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  • Writer's pictureJacob Curtis

How Small Business Owners Break the Cycle of Constantly Doing the Work Part 1!

Are you feeling burned out and ready to throw in the towel? While it makes sense that you must do everything when you start, it's not healthy or sustainable long-term. So, you hire your first team member, hoping they will take some things off your plate. In the first month or so, things seem to be going great, and then the improvement stops, and you feel even busier and overwhelmed. You even consider going back to how things were before you made that hire. We have all been there, and it is frustrating. But why is that? Is it the new hire? Is it you?

Today, we are looking at the five Ds of business work: Doing, Deciding, Delegating, Designing, and Downtime.

This is the second step in the Integrate phase of growing and scaling your business. To get to where you want to go, you first need to know where you are, and you do that by tracking how much time you spend in each of the five Ds.

Microsoft, Walmart, Apple, Google, Amazon, and all other prominent businesses took the time to do one crucial task: Design. All of these founders had a vision of what they wanted, so they took the time to design–to reverse engineer the steps needed to go from the ground level to where they wanted to go.

Making the Shift

Making that shift from Doing to Designing is more challenging than flipping the switch. It's more like a throttle. You build towards it. Slowly, over time, you become more and more of a designer. And designing how your business operates is your job as the owner.

As I said before, we all start out doing everything. You probably know what I mean by "doing." You ensure customers are taken care of, stocking the shelves, vacuuming the floors, and making all the decisions about what inventory to buy when the clearance sales happen and how much to price your products and services. You are doing everything–and you're not alone.

According to the Small Business Administration, in 2021, twenty-six million of the thirty-two million small businesses in the US did not have a single team member. That means 81 percent of small businesses do not have a team member. That's a lot of solo business owners.

Second D

The second D is Deciding. This is the process of making choices and assigning tasks to team members. Most small business owners confuse deciding and delegating. If you're giving lessons to your team but find yourself constantly answering their questions to get the job done, you're not empowering them - you're deciding for them. I get it - as a business owner with a small team, it's easy to fall into this trap and end up spending all your time answering questions instead of focusing on the bigger picture.

I know it can be frustrating to feel like you're constantly going back and forth between doing the work yourself and deciding for your team, but with the right approach, you can break this cycle and create a more efficient and effective business.

Third D

This brings us to the third D: Delegating. In this activity, you will empower your team members and get some much-needed relief from your workload. You'll assign an outcome to a team member and let them make all the critical decisions to make it happen. They'll take full accountability for achieving that outcome, and you'll be amazed at how well they can step up to the plate when given the chance.

Trusting your team to make decisions can be challenging when running a business. However, letting go of control and training your team members is essential. The more competent they become, the more you trust and empower them and the more responsibility you give them. This will allow them to take ownership of their work.

It's essential to reward your team members for their ownership and not just their efficiency. Mistakes are okay as they provide opportunities for learning and growth.

Fourth D

Designing is the fourth D. It's the fun part where you strategize and turn your vision into reality. When you have a great team, you can focus on designing while they handle the other tasks.

As a designer, you must make calculated decisions that benefit your quilt shop. Empowering your team to take ownership of their work is vital. Delegating outcomes to your team will make your business more efficient and growth-focused.

The fifth D is Downtime. Using Downtime intentionally can make you more efficient and productive. It also eliminates feelings of guilt that come with mindlessly scrolling through social media. We all know that's not healthy. Prioritizing planned Downtime can have a positive impact on our work and well-being. For example, I schedule an hour a day for lunch when I do not work or even try not to think about work. I use it to reset my mindset to be more productive in the afternoon.

To achieve your goals, whether improving your body, business, or anything else, you need to know where you are starting and what you want to accomplish. Setting a goal of losing 100 pounds isn't a good idea if you only weigh 150. In this step, you'll clarify your ideal target for your business.

As I have just explained, there are five main types of work:

  • Doing the work

  • Deciding about the work (for themselves or others)

  • Delegating the work to others

  • Designing the work

  • Downtime, resting from working

These roles are being executed in every organization, no matter the size. Each person in your organization is doing some combination of them, forming your company's D-Work Mix.

The ideal mix for most companies is 80 percent Doing, 2 percent Deciding, 8 percent Delegating, and 10 percent Designing. Doing has a high percentage because you must make your customers happy to make a profit. To design your company to run itself, you need to master the mix. Analyzing the optimal D-Work Mix can be difficult, so focus on the big piece first: Doing. By tracking this and targeting 80 percent, the other three Ds will often fall into place. Spend as much of the remaining 20 percent as possible on design. You’ll notice we did not give Downtime a percentage, and this is because it should be minimal during working hours. However, if you feel you have too much Downtime during work hours, start tracking it and set a goal to reduce it.

Track your workweek by including workouts, the date, activity, and start time. When you switch activities, write down the finish time (even if that old task isn't complete, it is for now) and the start time for the new job. Repeat for the entire day. Review and categorize tasks as Doing, Deciding, Delegating, Designing, or Downtime. Add up the time for each category and divide by the total time to get your D-Work Mix percentages. Repeat for one to two weeks during a typical week.

For example, if you worked eighty hours in a week, and the Doing total was seventy-three hours, the Deciding time was five hours, the Delegating time was zero hours, the Designing was two hours, and the Downtime was zero hours, the percentages would be:

  • Doing: 91.25 percent (73 hours divided by 80 hours)

  • Deciding: 6.25 percent (5 hours divided by 80 hours)

  • Delegating: 0.0 percent (0 hours divided by 80 hours)

  • Designing: 2.5 percent (2 hours divided by 80 hours)

  • Downtime: 0.0 percent (0 hours divided by 80 hours)

Analyze how much time you spend on each work type. Also, please do this for your team members to understand how your company spends its time. Many businesses need more balance, but start by assessing yourself first. Most often, solo business owners spend too much time doing, limiting growth. But sometimes they spend too much time on Designing, also limiting growth.

The optimal D-Work Mix, of course, works for multi-team member companies, too. For example, if you have two team members (you being one of them), the average of your Mixes constitutes your company mix. So if your Mix is 50 percent Doing, 0 percent Deciding, 0 percent Delegating, and 50 percent Designing, and the other team member's Mix is 80 percent Doing, 20 percent Deciding, 0 percent Delegating, and 0 percent Designing, it is the average of each category that gets you your business mix.

Note: I realize that you may work seventy hours a week, and your team member may work forty hours a week, and more emphasis should be put on your percentages. But that level of detail does little to impact the results, so let's not get that nitty-gritty. Plus, your goal is to reduce your time from seventy hours. Remember?

In this example, the company's D-Work Mix is 65 percent Doing (an average of 50 percent and 80 percent), 10 percent Deciding (average of 0 percent and 20 percent), 0 percent Delegating (average of 0 percent and 0 percent), and 25 percent Designing (average of 50 percent and 0 percent). So this business is 65/10/0/25. Compare that with the optimal D-Work Mix of 80/2/8/10, and we can see that we need to ramp up the Doing (getting things done) and reduce the Deciding for others. No Delegation is going on, and we want about 8 percent of the time spent empowering others to drive outcomes. Twenty-five percent of the time between these two people is spent on the business's design (vision and future thinking), which is too much; it should be around 10 percent.

You can still do this exercise for everyone if you have a large company with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of employees. But do it in groups, by department and responsibilities. Then, average out across the company.

If your business depends on your skill set, you may wonder how to shift from Doing to Designing. It's important to note that Doing, Deciding, and Delegating are necessary for maintaining your business, while Designing elevates your business. Even if you are in a specialized and independent industry like painting, you can still be the Designer of your business.

Seventeenth-century German artist Sir Peter Lely systematized his art, making his company run like a well-oiled cuckoo clock. He trained other painters to help him complete his paintings and had a massive operation that allowed him to do what he did best: paint faces, leaving the rest of the portrait to his assistants.

Lely jumped into the Designing phase while never entirely abandoning the other stages. He sketched a variety of poses and numbered them, using the same dress design and props. After finishing a subject's face, his lead artist would assign someone to use a template for the numbered pose required and paint the rest. Lely's interpretations of his clients' faces were what his clients wanted most, and the rest didn't matter much.

By focusing solely on painting faces and Delegating the rest, he turned out thousands of paintings over his lifetime, while his contemporaries were lucky to turn out a hundred. If an old-school painter could do it hundreds of years ago, surely you can do it today.

Finding time for Design work can be challenging, but don't worry, stamina is the key! Try setting aside just 1 percent of your work time for designing. Scheduling 30 minutes a week can be used to optimize your business strategies, pursue those "someday" ideas, and analyze what's working and what's not. Using your Design time, your attitude toward your business will change, and you can implement new and exciting ideas and strategies.

Please let me know what your D-Work Mix is; email me at


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