Mile Wide, Inch Deep

One of the most common concerns that I hear from small business owners is that they feel “a mile wide and an inch deep”. In other words, the business owners have so many different things to do that they feel spread thin; it is hard to do anything well because there is so much to do. To a certain extent, when you are involved in starting a new business, you will be busy with many different things. However, if your business has been around for a few years and you still feel spread too thin, it is time to take 4 steps to change the situation.  After several requests, this is a repost of a previous article.

The first step is to take a high level look at each of the areas of your company that you are working in. If you could characterize all the areas that you work is as “buckets”, how many buckets would there be, and what would you name the buckets? I would give you two tips to help you complete this exercise: first, try to limit yourself to 6 or seven buckets. Fewer would be even better. The second tip is to not name something a bucket that is a single activity.

The second step is, once you have named your buckets, to now “fill” your buckets with all of the activities that come under a category. You may try to do this at a single sitting, but don’t be in a rush to finish. Often times, as you go through a typical week, you may discover other activities that you do that you could not think of the first time. It would be a good idea to carry your bucket list around with you for a week or so, to make sure that you catch as much as possible.

The third step has two parts: first, review all of the activities and determine whether or not that activity has value for the company. It is important to take time to think about each activity; if the answer is no, the activity must go! Next review the remaining activities and ask another question, “Does this activity add value if only I do it, or could someone else add value by doing it?” In other words, determine if you should really be spending your time on everything you currently do.

The fourth step in this exercise is to once again review the list of those activities that are value added when someone else does them and ask “Can this activity be done by someone who is already working for the company, or do I need a new person to do this?” The implications of this question are threefold: is there an employee at your company who could do the work, do you need a new person (perhaps an administrator or manager) to assist you in your work, or do you need to outsource that activity to another company?

Of course, there is really a fifth step to the process, which is actually delegating work to other people, hiring a new employee or finding a service provider to outsource to.That will be the subject of next week’s post.

Kevin Callahan was named the COO’s Bulldog by a client that appreicated his tenacious way of solving problems. Kevin acquired his gray hair the old fashioned way; he earned it!

2 thoughts on “Mile Wide, Inch Deep

  1. Great post, Kevin. I just began reading a book yesterday that discusses something similar. Many small business owners choose to have dictatorships versus a leadership team, citing trust issues or having the attitude that nobody can run the business as well or as tightly as the business owner. Although many feel that having a leadership team in place requires a large leap of faith (larger for some that others), the dictatorship is exhausting and stymies future growth. One person can make only so many decisions and solve so many problems.

    • Kevin R Callahan


      Thanks for the comment. I have run into a few “dictatorships” over the years. My experience is that if you cannot build up trust in a team and begin delegating to them; your business can only go so far before you can’t keep up anymore. The end result is either a permanent cap on your business or even no business at all.


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