• November 25, 2015

Don’t be a used Out Oil: Avoid spreading too thin


The viscosity grade of motor oil indicates its thickness relative to ability to flow. Thin oils have a lower viscosity and flow more easily; thicker oils with a higher viscosity do not flow as easily. Now, I’m not an automotive expert, but I imagine there is a point where the viscosity of oil is too low to properly protect the engine from the heat, stress, and friction that occurs with daily use. Each vehicle is designed to require a particular viscosity of motor oil to keep its engine running at optimal efficiency. Otherwise, the oil could be spread too thin, which ultimately would result in damage to the engine.

Likewise, an entrepreneur needs to have the right viscosity in order to provide strategic business engineering or better put as project management of his company coverage for a smooth running of his/her company. There’s no standard rating like 10W-30 that we can slap on our foreheads so people know what we are capable of. But, there are some tell tale signs when we may be getting spread too thin. Below is the typical path of a entrepreneur who is losing their viscosity:

You Feel It

Only you know how you feel when you are stressed businessman operating at peak efficiency, and only you know when you are first starting to come off your game a bit. It’s not evident to anyone else beside you. It may be a feeling of stress, or of abnormal pressure. There may be situations that you don’t react quite as calmly to as you normally would. You may even find yourself overreacting from time to time.

You have moments of feeling overwhelmed. These moments don’t last long, but they do have an impact on the decisions you make. You find yourself confusing the facts of one project with the facts of another. You may get so wrapped up in something that you miss one or several meetings, or become forgetful as to what decisions were made.

Again, these are subtle changes that anyone on the outside won’t necessarily notice. You operate at 110% anyway, and you’re now down to operating at a mere mortal performance percentage of 102%.

Others Begin to Feel It

You can’t keep up the ruse forever, though stressed businessmen. When you’re down to providing 85% – 95% of the business engineering (project management) coverage that you typically provide, others will begin to notice. People notice changes in your disposition first. They pick up on the fact that you are rushed when you talk to them. It is obvious that you are looking right through them as they discuss a matter of importance with you. It’s not that you don’t care what they have to say, it’s just that you have a thousand other things on your mind. You’re thinking about your next meeting; the presentation that needs to be finished; the apologetic email that needs to be written to a client about being behind on a project; and, the upcoming performance reviews.

Not only do your internal colleagues notice changes in your behavior, your clients do too. They notice you are not as responsive. You no longer return their phone calls or emails within the same day, and they have to constantly follow up with you to know what the status of their project is. They feel uncertain about your commitment, and may even call your department to see if you are still around! You’re there; you’re just getting pulled in way too many directions and are starting to lose your effectiveness.

Misunderstandings Arise

The next thing that happens as your project management viscosity begins to deteriorate is that misunderstandings arise. Misunderstandings are the precursors to mistakes. A misunderstanding is a mistake that is just about to happen, but is caught just in time to prevent the mistake from actually occurring. Here’s what a misunderstanding sounds like…

“Well, we’re ready for Phase One to be deployed next weekend,” you proudly say.

“Oh, I didn’t realize the project was going to be broken up into two phases. I thought it was going to be completed at one time,” the client responds.

“Don’t you remember we talked about that?” you ask.

“Not really,” counters the client. “I guess it will be okay, but we’ll need to change some things around on our side in order to make it work.”

The fact is, you thought you had talked to the client about breaking it into two phases, but you didn’t; you talked to everyone else but the client. Fortunately, the misunderstanding was uncovered in enough time that the consequences weren’t too severe.

Mistakes are Made

If you miss that window of opportunity to correct a misunderstanding, you enter the realm of mistakes. Your viscosity is at an all-time low, and as a result your engine is now running at 60%-70% of its capacity. No longer are you the juggler that keeps everyone entertained. At 100%, you amazed with your ability to keep many balls in the air at the same time. You made it look easy. But, someone kept throwing more balls into the mix and eventually something had to give. You began dropping things, and your act was no longer fun to watch; dates were missed, steps were skipped, and now, even though projects are complete, they miss the mark.


Recovery Tactics

Take heart, even the best of project managers are in this situation from time to time. The demands of the business or client’s needs become overwhelming. Despite the best of attempts, you are only human and can’t keep up with everything that is thrown your way.

If you are in this situation, the following three things will help you get your project management and business strategies viscosity back.

Prioritize – Take one uninterrupted hour out of your ridiculously busy day to sit down with a pen and pad of paper, and jot down everything on your plate that needs completion. Once you have the list on paper, put a ‘1’ next to the most important activities, ‘2’ next to the important activities, and ‘3’ next to everything else. That’s it.

Delegate – Now take this list and delegate. The ‘2’s are great candidates for handing off to someone else to complete. These are important activities that must be done, but are not mission-critical. Give enough direction and allow adequate independence so that the person can just get it done.

Eliminate – Take a good hard look at the ‘3’s on your list. Do you really need to even do them? You’ll be surprised that with a little creativity and willpower it is possible to get rid of most of these items. For the ones that you can’t, turn them into a ‘2’ and delegate them to someone else to complete.

What do you end up with once you’ve gone through this exercise? A short list of prioritized items that have you focusing on the most important ‘1’s, and a number of ‘2’s being worked on concurrently. You are beginning to get your viscosity back as a entrepreneur, and providing that coverage that everyone has come to depend upon.

In lieu of putting stickers somewhere on our person that shows our current viscosity, just be mindful of when you are getting spread too thin. Take the necessary steps to get your strength back and protect those valuable projects and resources around you!


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