Strategic Work: One Step At a Time

2008 | Jul 23 in Management

By Susan Weber,

Once you’ve made the decision to work on your business instead of just in your business you’ll be brimming with excitement. It’s extremely empowering to make the decision to take action and build a company that fulfills your entrepreneurial vision. You might also feel slightly overwhelmed, especially if—up until now—you’ve been focused on the day-to-day work of a Technician.

But hear us: do not lose your enthusiasm! You can do it. As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and your business won’t be built in a day either. The important thing is to keep the momentum, keep focused and keep moving forward.

Baby Steps are Better than Nothing

Sometimes the best—and only—option is to take incremental steps toward your goal. For example, how many of us have flirted with the idea of regular exercise? Although experts recommend 30 minutes of physical activity each day, not many of us do it. We know exercise is good for us, we know we should do it—but time is precious and 30 minutes a day can feel like a huge commitment.

But did you know that the same experts also tell us that three 10-minute sessions are just as effective as a single, 30-minute workout? When you think about it, three smaller workouts seem a lot less daunting, and are much easier to fit into your busy day. Simple things like taking the stairs instead of an elevator or parking in the spot farthest away from your destination provide the opportunity to get those 10 minutes of exercise.

This incremental approach can serve you in business as well. In this article series, we’ll take a look at how strategic work can be done incrementally with powerful results.

Making the Most of Your Time

One of the issues you’ll face as you shift your perspective away from the Technician and into the role of the Entrepreneur is time management. Now that you’re working on your business, you need to make time to do the strategic work of the business, and this can be difficult at first.

The first step is to free up some time. Here are a few things you can do right away to manage your time and allow for the crucial strategic-thinking time you need to take your business to the next level of success.

Take Control of Your To-Do List

What does your to-do list look like? If it’s overwhelming, you’ll kill your motivation before you even get started!

Step 1: Organize

The first thing you can do is decide which items on your to-do list are strategic in nature, which ones are managerial, and which ones are purely technical. If your list has too many technical tasks on it, it’s an indicator that you need to do some prioritizing.

Step 2: Prioritize

If you can’t scratch the managerial or tactical items off your list right away, a good first step is to find a balance. Try identifying one strategic, one managerial, and one tactical item to accomplish today and focus only on those. Eventually, you’ll learn to identify the strategic tasks and it will become easier to move those up on your priority list.

Step 3: Book It

Once you’ve identified your priority list, set aside time on your calendar to work on them. Tasks that you want to accomplish must be scheduled or your will never find the time to work on them. At E-Myth we post “Do Not Disturb” signs so we are not interrupted while we’re focusing on our strategic work. It’s okay to let your staff know that you need some undisturbed time—sometimes it’s the only way to get strategic work done. And once you’ve accomplished your three to-do items, go take a 10-minute walk around the block to celebrate and get 30% of your exercise for the day!

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

One of the group workshops in the Embark Live™ program, “Effective Time Management” is all about the process of keeping a Time Log. A time log enables you to learn how your time is actually spent, and will allow you to put a value that time. The process shows you just how expensive you are to employ. That’s because you’re probably doing a lot of technical work that you could pay somebody else to do—just as well—for less money.

If you keep doing all the little daily tasks that you’ve always done, then you’ll forever be trapped doing them and never free up the time to work on your business. Take a look at all the tasks on your to-do list that you’ve flagged as technical and ask yourself, “Does this really need to be done?” and then, “If it has to be done, can it be done by somebody else?”

If letting go of these tasks is scary to you (and sometimes it is, especially if you’ve always done it and have your own particular way of doing it) then try baby steps.

  • Identify a small task that you want to delegate.
  • Document the correct way to perform this task, step by step, including the quality control standards for each step. At E-Myth we call this type of system document an Action Plan. Click here to see our 'Coffee-Making Action Plan'.
  • Have someone follow your Action Plan. Then be ready to revise your document, until you and your tester are comfortable with the newly documented system.
  • When the new system document is ready, give it to the employee responsible for that task, and insert a copy into your company's Operations Manual . Your collection of system documents (action plans) will form the backbone of a functioning Operations Manual.
  • Repeat these steps on the next task.

Some people, like our friend Tim Ferris, author of “The Four Hour Workweek”, take delegation to a whole new level by outsourcing tasks and errands to virtual assistants.

However you decide to go about it, delegating is a big first step toward freeing your time so that you can focus on what’s really important.

In the next article in this series, we’ll discuss the benefits of an incremental approach to product innovation.

Want to know more about time management from the E-Myth Point of View? Read this article. And if you have any time management tips that have helped you create time for strategic work, share your comments with us, we love to hear your stories.


  1. .mark r. says:

    Great content,

    In addition to not losing the enthusiasm, be intentional and not lose your connection to the market and its unresolved needs. Far too often people start companies based on solving an unresolved problem. They have a hit, grow to say $20 million, then they start building products from their gut, they assume, guess even. Stay connected to your market and stay profitable.

    mark allen roberts

    Submitted Jul 23, 2008 4:23 PM

  2. .Joshua L. says:

    Susan, you're so right on!  You can't start delegating too soon and using the System Action Plans like you offered in the Coffee Making one above are THE key to making sure it gets done right and the person you gave the responsibility to isn't coming to you every time they have to do it asking how it's done again and again.

    Submitted Jul 24, 2008 5:47 PM

  3. .Michelle R. says:

    Thanks so much for this article.  I had so much enthusiasm a couple weeks ago and have been feeling discouraged the last couple of days.  It's good to have some encouragement and to refocus a bit!

    Submitted Jul 24, 2008 7:05 PM

  4. .Carrie S. says:

    Being that my partner is a perfectionist and completely detail-oriented, (plus my husband) I can't imagine I will ever have the time or patience to sit with him and work out a system!! Even the simplest system will take days to complete!

    Submitted Jul 24, 2008 7:18 PM

  5. .Rudy R. says:

    Baby steps......but I am starting to get there.  It's a long distance from thought to execution.

    Submitted Jul 24, 2008 7:29 PM

  6. .LISA P. says:

    Thank you, a useful article to refer our clients to, reminding them of the importance of this process.

    Submitted Jul 24, 2008 9:08 PM

  7. .Dino S. says:

    no comment at this time

    Submitted Jul 24, 2008 9:26 PM

  8. .Hester F. says:

    Brilliant!! But as a new comer to this - how do I differentiate between Managerial and strategic in my normal day?

    Submitted Jul 24, 2008 11:18 PM

  9. .liz e. says:

    Great article. today i was doing just this. training a young student to take on a little more responsibility. He is by nature cautious and i have learnt that if i only ask him to perform one new task at a time he rises to the occassion and surprises himself. I have been amazed by his progress over the past 12 months and i have enjoyed the delegation of simple but important tasks in the running of my business.

    Baby steps to freeing up my time is definitely the way to go!

    Submitted Jul 25, 2008 1:23 AM

  10. .Dausen T. says:

    Surely these small things we are doing daily are consuming our time..but at the same time if no proper system is created for them.. a fall in business is a sure thing.. but My biggest challenge is to get a reliable trainable..personnel to handle the small delicate issues am handling daily...I need an advise..

    Submitted Jul 25, 2008 2:37 AM

  11. .Sara F. says:

    Very helpful article in reminding us what we should be doing....  Although I already have good systems in place, I am finding it hard to decided which bits to delegate - more importantly, I will actually have to employ someone new to delegate these tasks to.  That's what I find the scariest step - committing financially to the extra employee, and being confident that the time I then have will create the extra income to cover it...... 

    Am I alone in this??!

    Submitted Jul 25, 2008 3:51 AM

  12. .Robert W. says:

    Knowing the right time to hire staff that will allow me to do what needs to be done to develop the business is a challenge and a discomfort. I am in the process of taking that big step. One thing that I find is helping me reach that point of responsibility is coming to grips with my ability to build the business. Confidence, and a little faith, is helping me cross that "staffing" bridge.

    Submitted Jul 25, 2008 4:13 AM

  13. .Steve P. says:

    Hey Guys,

    Do you not use water when you make coffee? (I didn't see it in the steps) I do like the example though and will use it to map a few things that my employees do.

    To Sarah above: Make sure you know the numbers on support employees. If you're in a service business and have plenty of business, sometimes raising prices to control the amount of business is better than the commitment to extra support people. I've certainly been down that road and it can get ugly. Especially when you have to let someone go.

    Submitted Jul 25, 2008 7:44 AM

  14. .Wendy F. says:

    I have a small religious bookstore and I do it all. Years ago I had to find a way to work on my business rather than in it. I did. Every morning I go out around 7:00 for coffee. I take whatever I am reading or planning with me. Since the store doesn't open till 10:00 I have plenty of time to think and work. Over the years I have read many good business books, trade journals, and planned my marketing. If I did this same thing at home I would find too many distractions. Going out solves this problem. And by the way I studied for my bachelors in business management doing this as well!

    Submitted Jul 25, 2008 8:10 AM

  15. .Kelly D. says:

    This was great to read. It was a good reminder to me to always "farm out" as much work as possible. I do have a tendensy to say "oh, let me do it, I can do it faster and better"; but I have stopped taking that approach. I have freeded up tons of time during my day but I have to be honest, sometimes I fall off the wagon and start doing the technical work (sometimes because it is more fun than all the other stuff I need to do like internal proceedure guidelines....)

    Submitted Jul 25, 2008 11:27 AM

  16. .Stephen A. says:

    Great posts by everyone.  I am at the point where I have a couple of employees and we are all overwhelmed with technical work.  I have a hard time breaking away to work "on" my business.  A great book for helping you make the leap in hiring is called "Reference checking for everyone by Paul W. Barada".  Thanks for sharing.

    Submitted Jul 25, 2008 11:34 AM

  17. .Deborah W. says:

    I found delegation hard to do and first - I found it easier when I gave written instructions and then had the person follow up with me with extra info etc in pencil.  Then we typed-up the final copy for the 'Procedure Manual'.  I find myself going to the procedure manual when I am in a pinch and find myself having to do something technical.  My brain is really appreciating the 'break' from having to remember all of the steps. 

    Submitted Jul 25, 2008 1:13 PM

  18. .Jim V. says:

    In my case, I am developing my plans for a future business (Muse) that will allow me to replace the life I'm now living and working with the life I want. So I am not able to delegate any of this nor my current work responsibilities to others since it's not their work.  But I can find 15 minute to 2 hour pockets of time to fit in the research and make notes on what I'm learning. It is a matter of getting information from books and other sources into my head, then from my head on to paper, from paper to an action plan and finally from that plan to action.  The total mountain of work required is mind-boggling, but taken one step at a time, it is workable.

    Submitted Jul 25, 2008 3:40 PM

  19. .Micah M. says:

    I have only been delegating heavily for the last 3-4 weeks. The change in productivity is amazing. Just be ready to sometimes cleanup customer service messes if you have been the one doing it all along.

    Things can get lost in translation between the client-to-you and you-to-your_employee. I found it's very important to quickly look over (quality-assurance) the stuff my staff does before handing it over but we are quickly leaving even that stage. My employees are now "getting it".

    FYI, the best thing I have done is hire someone to interface with clients and employees. This leaves me to do the truly entrepreneurial things I have wanted to do all along!


    Submitted Jul 26, 2008 7:35 AM

  20. .E-Myth Business Coach says:

    To Carrie (#4) --

    My experience is that it is the very smallest systems that make the biggest difference in your operation.  Start very small.  Don't think you have to reinvent everything overnight (or even reinvent anything at all-- you're just tweaking things -- "piloting" a new way of doing something, and having it documented simply gives you a reference point and a baseline from which to make later improvements).

    The idea that it's just a "test" sometimes helps lighten the perfectionist nature of the technician and makes it possible to get something out there to try without it having to be perfect before it's launched.

    Michael Gerber said two things that I've always found comforting:

    "Any system is better than no system at all." and "Sometimes, good enough is good enough."

    Submitted Jul 26, 2008 6:17 PM

  21. .E-Myth Business Coach says:

    To Hester F. (#8):

    Management work is a type of strategic work; entrepreneurial work is another type of strategic work.  The difference:  entrepreneurial work is directed toward defining the overall vision and goals and communicating those goals with passion and purpose toward employees, customers, vendors, investors, and anyone else who needs to hear about them.  Managerial work is more focused on developing the specific plans for making the entrepreneur's vision a reality, and making sure those plans are executed. 

    If you want to practice these kinds of strategic thinking, our free E-Myth Experience is a great place to do so.  You can sign up on our home page.

    Submitted Jul 29, 2008 12:06 PM

  22. .Susan Weber says:

    To Carrie (#4) 

    If your partner is a perfectionist and detailed oriented, then try having him document the system and you try following his documentation.  You don't need to sit down and document the system together. 

    To those of you that commented about delegating and hiring your first employee:

    Hiring your first employee is one of the scariest steps for most business owners.  We here at E-Myth love to hire part time students (similiar to liz e (#9).  Go to your local high school, community college or university and see what type of intern programs they have.  We have students that have worked for us on a part time basis and have turned into great full time employees.  Retirees also make good hires and although we have not tried them ourselves, we know business owners that have had success using virtual assistants .   

    If you are new to breaking up your time between the technical, managerial and strategic work you can also take our Free Instant Evaluation that you can find on our home page www.e-myth.com.  It does a nice job of explaining the differences between these types of work. 

    Great posts by everyone! 

    Submitted Jul 29, 2008 12:53 PM

  23. .Carrie S. says:

    Thanks for everyone's encouraging comments.

    My partner (husband) had been the best and hardest part of the business!! His perfectionism is what enables us to bring the best to our clients (who adore him), but it is aggravating to me because he is too cautious about moving forward and taking steps that are new to him. Also, he hates writing (more of a talker, action doer) so therefore any system will have to involve me (I write and proofread all his emails, proposals, documents, etc. while being the Art Director as well!). We are very intertwined in all areas of our business...does anyone else have a similar situation?

    Submitted Jul 29, 2008 1:09 PM

  24. .Daren B. says:

    Hi everyone

    Have just finished reading all of your comments on this subject and have found interesting feedback from all of the entries.

    I have just started Mastery Impact course, and i am a little overwhelmed at present, after running a job for the last five years (what i thought was a business) all my life has been eaten up by technical work. I am now being asked what is my primary aim, as sad as it sounds, and how confused that i am, it has been to date fighting to keep this business going. However since enrolling a feeling of calmness has come from within, can anyone help with my primary aim, my life, it seems so long ago since i had one.

    Submitted Jul 30, 2008 1:41 PM

  25. .Rachel D. says:

    Carrie (#23)

    I have the same exact problem. My husband was extremely controlling and also a perfectionist to a fault. He has now given much more control to me. It was a big step for him but I've managed. He is now encouraging me to delegate more but, I am the face of the business and my clients expect to always see me on the jobsites. They are usually unhappy when I'm not.

    I also handle ALL of the administrative tasks, which is beginning to wear on me.

    It can be extremely hard to work with your spouse because you do have different views (all the time). Even though we have the same goal it is hard to achieve it some times.

    I'm not quite comfortable or sure how to get out of the "technicians" role without disrupting my productivity.

    Submitted Jul 31, 2008 8:23 PM

  26. .Deborah Z. says:

    It's very empowering for a small business owner to get that first process documented and tried by someone else.  Once they complete the first one, they can see the benefit to completing more.  Thanks for the encouragement.

    Submitted Aug 7, 2008 1:36 PM

  27. .Gavin S. says:

    I love the idea of this, but my business has grown so fast that I'm OVERWHELMED with tasks to accomplish. So much so that I can't even sit down to prioritize. It's just overwhelming. Every time I try to do it I feel like i'm drowing and I turn away -- to the point that NOTHING gets done.

    This is a BAD place for me right now because for the first time in ten years... the company is in a severe negative cashflow crisis, customers are getting upset, and my one employee is feeling like he's on a captainless ship.

    I wish I could just STOP TIME, go back to go, and start again knowing what I know now.

    Submitted Oct 13, 2008 10:48 AM

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