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Thinking Ahead–Letter from Chaille: It’s Just Not Fun Any More
Chaille Brindley explores the things that make running a small business a hassle and how to simply the office and do new things to make everyone happier, including the boss.

By Chaille M. Brindley
Date Posted: 11/1/2009

            A pallet recycler in the Midwest recently told me over the phone, “You know it just isn’t fun to be in business for yourself any more.” This man has been in the pallet industry for years, and he wasn’t just talking about the downturn in the economy. From being stuck with bad customer debt to extremely demanding customers to excessive regulations and increasing business complexity, it takes a lot for some owners just to show up every day.

            The cumulative effect of many little irritants can rob you of the joy you first felt when you started your business. There is a psychological aspect to being an entrepreneur, which involves taking on risk and doing things that others say can’t be done. Once you get a bit of success, this rush can be diluted by the drain of keeping everything going day after day.

            Somewhere in a cubicle is a well intentioned government bureaucrat that comes up with one more thing that will only take a few minutes per week to complete. These “solutions” end up taking up more time than anyone anticipates, and they add nothing to the bottom line. Maybe that’s why they call it work and not “play time where you get paid.”

            Okay, let’s take a minute to get out any pent up frustration that you may have. You probably have months if not years of business-related angst just waiting to boil to the surface. Why don’t we start with a simple exercise? Write down all the little things over the last few weeks that make your job no fun.

            Sometimes it helps just to get this all out. Then, the next thing to do is to evaluate to see if there is any function you can task to other employees that will free up your time to focus on growing the business. This step can be really hard because sometimes it can be difficult to let go and trust these activities to other individuals. But a good owner must also learn to delegate functions to various staff members.

            The next thing you should do is think about what has made your company fun and successful in the past. This may take an afternoon away from the office to get some perspective. Whatever this secret is, you need to make it a regular part of your work routine every week. Schedule time to do this strategic work and don’t let anything short of a real fire in the building keep you from it. This one change alone likely will help improve your business and will bring back some of the joy that you once felt.

            According to a study in the Harvard Business Review, executives described by co-workers as having a good sense of humor “climb the corporate ladder more quickly, and earn more money than their peers.” A study from the University of Maryland showed that while stress decreased blood flow, humor increased it by 22%. Having a good attitude may be more critical to your success than you think.

            If the boss isn’t having any fun, it is likely that your workers will pick up on this attitude and replicate it. I have generally found the following to be true. Happy people are more creative and more productive. They are less likely to change jobs. Employees listen better if humor is infused into meetings and the general office atmosphere. A good way to measure the level of trust in an office is to see if people will ever lighten up and joke around. While there needs to be limits to decency, an office atmosphere where everyone is afraid of the boss tends to foster closed doors and ineffective customer service. Problems will go unreported, and things will drop through the cracks.

            Consider focusing energies on some new products or process improvements. This may provide you and your team an outlet for creative energies that get bottled up when you don’t have anything new happening at the company. One of the most interesting things I have seen in a while in terms of technology is the new software developed by Dr. Mark White, the former director of the Center for Unit Load Design at Virginia Tech. Called Best Load, this software combines the functions of pallet design with container optimization and other aspects of unit load design. Dr. White believes this software may be used by smart shippers to lead a revolution in how companies go about seeking cost savings in transport packaging. Read the article on page 16.

            Increased complexity is making work harder for many entrepreneurs. This calls for a dose of simplification. Here are a few tips.

            Organize your major work week to include blocks to do mundane activities, such as oversee payables, handle government paperwork, etc. You might want to work with vendors to streamline renewal dates of business services so that they all come at the same time of the month.

            Use technology to your advantage not to your detriment. Many people waste lots of time doing simple activities like going through email. If you get too much junk email, change your email address or use improved software that reduces clutter. Some executives use a secret email address for critical communications and have a secondary address for everything else.   

            Consider renting the services of a professional to do some activities that you just don’t have time to do yourself but you can’t afford to hire a person full time to do. This might include overseeing your computers, handling government compliance, managing business finance and payroll, etc. Outsourcing the right headaches may make your business a lot more successful. The Pallet Enterprise and its sister publications help you do this by providing business and industry information that it would otherwise take you a lot of effort to develop. The Pallet Profile (www.palletprofile.com) and Recycle Record (www.recyclerecord.com) are particularly helpful when it comes to keeping track of the latest news and market changes.

            Instead of a weekly staff meeting, send out weekly staff email announcements and only hold meetings when necessary. 

            The biggest thing to do is set the tone each day. Don’t react to things like electronic gadgets, employee interruptions, etc. Create some space each morning to do work unplugged without outside interference. This means no internet connection and absolutely no phone calls. It may give you a sense of accomplishment that lasts all day.

            The other key seems to be to enjoy life outside of work. If you have a private passion, don’t let anything get in the way. From flying airplanes to hunting to coaching little league to gardening or working on cars, whatever is your release, you need it now more than ever.

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