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If you’ve run a business for any length of time, you have learned that it’s easy to become mired in the details and get caught up in the minutiae of day-to-day operations.
Being blind has forced me to shift my perspective, depend on my other senses and find alternative ways of getting work done. In the process, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about using resources to build more productivity into each day that anyone — blind or not — can use in their daily lives.
Related: 101 Time Management Tips to Boost Productivity Every Day
1. Give up control
Delegating is tough. So many business leaders overextend themselves, keeping a tight rein on the details. I’ve heard executives say, “It’s my company. I have to micromanage to keep everything on track.”
But blindness has given me a different perspective. A good example is the amount of trust I place in my guide dog to help me navigate dangerous obstacles. I put my trust in experts and technology, using AIRA and Be My Eyes to help me find suite numbers or read street signs. I’ve learned to be vulnerable and admit that the perspective of someone else can make a huge impact on how I make decisions.
Every person in my company brings a variety of strengths to the table. Since I can’t see, giving up control has meant relying on my team to be the eyes, arms and legs to move the company forward. Someone else shares the visuals with me, interprets data and observes people. I’ve learned to leverage the strength of my employees to mitigate my weaknesses.
A CEO doesn’t have to be legally blind to suffer a blind spot. You need a team of people who will not only help you execute your vision but also challenge you and make the company better in the process. When you give up the need to feel “in control,” you will become a true leader. A good exercise is to use the metaphor of the human body and give your company human characteristics. You will discover who on your team plays the vital roles — eyes, ears, legs, mouth — to give life to your vision and to grow your business.
2. Grow through learning
Most of us are guilty of saying we “don’t have time” to take a class or find inspiration in our lives — but that’s not true. My business demands a great deal of travel. Since I don’t drive, I have someone else taking me from point A to point B. I have turned my “downtime” into “Nancy University,” so to speak. I pre-record content for education, inspiration or just to satisfy my curiosity. I might listen to several episodes of a podcast covering a business philosophy or strategy that resonates with the goals of a project. I might listen to a program that inspires me before a speech or a tough assignment. I use a stream recorder made by Humanware to input notes that I listen to multiple times. This is a time for strategic phone calls. I research people, companies, technology and ideas.
You can use unproductive periods, such as sitting in a doctor’s office or waiting for a meeting, to make notes. You can even record your ideas on your cell phone while walking to a venue. You can come back to your thoughts later when you have time to build upon them.
Learning from others — employees and customers — is vital. It’s easy to get sidetracked listening to your own perspective on your business. Because of my vision loss, I need my team’s input since they are my eyes. It’s vital to run your ideas in front of people. Your staff is your first line of defense, and they often serve as a sampling of customer reactions.
These days, technology means that customer feedback is immediate. This is especially true in the television industry. As a TV host, I’m humble enough to check my idea of a great “on-camera” outfit with the production staff — and take their advice. Actively seeking your team’s opinions keeps you proactive, aware and alert to decisions that might be costly. Learning from others keeps you asking the right questions: Are processes working? Do customers like the new campaign? Boldly asking for feedback can educate you.
Related: What Vision Loss Has Taught Me About Balancing Extremes in Business
3. Plan your steps
Musicians rehearse; athletes train; actors memorize. The world of business integrates these methods and many more. Still, you may find you tend to knee-jerk react to circumstances, leaving you to respond to the fallout. Proactive planning can give you an edge. This can come in the form of studying your daily processes, rehearsing steps and staying organized.
Blindness has taught me a powerful lesson about routine: Always build in more than ample time to complete something. So often, we underestimate the time we spend performing simple tasks. I get up early to listen to my emails using JAWS, my voice accessibility technology, often more than once before the workday officially begins. I’ve learned to honor this preparation and build it into my daily routine.
Evaluate how much time things take, from the simple to the more complex. Are you realistic about the deadlines you set? How could you shorten staff meeting times? How much time do you spend reading data sheets and evaluating the results? When you build time in your routine that reflects the true nature of your preparation, you reduce stress, you honor your employees’ schedules and you will avoid the headache of missed deadlines.
Preparation is the best way to be proactive in your business and your life. To be thoroughly prepared requires organization. As a visually impaired person, always putting things in the same place keeps me on time and ready for anything. I have no choice but to be this organized — but you can streamline your life by rehearsing the steps that will take you through your day and preparing ahead of time. This could mean starting your day a bit earlier, opening emails and needed files, locating your notes from a meeting or finding online research for a morning call.
Related: 3 Ways to Plan for the Future & Avoid Getting Caught in the Weeds
Often, when companies experience success, leaders can develop a blind side, keeping traditions in place that don’t speak to the company’s need for growth. To experience change, it’s important to get outside your comfort zone and be vulnerable enough to ask the tough questions. You can assess the strengths of your employees and delegate work; you can study how time is wasted and adjust; and you can plan your steps to streamline your day. These simple lessons can take you far, transforming a reactionary approach to a proactive mindset and freeing you and your workforce to enjoy the fruits of success together.