those working for them.)

   *Ignored areas cause a sense of unease because somewhere  in the back of our minds we know that something is probably not the way it should be.

   *Ignored areas create insecurity in our minds about the future of our business.  We know they are there so we know we never have a full 360 degree picture of where we are.

   * Ignored responsibilities usually  surface and create a  crisis situation at the most inopportune time.

   *Because an area is ignored doesn’t  mean it is  unimportant.

   *Ignoring these areas leads to a “buildup” in the area.  Buildups lead to emergencies, emergencies lead to catastrophies.  Catastrophies cost dearly in money and time.

   *Acknowledge that there are areas of every business, parts of every process, that we don’t enjoy.

In the days past my “Hoarders” experience I did a couple of things:

   *Make a physical list of  activities you can ignore but you should still know about or accomplish.  Mine has four areas.

   *Work in one of those areas for at least an hour each week. I make sure I give them a solid hour of uninterrupted time so I get a real handle on them.  The relief you feel will be noticeable.

   *I try to be honest with myself and admit that they are there and that I don’t like them and in some cases have limited expertise in that area.

   *Even if I delegate the responsibilities out, I still actively monitor the situation.

I haven’t arrived in this area…yet!  But I am slowly making progress. I lose less sleep wondering about off-the-radar areas.  My 360 degree picture of my businesses is much clearer.  Most importantly, I don’t tend to get lime green and purple paint all over my shoes at inopportune times!

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