I couldn’t breathe.

Every time I kicked hard to get a gulp of air, I lost a little strength. The riptide pulled me out further. I sunk below the waves.

I was pulled out of the ocean in Hawaii, glad to be alive.

But then I returned home – to the office – and felt the same feeling.

Drowning. Firefighting. I couldn’t get ahead.

But this time, no lifeguard on a jet ski to pull me out of the riptide.

There was one big difference though. And that is that I had created the ocean of work that was drowning me. After all, I was the CEO. The choppy waters, the endless riptide pulling me was my own doing.

Since then I’ve talked to hundreds of entrepreneurs, and most feel the same.

Here’s how I work with clients and portfolio companies to build a raft, then a rowboat … and then, a battleship.

Step 1: Map The Business Functions

First, I zoom out and look at the business from a high level. Break it down into core functional areas like sales, fulfillment, marketing, HR, accounting … Make a comprehensive list of every function the your company, even if some of those roles are currently being done by the same person (i.e. the founder).

This exercise exposes just how intricate the business is and how vital it is to have standardized systems across each area. Like a clock, if one gear is off, the whole mechanism grinds to a halt.

Step 2: Define All The Tasks

Now I drill down into each function. Identify every repeatable task that role performs, whether it’s sending invoices, onboarding new hires, or creating social media content. Get granular. The more tactical we can be in defining each discrete step, the better the documentation will be.

Note how frequently each task recurs. Is it a daily task like customer service? Weekly? Monthly? This will help you prioritize which tasks are ripe for systemization first.

Step 3: Assign Owners

Next, I designate who is responsible for managing each task. Tasks can’t fall through the cracks if someone’s name is next to it.

This owner may be the entrepreneur initially, but the goal is to eventually delegate tasks so he’s not the bottleneck. As you systemize and document how each one is done, they get delegated.

Step 4: Document Processes

Now comes the documentation piece. For each task, I have the task owner map out how it’s done from start to finish. What are the exact steps? What inputs do they need to complete it? This is writing the owner’s manual for each task.

I like having them record themselves doing it and create a checklist from that.

Step 5: Streamline with Technology

Once everything is documented, I take a second pass to identify opportunities to leverage technology. Could any manual tasks be automated with software or AI?

Even simple changes like using templates or project management tools can be big levers.

Step 6: Centralize Knowledge

Finally, I collect everything in a master playbook that’s accessible to everyone. This living document becomes the single source of truth for how everything gets done in the business.

As we refine processes, swap owners, or incorporate new tech, the playbook evolves. But everyone is always working off the same updated protocols. No more misalignment.

Building your life raft is a process. You just need to stop thrashing for long enough to realize your predicament … And swim out of the riptide.

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