Entrepreneurs: Why You Need Both a Personal Workflow and a Company Operating System

Written by Barrett Brooks

I walked into the Starbucks, took a look around and then saw a friendly wave from the Fizzler I was there to meet. We were sitting down to catch up and chat about his growing business, and he had already grabbed a table for us.

After some quick small talk, Bruce* jumped right into his exciting plans for the next year in his business. He told me he made more than a full time living from his business in 2014 and he was excited to begin investing some of the proceeds in helping the company grow.

(*Bruce is, perhaps obviously, not his real name.)

Bruce's workflow in 2014 included:

Looking to 2015, he had goals like:

Just reading that list could be intimidating, let alone thinking about trying to execute on everything as a solo business owner… And we wonder why entrepreneurs can have a hard time keeping track of everything going on in our businesses.

The problem is simple: it's a lot of work to keep a business running, even an online business, and to make it happen we have to take on a ton of projects.

Chase has given great advice for using CEO and Worker Bee modes, which help you plan and execute, respectively. We've talked about project planning in the past too.

The question both of these leave most entrepreneurs with is this: what does this look like in practice? When I'm in the middle of a project, how do I make sure I stay on track?

The secret lies in creating both a personal workflow and a company operating system. I want to share some of the things we've learned at Fizzle, so you can implement a personal workflow and company operating system that will make your business life run smooth as silk.

Creating a Personal Workflow

Your personal workflow is all about how to schedule your work on a weekly basis to make sure you're moving closer to your goals.

Start by doing an inventory of everything you do to keep your business running on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Think about things like your blog/podcast/video content, social media, accounting, customer support, email, affiliate tracking, etc.

Make sure to account for everything (sometimes we overlook tasks so ingrained in our daily activity, we forget they're mission critical).

Next, mark each task as daily, weekly, or monthly. For each weekly task, consider which day of the week is best. If you publish a podcast every Friday, maybe it's best to record on Monday, edit on Wednesday, schedule for publish on Thursday, and promote to your email list and social media followers on Friday. Do this for each of the items on your list.

Here's the beautiful part of this process: you don't have to keep track of these items every day or week if you use a task management software. Whether you use Asana, Basecamp, Evernote, or something else (we use Asana at Fizzle), you can set recurring tasks.

For example, if you plan to record your podcast episodes on Monday, set that task for next Monday and then set it to repeat every Monday. If you do this for all of your recurring tasks, you can stop thinking about it and rely on your task management software to do the thinking for you.

Having your ongoing work pre-scheduled means you have more bandwidth to focus on your project-based work. Project work includes thing like building products, creating new email autoresponders, or building a new app. Basically, anything that gets shipped once and then maintained is a project.

As you get used to your ongoing work you've already scheduled, you'll be able to gauge how much bandwidth you have to dedicate to projects. Based on this, you can schedule time each week for project work. For example, if you have customer support and podcast recording every Monday and you're full time in your business, you might have 2-4 hours left for project-based work.

This all gets wrapped up in a bow by using a weekly checkin/checkout process (even for solopreneurs), which we'll talk about in the company operating system next.

Creating a Company Operating System

If a personal workflow helps you define and schedule the most important work you do, a company operating system helps you or your team keep track of the work being done (and the work yet to be done). It will help you and your team (or your mastermind group) hold each other accountable, celebrate wins, and keep your high level plans in focus.

Weekly Checkins and Checkouts

The first element of a great company operating system is a weekly checkin/checkout system. A weekly checkin is basically a to-do list for the week. Here's an example of one of my checkins from Fizzle:

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 10.54.09 AM

Our checkins answer three basic questions:

  1. What are you planning to work on this week?
  2. Are you off any days this week?
  3. Do you need help with anything?

It sets clear expectations for what should be done at the end of the week, it preps the team for me being out of the office, and it lets everyone know how we can help one another get certain projects across the finish line. We checkin first thing on Monday mornings.

Then, at the end of the week, we checkout by answering three more questions:

  1. What did you work on this week?
  2. Are you off any days next week?
  3. On my mind for next week:

I own up to what I got done and didn't get done, let the team know if/when I'll be out next week, and I set my intention for next week's workflow. I usually take the time to create my detailed to-do list for the week following so that on Monday morning I can simply copy, paste and get to work. We usually checkout last thing on Fridays.

Weekly Team Meetings

The second element of a great company operating system is a weekly team meeting. We use this weekly hour-long meeting to have discussions about project ideas, make important decisions about how to move forward and catch up personally since we work remotely. We have our meetings on Wednesday afternoons at Fizzle, which is a nice way to break up the week.

On the first Wednesday of every month, we have a 90 minute meeting to look at the project work we intended to do that month, what we actually accomplished that month, and then we set our goals for project work for the month ahead.

On the first Wednesday of every quarter (January, April, July, October), we have a 2-3 hour strategic planning meeting. This is our time to look back at our annual plan, check the box on any goals we've already reached or projects we've already shipped, consider whether we have new information that should change the plan, and then decide on the projects we should try to tackle in the quarter ahead. This is like a mini annual planning session.

To make your meetings as useful as possible, consider picking up a copy of the 60ish page book by Al Pittampali, Read This Before Our Next Meeting. It'll give you a great format for making the most of your team's time together.

If you're a solopreneur, you could use a similar format in your mastermind group. You might even consider setting up a Slack team for your group so you can easily share your annual checkins with each other. We use a special channel in Slack to share our weekly plans.

Slack is a great tool we use for team collaboration at Fizzle. It has replaced email for us and integrates with nearly every entrepreneurial tool on earth.

One-on-Ones (Solopreneurs can skip this part)

In a very small business, team chemistry is everything. We've found weekly team meetings to be important for project planning and making key decisions for the business. Because we're so focused on an agenda and getting things done, we don't have as much time to catch up on a personal level or explore new ideas just for fun.

Every other week, we have one-on-one meetings between each person on the team. Chase and I meet every other week, Corbett and I meet every other week, and Chase and Corbett meet every other week.

These one-on-one meetings are a bit less structured, giving us time to enjoy conversation, ask about each other's personal lives, and chat about new ideas we've had from a podcast or book.

You might think these are a waste of time, but whether your team is remote or in person, I think you'll find great value in the time spent together. Relationships build shared understanding and direction, which lead to better collaboration and culture. Culture is everything in a team environment.

A Shared Vacation Calendar (Solopreneurs can skip this part)

The last important element of our company operating system is a shared vacation calendar. Like many startups and companies with highly engaged employees, we don't have a vacation policy. Our vacation policy is something like: take the time you need to enjoy life and do your job well.

It's a wonderful aspect of working in a business like Fizzle, but it can also be hectic if the team doesn't communicate about who's out and when. The simple solution for us was a shared Google calendar where everyone fills in their vacation and travel days as soon as they know about them.

It's been an easy way to plan our work around our lives and something we've found really valuable.

Back to Bruce

Remember Bruce from the beginning of the post? He walked away from our meeting with a plan for the first quarter of the year, a personal workflow and the beginnings of a company operating system. These were the three things he needed to feel like he had a firm grasp on the goals he wants to achieve.

We haven't seen the results yet, but I suspect they'll be pretty impressive. At least I know they have been for Fizzle since we implemented the same advice in our business. I think it'll do the same for you.

What questions do you have about personal workflows and company operating systems? Have you done something similar in your business? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.

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