I didn’t think decision fatigue was a real thing until I ran a business. If you’re an entrepreneur, this probably sounds familiar – you spend your entire day making decisions, from minutiae to monumental. They run the spectrum from what paper to buy to run in the printer, to the colors of your new flyer background, to who your newest hire is going to be. By the end of the day, your eyes are as glazed as donuts and your brain is burnt toast. You decide to go out to dinner to relax, and when the waiter passes around the menus, the horror-movie soundtrack suddenly starts playing… MORE DECISIONS. You order something you’ve never heard of and hope for the best, because you literally just can’t deal anymore.  

For most entrepreneurs, this is the norm. You fly by the seat of your pants, especially if it’s just you and perhaps a few contractors. If you have a handful of employees, they probably wing it, too. The most obvious problem with this is that it’s more than a little stressful. Every problem is new, even if it isn’t. Your decision-making matrix resembles a Greek Hydra – cut one head off, and seven more come calling. Even for your recurring tasks like your core deliverables, since nothing is written down, you have to burn bandwidth just to remember the steps of how to do it right or tell an employee exactly how to do it.  

The more serious problem is that it’s not scalable. If every decision that’s made in the company has to be made fresh every day, you can never walk away. You’ll be stuck like a gerbil on the spinning wheel of entrepreneurship until you throw in the towel or die, whichever comes first. It also lends itself to screwing things up – if your processes aren’t systematized, the likelihood of something important getting overlooked or falling through the cracks gets a whole lot higher. 

Enter the SOP, or Standard Operating Procedure. A lot of entrepreneurs balk at the idea of SOPs. “Only big corporations, bureaucracies, and the military use SOPs. I gotta fly free, man.” The irony is, that as constraining as SOPs seem on the surface, they can be the ultimate tool for unlocking freedom, growth, and overall excellence in your business.  

At its simplest, an SOP is just what you already do, written down. It can be as simple as a note taped up on the kitchen door of a beer joint with instructions on how to close down the bar at the end of the night. It can be as complex as a policy manual for a multinational corporation. In my eyes, here are the three great beauties of SOPs: 

  1. They allow you to be there without actually being there. If you have SOPs in place, and they’ve been tested, refined, and proven to work, it makes delegation vastly more effective and a whole lot easier. Rather than trying to relay detailed instructions, you can have your employees and contractors refer to the SOPs. Not only does this make leadership and management far less of a headache, it’s a vital step to scaling your business – if you have to be involved with day-to-day decision-making, the company will never grow beyond what you can touch.  
  1. They allow for continuous improvement. If you’re doing everything in your business slightly different every time, the likelihood that you’re really getting better is close to zero. If instead, all of your common processes are documented, and everyone in the organization has the right to suggest improvements, you’ll get more efficient and effective with every iteration. Don’t underestimate the power of this – it can help you cut costs to optimize profit, manage your and your employees’ time, and ensure fanatical levels of consistency on your deliverables.  
  1. And last but not least, it dramatically cuts the number of daily decisions you have to make. With an SOP, you need only make a decision once – when it’s first written. After that, it’s simply a matter of following it. The cool thing is since this is your company, you can change the SOPs anytime you like. But otherwise, once SOPS are optimized, it can be a set-it-and-forget-it kind of deal, where except for periodic revisiting, you and your people know what to do without giving it a second thought. With most of the constant day-to-day decisions already made and humming along as systems, you can use your precious bandwidth to make the truly important calls and drive your business forward.  

My personal belief is that if you do something more than twice in your business, it probably needs an SOP. That may be a bit overboard. But it’s not a bad goal. If you want to scale your business, become truly excellent in your field, and most importantly, give your decision muscle a rest, SOPs deserve your attention.  

Don’t know where to start? Call us. We’ve done this before, and we’ll be happy to help you out.  

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