Each month in this column series I ask a different question to you, the ExitEvent Entrepreneur. Thought provoking questions that are meant to get you to sit back and think. Each month I offer insight into the question, along with common mistakes made by (us) entrepreneurs, and a key take-away for you to think more about. My goal—to increase your self-awareness as an entrepreneur and a leader.
Insight— The startup culture is infectious isn’t it? When you walk into a room full of entrepreneurs, you can feel the excitement and feed off of the energy. As entrepreneurs, we are making dreams come true one bit of activity at a time, albeit at a highly frenetic pace. We know that hard work and determination go a long way in determining our success as business builders. So does our day-to-day commitment, and of course the “defendable differentiators” that are cemented in place for our products and services. These help us to sustain our profitable growth for both the short and long-term.
But when 6, or 7, or 8 p.m. comes along and your work day at the office is done, how do you measure the success of the day? How do you feel when you finally get home and have a chance to put your feet up (ok, realistically, when you prop your feet up and probably start sending e-mails again, just from a different location)…busy or productive today?
Common Mistake made: Around late afternoon, something happens to a lot of us. We look at our “to do” list for the day and realize that not only is it not empty, but that somehow, it has grown. There's just so much to do to grow a sustainable company. So we make a mistake. We look at the list and ask ourselves what we can knock out in the next 1-2 hours so when we go home we feel like we have made headway and accomplished more. The list is long, and for most, it includes sticky notes or sheets of paper in multiple locations. Lots of stuff is written down, but for many of us, it's not necessarily in any order of priority.
So what do we knock out from the list? Typically, it's the items that can be done in a shorter period of time so we get that list down to a manageable amount for tomorrow. But unfortunately, we end up working on the wrong stuff. And when we get home and our significant other asks how our day went, we tell them, "I am worn out, I was busy all day."
Key Take-away: Think Must, Should and Could. Focus on the musts first because they are what really make the difference and drive productivity. Busy days are made up of lots of shoulds and coulds. Productive days are made up of musts first, followed by shoulds. Today my #1 must was to write this column. So that is what I did, first thing this morning. I was not good at this type of prioritization early on in my career, because I thought all activity was good…just keep me in fast forward motion and all will end well. Nope.
Take a look at your to-do list, Do it over, segmenting the list into must, should and could do items. Then go after the musts first.
It is perfectly ok to leave for home with lots of coulds and some shoulds still to do (in fact I encourage it!). It is not fine to leave all the musts for tomorrow, because the same will happen tomorrow—busy will take priority over productive. Replace activity with smart activity. When we can go really fast doing the right things every day, watch out!
Have a great February. I myself am hoping for some more of the white stuff this month, because that is what a kid from Buffalo is used to seeing this time of year, snow! (OK, truth be told I moved south in 1983, but I still like to see some snow!)