“She Gets More Done By Accident Than Most People Do On Purpose”
This was Jennifer’s reputation at both Safe Science and Rethink, her last two bio tech startups. I’ve always been a little sheepish around Jennifer about my comparatively modest level of productivity, but the other day she surprised me by telling me she was very impressed with how much I get done. I’ve always thought of myself as basically lazy, so it took a minute for the compliment to sink in. How is it that I feel that my schedule is fairly porous – I have free time to be a father, go to movies, have epic dinner parties, take weeks off at a time for events like Burning Man, go to amazing marketing conferences, write electronic music, play acoustic piano, and still have time for 20-30 corporate clients and co-lead a full compliment of transformational business intensives? (If you’ve tried to schedule a meeting with me lately, I’m sure you’d be surprised to hear that I feel like I have a lot of free time – but that is how it feels!) Then Jennifer explained to me what she notices about how I structure my time, and I realized that – though invisible to me – it has been a huge part of what has made me a successful entrepreneur.
She said to me, “Look at what you get done in an hour. If you have an hour to yourself, you’ll write a beautiful song, If you have an hour with a friend, you’ll create a business opportunity or a joint venture that could make tens of thousands of dollars and bring you closer in the process. If you have an hour with a client, you help them make a shift that could change the course of their business. If you spend an hour on the website, you write a blog post that people love and forward to their friends.” Then it clicked for me. The key to getting it all done is about how you decide what to do.
Everything Is Priority One – Which Means There Is No Prioritization
When you are running a business of any size, there is more to do than you have time for. I sometimes tell first-time CEOs to make a list of everything that absolutely MUST get done. Then notice that there is so much on that list that it can’t possibly all get done. The difference between a successful company and a failed one can be a matter of which “absolutely essential” things the CEO let slip through the cracks, and which actually got done. When you run your own business, prioritization can be a joke:
Which is more important…
B) Making sure your client or customer is happy, or
B) Building a strategic basis for next year’s success?
Its all crucial. Its all “absolutely essential”. And it adds up to more than 24 hours a day of work, so now what? The most obvious way people try to solve this problem is by cramming in more work hours. Starting with the ‘most important’ stuff first and working until you collapse. The sad truth is, you will likely lose this battle. You will sacrifice the freedom that you are trying to create with your business and still not do everything you need to do to make it work.
To get done everything that is essential to your success, you must learn to be more productive. To be productive, you must develop a way of filtering tasks and meetings so that you are spending your most useful time on the most beneficial items. The difference between stagnating and creating massive results in your business of the course of a year has to do with how well you’ve developed your filter.
Your filter should inform you about what to do first, and about what to talk about when you are in a meeting. When I am working with someone who’s filter is not tuned up, my experience of them is that they are constantly filling their time doing nothing. They’ll say, “I’ve been working on my website all day!” My response is something like, “Maybe, but you aren’t getting anything done.”
Focus On Moving The Ball Forward And Let Touchdowns Take Care Of Themselves
So how do you make sure your filter is well tuned?
STEP ONE: First, identify your thematic goal. It’s what you’re trying to make happen in your business. You should be able to say it in one sentence. Something like, “Grow my list to 5000 strong.” or “Attract and keep 10 customers for 6 months or more.” or “Add 100 leads to my lead list”. I usually update this every 3 to 6 months.
STEP TWO: Then, make sure that every time you sit down to do something, it lines up with this thematic goal. If you have to squint or lie to yourself in order to make a connection between your task and your thematic goal, then reclassify this activity as “play” and do it instead of seeing a movie or playing a video game. It’s not helping your business. One of the most common ways I see people waste time is by ‘working’ on things that don’t lead anywhere. They think they are working and don’t feel as much guilt as if they had spent the entire day playing croquet, but the bottom line benefit to the business is about the same as if they had. Common activities that live here are: Facebook, Working on your website, Networking, and getting support (getting coaching, help, etc. from friends).
STEP THREE: Once you are sure that your task is directly related to your thematic goal, then chunk it down. How can you ‘move the ball forward’ in an hour or two? Moving the ball forward means that when you are done, the work that you’ve done gets you closer to your thematic goal, and you don’t have to cover the same ground again. If I have 9 or 10 things I absolutely need to do in a day (which I do today), I start by doing something I know I can complete in an hour or two. I had the idea for this blog post last night, and I know I can get it done in a short time, so I’ve begun. I also have to write a sales letter for an upcoming program, but I’m not as clear on that one. I’m not sure I can come to a meaningful resting place in an hour or two that will move that ball forward. So if I were to do that instead, I would waste two hours getting nowhere and end up giving up. Even though I need to do it, I’m only going to start things I know I can make yardage on. Then I stop. Then I think about my list again and ask myself what else I can make progress on.
I don’t worry about how close I am getting to my goals, only that as much of my time is being utilized for making progress towards them. The touchdowns take care of themselves. Doing what you CAN DO first works better than doing what’s MOST IMPORTANT first.
Don’t Do What You’re Not Doing.
STEP FOUR: Then comes the really hard part. When I am making progress, and I know my task is aligned with my thematic goal, I completely let myself off the hook for everything else. I know that I’m going to return some emails after I finish this blog. Then, in a few hours, I’m going to start writing my lectures for the Credibility Weekend. Once I start writing those lectures, I’m done with everything else. It doesn’t matter if I didn’t get done everything I wanted to, if I didn’t make as much progress as I thought I was going to, or if I come up with a great idea for what I could be doing. These are all distractions. I give myself 100% permission to completely ignore all the burning fires while I am working on what I know I need to be working on. If you’ve done step one and two above, that should give you all the license you need to shut down the chatter in your email inbox, voice mail, texting, and worst of all, your own head. Once I start preparing for the Credibility Weekend, I won’t consider doing any other work until Monday morning, at which point, I’ll check in with my thematic goal and then proceed to step two.
This means that everything I do between now and Monday that isn’t the Credibility Weekend is for my own pleasure – in other words – completely free time, and I can thoroughly enjoy it as such.
One Man’s Hour Is Another Man’s Minute.
I used to think that everyone had about the same level of productivity when they were working, and the difference in output had to do with who was putting in more time. Not so. There are people who get done more than 20 times less than I do in an hour, and there are people who get done more than 10 times more. Getting more done in a single minute than you used to be able to accomplish in an hour is possible, and its one of the keys to being an entrepreneur that still has a life.
Productivity is not about working more, its about surrendering fully to the moment. I want my life spent doing what I’m doing. All the way. I want to connect fully when I’m connecting. Play fully when I’m playing. And be fully productive when I am set to get something done. The better I am at making every minute count, the more of life there is to live, and the more enjoyment I get out of every minute of it.