5 Critical Lessons I’ve Learned in Operations

If you lead a company, a team, or if you’re simply trying to become more productive, here are 5 things I’ve learned that will help.

Plan Ahead

Stephen Covey’s first and most fundamental habit to become a highly effective person is to be proactive. I’ll add 2 quotes to start us off here, too: “Lead your life or someone else will” (Stephen R. Covey) and “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least” (Johann Goethe). The point here is to make sure that you’re not getting stuck in the weeds. It’s easy, and actually addicting, to get sucked into the emails, Slack messages, Asana tasks, texts, and meetings.

It takes real discipline to break free of the requirements of the here and now, look forward, and plan ahead. When you first learned to ride a bike, all you could think about was making sure that front wheel wasn’t going to hit something. But the lesson we all had to learn was to lift our eyes. Consider what’s coming. As far as how to do that, there are many, many ways. For me, it’s a spreadsheet and repeating Asana tasks. For you, it might mean printing out a blank calendar and putting it on your desk. Figure out what works best for you. Find some way to get yourself to consistently look ahead.

Create Good Habits and Kill Bad Ones

Organizational efficiencies start with individual habits, and the less energy you need to expend to get the same (or more) work done, the better. So, I’ll reference another great read here: Atomic Habits by James Clear. He talks about the 4 Laws of Behavior Change, and they work both ways–to build helpful habits, and to destroy unhelpful ones. I’ll list them here, and point you elsewhere. Clear does a great job of explaining himself in an easy-to-digest blog on
his website. (Check out the book, too, for a deeper dive.)

1. Make it obvious (or invisible)
2. Make it attractive (or unattractive)
3. Make it easy (or difficult)
4. Make it satisfying (or unsatisfying)

This may seem overly simplistic, but trust me, that’s the point. When it comes to changing our defaults—the things we seem to do automatically or subconsciously—we need simplicity.

Another idea is to do everything you can right now, while you’re feeling motivated to change, to make it easy for your future self to carry on in the right direction. This works on an individual level as well as a company-wide one. I’ve struggled with this idea, I’ll admit, but ultimately accepted it: if you want to inspire company-wide change, you can’t go wrong if you make the direction you’re going and the steps your team needs to follow obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.

Delegate to Technology

Stop catching your own fish over and over. Teach your computer to fish for you. We have some incredible solutions at our fingertips, and in order to make the most of our and our team’s intelligence and capabilities, we absolutely must utilize those solutions. Automate as much as you possibly can. With every problem that arises, ask yourself “what if that never happened again?” For many things, it’s possible, and it just requires an investment up-front. Spend as much of your time as possible engineering long-term, scalable fixes to the problems of today, so that they don’t recur in the future.

Could Siri remind you to check that thing in the morning? Could you clear up your inbox by clicking a few ‘unsubscribe’ buttons? Does that spreadsheet really need to be re-created every month? Can you schedule that email instead of hopefully remembering to send it later? I’ll quote Covey yet again here, because this line is powerful: “The essence of effectiveness is that you get the results today in such a way that you can get even better results in the future.” I would
add: “…even better results at lower cost in the future.”

Utilize Your Free Resources

In today’s world, there is no limit to what you can learn, even for free. Khan AcademyUdemyLinkedIn LearningReddit… it’s not a matter of if the information’s out there, but rather if you’re willing to look for and find it. YouTube has become a close friend of mine. Next time you’re planning out your week or month, block an hour to invest in your or your team’s skills. Learn Google Sheets. Seek out creative inspiration from Pinterest. Keep up on the market with a blog.
Do some google searches from your customers’ point of view. The more you know, the more value you can provide, and the better off you, your team, and your company will be.

Get To Work

The “how” trap is the one we find ourselves in when we’re beating our heads against the wall trying to do it all on our own. I recently got stuck in “the how trap,” and once I realized what was going on, I brought my problems to my team. It took 1 conversation to break through and figure out exactly what needed to be done. (I’m referencing another great read here: Who, Not How by Dan Sullivan). Sometimes — most times — you just need to ask the question, try the thing, or put the reps in. Get out of your head, and make progress, no matter how small. The first iteration of your new system doesn’t have to be perfect — you will adjust it, and something somewhere will break. Give yourself and your people the opportunity to take risks and make mistakes, but with the obligation to learn from them. Mistakes are an essential part of learning, and learning is how we get better. So don’t be afraid of them, but rather, embrace them.

-Evan Murray