Running faster, getting nowhere?

A client said to me yesterday “I feel I’m running ever faster but getting nowhere”.

Mobile phones, email and the general pace of life today all conspire to keep us busy rather than giving us time to ourselves.

My own way of dealing with this is to take long walks on the Somerset levels with our border collie. It gives me time to reflect and to plan.

What has this got to do with running a business?

A great deal, because in this busy world we become increasingly prone to reacting to the moment, to dealing with the immediate problem.

To be effective it is important to create time to look ahead, to think about direction, objectives and strategy.

I know some business owners who take a day away from the office periodically, switching off their mobile phones and email so that they have time to think.

That time can be used to look at overheads and to consider which costs could be reduced; to analyse income streams and identify which are the most profitable; to think about expansion, about incentivising employees, about developing new products or even about whether – and when – to sell the business.

I have lost count of the number of times people have told me they are too busy to do this, but in my experience those who do tend to be the most successful.

As well as making time to think it is important to have effective challenge to your thinking.

In a limited company, that is the role of the non-executive directors and the more challenging they are, the more effective the company’s board becomes.

If you don’t operate through a company, or you only have a very small board, you can ask your accountant to provide this challenge.

They will almost certainly have acted for many businesses, some like yours, others very different.

They will have seen clients face a wide range of problems and opportunities and will be able to use this experience to guide you or to challenge your thinking.

Our collie will make sure I have plenty of time this weekend to think, though her tactics involve an unconventional but effective business planning device in the form of a ball on a string.

If you don’t have one of these, I’d suggest talking to your accountant about creating time to plan and to gain effective challenge, especially if you too feel that you are running ever faster but getting nowhere.

Paul Aplin is a tax partner with A C Mole & Sons and Deputy President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales; you can follow him on Twitter at @PaulAplinOnTax or email him at