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Business or Busy-ness?

Small businesses, by their very nature, are made up of just a few staff members. Each one of the team has a role to play in the company (or more often than not, various roles) and a series of tasks they do on a regular basis.

For example, John is an accountant, with a team of ten spread across two offices in different areas of the city. He has a secretary in each office (Jane and Jill), as well as several book-keepers, advisors and other staff members who work on client accounts for him. Great, right? Well, most of the time…

All too often John and his team will find themselves ‘fighting fires’. What I mean by that is that they will come up against a series of challenges every day, which they deal with as and when they arise. The exact method of dealing with each situation will vary from person to person, and generally be forgotten until it has to be addressed by a different member of staff at some point in the future. Bob solves a problem for Client A in his own way in January, and Bill solves the same problem in his own way in June for Client B.

What this essentially results in is inefficiency and frustration. Inefficiency, because each one of the team is working in isolation to resolve something that has probably been done multiple times in the past. And frustration, because when you are ‘fighting fires’, the forest simply cannot grow, much less allow you time to appreciate its beauty.

What’s sad is that this is the modus operandi of the large majority of small businesses everywhere. Their owners or directors have little time to see the bigger picture, as they are bogged down with the daily minutiae of business-as-usual, often working amazingly long hours just to keep up.


Sound uncomfortably familiar?

It certainly was how Aflua functioned in the early days of our business. We built websites and helped brand companies, each time using an approach which was different, depending on the designer or manager who lead the project.

Our invoicing, accounting and all the other ‘behind the scenes’ activity was largely ad hoc and problems were solved by whoever had the time, in the way they saw fit. Our bottom line seemed to remain unchanged by throwing increasingly long hours at the work to be done.

Then, early in 2011, I discovered a book that was to change all that, and take us to a different mindset altogether.


Work the System

Despite its rather dubious title, ‘Work the System’ by Sam Carpenter outlines, in exact steps, how to systematise your business tasks to avoid the “busy work” and delegate tasks to other team members or employees with complete confidence.

In the words of the book:

[blockquote author=””] “…Carpenter reveals a profound insight and the exact uncomplicated, mechanical steps he took to turn his business and life around without turning it inside out. Once you “get” this new vision, success and serenity will come easily for you, too.” [/blockquote]

Essentially what Sam proposes is a method for dissecting and documenting your business so that the proverbial ‘man off the street’ could follow them. He defines five steps for doing this:

  1. Make the various systems consciously visible.
  2. One at a time, bring them to the foreground for examination.
  3. Adjust them.
  4. Document them.
  5. Maintain them.

Apart from the obvious benefits associated with clearing up any ambiguity around your processes so that your team members can carry each one out effectively and efficiently, there are hidden benefits to undertaking this exercise too, as we have found at Aflua.

The mere act of systematically surfacing the different actions you take every day in your company and defining them as part of a larger system makes you aware of them, and able to analyse and improve on them over time.

And time is a key factor here: many reading this will be thinking, “how can I possibly give up the time to do all this documentation, I have work to do!” Reverse the idea in your head for just one minute – maybe you are so busy precisely because you lack the documentation to enable you to delegate the simpler tasks of your business out to others.

Do you work on your business, or are you just working in the busy-ness?


Action steps:

I highly recommend you take a look at the Work the System Academy, which will drive your success to a whole new level.

Also, you can get a free copy of the book over at

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