I just subscribed to the Harvard Business Review (paper edition!), honestly, because I wanted to read something on a regular basis that I felt smart after reading, instead of feeling my head spin over the endless cacophony of election “news” on the internet.
So here’s something to ponder… HBR says that all businesses need to be both reliable and adaptable.
In other words, you need systems that ensure that the work gets done and that the intended results are delivered to your client and that you aren’t trying to do a million things at once.
And, you need to be flexible and open enough to notice a hot opportunity when it comes your way, and not be so rigidly stuck in your systems that you don’t jump on it.
So the key is that each person must find her own unique balance between structure and flow, in order to create the systems that truly work for them.
But to flow, a river needs banks (or it’s just a big puddle).
So How to Guide the River?
Most of my clients come to me with a need for more systems so that their businesses can feel less scattered-all-over-the-place and more organized and focused.
And yet, there’s often a resistance to systems as well… what if I make a system and then I can’t get out of it? To some people, even the word system feels constricting, (aka, not adaptable enough).
After all, we became entrepreneurs at least in part because we wanted more freedom and flexibility in our lives, right? And yet, we don’t want to run around like chickens with our heads cut off…
What to do? It sounds simple, but:
Create a system, and then give yourself the leeway to be flexible with it.
This is actually very different from not creating systems at all.
It’s also very different from creating rigid systems you hate and probably won’t follow anyways, but probably will beat yourself up about not following.
Here are a couple examples:
Example 1: Visioning and Setting Goals
When people have resistance to visioning and goal-setting (which is a system to ensure reliability), it’s often because they feel those goals, once stated, are set in stone, and that if they don’t achieve them, it means they are a massive failure.
Heartbreak and sigh.
The reason we vision and set goals is not so we can beat ourselves up when we don’t hit them.
We set goals so we have direction, a north star to guide us toward what we want to create. This is an example of making our business more reliable (not to mention a system to help us create what we want).
But as the days go by and life and business progresses, many things change. A new business or travel opportunity comes a long, we get sick, things take longer than we thought they would (that alwayshappens, by the way)… And the original goal seems far-off, irrelevant, or simply unrealistic to complete given the circumstances.
But does that mean we shouldn’t set them in the first place? Not at all. It means it’s time for a re-evaluation. It’s time to adapt.
So we revisit our goals in the context of new opportunities, challenges and change. We look at our vision and re-clarify which goals are still important, and which ones can be shifted or gotten rid of. We see the direction we were heading in and we make a conscious decision to change course or an intentional decision to recommit ourselves to our original goals.
See how this is quite different from never having a course in the first place?
The key here is that it’s conscious course change, a deviation from the system, which allows us to re-consider and realign based on our vision and ultimate goals.
We’ve created reliability, but we’re not getting stuck there unwilling to adapt when things change.
Example 2: Making a Schedule that Works
Many entrepreneurs find themselves working on their own, with no boss, and no place they need to be everyday. Cool, right? Except when home and office blend into one big glob, things start to feel disorganized, and work is happening at all hours.
Not only are you not getting done what you want to, not having regular work hours can lead to emotional and physical burnout. So we need a system to create some boundaries.
And yet, if the only time I can get in with my acupuncturist is in the middle of a workday, and I really need it, then I want to take care of myself and do that without guilt!
So how do you reconcile this, crafting a schedule where you’ll actually get stuff done, but still have the freedom to do what you want?
Again, create the system, and then give yourself leeway.
Block out specific work hours each workday in your calendar. I block out certain times for clients, certain times for things like admin and finances, and I have one daylong block every two weeks where I schedule no appointments at all and work on bigger picture projects.
Even just SEEING this on my calendar sets me at ease.
Does this mean I never work past 5? Does it mean I never schedule an appointment outside of an allotted time because it works better for a client? Of course not.
I give myself permission, inside of the structure I created, to move things around as I please.
The key is that if I decide to go on a walk when I usually do my finances, I take that little finance block on my calendar, and I move it down to later in the day (so that I can’t escape it completely!). This also helps me notice what is truly realistic – maybe that ideal schedule I created is simply not going to happen given the rest of my life, and I just need to own that and move on to something that works.
The bottom line here is that we need systems, but if we hold them too tightly, they won’t be realistic and we won’t implement them very well, and we’ll probably give up on them.
Create some structure, but instead of beating yourself up about not following it to a T, celebrate the structure you did create, and make thoughtful decisions about when you want to be flexible and adaptable.
So where do you lean? Reliable or Adaptable? Too much structure or too much flow? What’s one way you can shift the balance?