Ever get that feeling as you lie awake in the middle of the night? Your mind starts racing and you can't fall back asleep. Questions and scenarios fly by as you toss and turn: What has to get done the next day; did that customer get billed; who will be where; does the crew have everything they need? You eventually drift back to sleep, but you're up again at 5 a.m., only to resume the same exhausting process. It's like the movie Groundhog Day, and you're the main character, doomed to repeat the scene again and again.
As your business grows, the challenges become more frequent and perhaps more serious. Add to this the likely fact that you're proud of what you do, and you want to do right for your customers.
I experienced these same feelings as I grew my own business. After many sleepless nights, a life-saving light bulb went off in my head. I realized that I lacked the necessary information to identify what I really needed solutions for. More times than not, my time, energy, and emotions were being consumed by the wrong and even imaginary challenges.
Now for the million-dollar question: Are you losing sleep because you're creating what-if solutions for what-if problems, or because you know the problems are real?
NEED TO KNOW To address these challenges at my business, I devised a simple theme: measurements. By knowing what I needed to measure, and how to measure those things, I could pinpoint the status of any activity within my business. As time passed, I refined this ability. I also learned to separate the key indicators that I really needed from the mountains of possible information I could collect.
Here are my suggestions for how you can apply this thinking to your business.
First, list what you will measure: the things you typically need to know and/or those that keep you up at night.
Second, identify your units of measurement: what you need to know about each item in order to establish its current status, as well as when and if it will be completed.
Third, decide how you will collect these units. If you have any intention of increasing your actual sleeping time each night, think beyond yourself. Who else on your team has this information or can be trained to collect it? I also suggest you arrange things so these facts come to you routinely, without your having to ask. They should be at your fingertips at the end of each day.
SPECULATIVE WORRYING Let's say it's Monday. Your lead carpenter is overseeing two projects. Here's what you need to know: Will the plumber and electrician be able to start one project on Thursday, as scheduled? Will there be enough money in the bank to cover payroll on Friday?
Here's what you need to know about these things: On the one project, will the framing and framing inspection be completed on Wednesday? That's essential for the plumber and electrician to start Thursday. On the other project, will the interior trim work and plaster be ready for painting by Wednesday? A significant progress payment is due at that “ready by” benchmark. You need to deposit the check that day, giving it time to clear and meet payroll on Friday.
Here's how you'll collect the information: At your Monday morning production meeting, you'll specify what you need to know from your lead carpenter and when. He'll agree to call the office at 3:30 each day to provide a current status on both items, and to confirm, or not, their completion by Wednesday. In addition, you'll tell your bookkeeper that the progress payment check must be deposited by 4 p.m. on Wednesday and why. She'll agree to give you the deposit receipt before she goes home that day.
This scenario cuts it pretty close; ideally, your company doesn't operate on such a tight financial schedule. But wouldn't you rather go to bed at night knowing you're in trouble, instead of wondering if you are? You might still wake up with lots on your mind, but you'll get back to sleep sooner if you're focused on actionable solutions for real challenges. — Shawn McCadden is a nationally known writer, speaker, trainer, and award-winning remodeler and home builder. He sold his Arlington, Mass.-based employee-managed design/build remodeling business in 2004; email@example.com.