Monday, March 21, 2016

Are you an actor or a reactor?

Are you a reactor?
Photo by Torley/Creative Commons
Act or react.  "Act," according to Dictionary.com, "the process of doing," "a formal decision."  "React," according to the same source, is "to respond."  One is affirmative action, a decision we make inside.  The other is in reference to something outside of ourselves.  Business decisions should almost always be made as an affirmative action, not as a reaction, yet most entrepreneurs (both small businesses and freelancers) find themselves spending most of their days reaction rather than acting.

Or are you an actor?
Photo by moussemaker
Creative Commons
In your daily business life, how much do you react to situations rather than acting based on available information and after consideration?  Most of us react first.  The problem with that is that reacting doesn't move your business forward; it keeps you stuck "putting out fires," instead of setting the world on fire with your ideas.  When you react, you're actually acting out of fear, regardless of what you're reacting to.  Your spouse makes a wise crack and you react with a nasty comment of your own because you've been offended, afraid your ego is under attack.  A client calls with an emergency because you made a mistake; you react by rushing around and groveling because you're afraid of losing the client.

One of the best ways to get out of the "react" mode is to have robust processes in place for your business and personal lives.  Another way to look at "process" is to think "routine."  Without routines, your business will flounder.  For example, Evan and Pete are both small business owners; both are plumbers.  They live in the same area and have been in business the same amount of time, yet Pete is more prosperous than Evan.  Why?  Because Pete has a plan.  Every day, he starts out by putting together his to-do list, reviewing his email and his phone messages and reading an industry journal or two.  

Evan, on the other hand, jumps out of bed, showers and heads into the office.  By the time he gets there, he's already frazzled because he was listening to his voice mails on the way in.  There were two angry customers he had to deal with first thing and his office admin called the night before to say she had the flu and wouldn't be in.  Already, Evan feels like he's behind and the day hasn't really started.

Pete has a messaging service that takes calls at night and on weekends and a backup plumber who handles calls when Pete isn't working; he schedules an on-call night each week and every other weekend, but he also schedules time for himself and his family.  

Evan just has voice mail and he was up all night the night before because a customer called with a backed up toilet he had to fix at 2am.  He feels like he's always on a treadmill set on the highest speed because he never gets a good night's sleep, his marriage is falling apart and he never sees his kids due to not having a plan.

You can see the toll being "reactive" is having on Evan, while Pete has a plan in place, a process, that helps him see what he's got ahead of him for the day.  Evan feels out of control because he has no idea what's coming up until someone calls him.  When Pete gets into the office, even if there's a fire, he knows what his most important tasks are for the day because he has done his to-do list and included his top three things he needed to get done that day, including scheduled time for a Chamber of Commerce luncheon.  Pete is in control of his day; Evan is not in control of anything.

You might ask, though, "What if there's an emergency?  And it always seems there's an emergency?"  First, if everything is an emergency, then nothing is an emergency.  Yes, there are going to be times when things don't go the way you planned, but by having a process in place to handle those emergencies, you can address them calmly, with thought and consideration, instead of reacting, which often leads to mistakes and hurt feelings.

Here are my top tips for acting with intention rather than reacting from fear:
  • There will always be mistakes.  Face it - we're human.  There are always going to be mistakes.  Of course, we want to do everything possible to avoid them, but by having a plan in place for when something does go wrong, you'll be able to address it calmly.  For instance, if a client doesn't like what you've given them, do you have a plan?  Do you give their money back?  Do you give them part of their money back?  Or do you run around like a chicken with your head cut off, scrambling for a solution? 
  • Make a to-do list  EVERY DAY.  The best way to keep control of things is to start and end your day with a to-do list; if you don't have a good one, I have some in my Time Management Toolkit, which is available for free for signing up for my newsletter.  Hand-write your to-do list; it'll get it into your mind better and you'll feel more accomplished when you finish each item.  Keep your number of to-dos down to three or four most important things  you need to do that day, other than your meetings, so you'll have time in case there is an issue.
  • Have it in writing.  In the case of Pete and Evan, Pete had his company policies in his ads and in the information he gave to his clients.  Everything was done electronically, from the setting of appointments to bidding and contracting to invoicing and payments.  Evan did everything by hand and just kind of winged it, bidding something different for each client because, well, he didn't have a price sheet written out and just charged what he needed for that day.
  • Plan and set goals.  Where do you want your business to go in the next week, the next 30 days, the next six months, the next year?  If you don't have a plan or goals set for short and long-term, you'll be like a row boat that's been cast adrift in the ocean; goals make up your ocean liner with a clear navigated course you're heading toward.
What about you - are you a reactor or an actor?  Remember that a reactor makes everyone nervous because you never know when it'll blow.  An actor makes people smile.  If you're feeling overwhelmed or need help setting up processes and routines, let me know; that's my specialty as a business coach.

Tomorrow, on Tool Tuesday, we'll take a look at scheduling/calendaring apps and programs.