“I have come to learn that part of the business strategy is to solve the simplest, easiest, and most valuable problem. And actually, in fact, part of doing strategy is to solve the easiest problem, so part of the reason why you work on software and bits is that atoms [physical products] are actually very difficult. ~ Reid Hoffman
The 80/20 rule works. There is a choice you can make on what to work on next that has the biggest bang for the buck. However, it’s hard to pick that strategy to commit to when grinding in the onslaught of demands.
Break it down:
What is simplest?
What is easiest?
What is the most valuable problem?
If you are simply stuck in your inbox, you are reacting to other people’s requests and demands. You are playing defense.
I don’t think pushing harder on mediocre activities is great business. It can look like hard work, when in actuality, it is a form of laziness. Thinking about what the next right thing to do is what matters to knowledge work. The hard thinking, rather than the hard working, moves the needle.
Every week you have the opportunity to move the needle and get your business notching up a level. Not only do you have to get the necessary work you committed to others done in your projects and tasks, but you have to make space and time to work on your business in addition to in your business.
It’s why your weekly checklist needs to have the important stuff to get attention as well as the known urgent items.
So, if you want to move your business forward, here are actions that work and should be scheduled into your week to be able to execute:
Read and think. Check out how Ramit Sethi made this a priority in his own business to develop new strategies, products and direction. He learned, “But at a certain point, you can’t just “hustle” your way bigger. You have to completely change your thinking, your strategy, and even your team. This is what separates constantly hustling entrepreneurs…from true CEOs.”
Write on legal pads. I’ve been moving a lot of time to legal pads, not just for taking notes, but to think and have time for creativity. It has worked wonders to get back to the brain-paper connection and watch ideas flow freely. There’s science in the handwriting act and how it develops and clarifies thinking. I’ve come to learn the keyboard is for productivity and output; the legal pad and pen is for creativity.
Enjoy action-oriented people. Getting out for times of fun, relaxation and conversation with people that like to move to action motivates me and opens up opportunities. When ideas are flowing and people actually want to entertain and explore something more, new projects emerge. I like taking action. And it’s more likely to happen when there are people that are focused on future opportunities. Talkers may be entertaining and social to hang out with. But, doers tend to make ideas happen quickly and decisively. Find those people and hang out more.
Eliminate commitments. Most things don’t work out. And working on yesterday’s commitments, as we are constantly doing, needs continual re-evaluation. You can always be more busy. That’s not the point. It’s to do less, not more. Every week, eliminate a commitment or project. It makes space for the new. You just have to be clear and decisive. That’s what good executives do. And in our work, we must be good executives to avoid allowing second-rate options to overtake our time and energy.
I have integrated these habits into my weekly workflow because they get above the noise beyond the obligations I will already get done with my time. These regular actions get me thinking about the direction I am heading. Too often, we are simply reacting rather than taking action on what we have defined as important. That can be stressful and disorienting.
What do you think about using some of these strategies for your own work?
You have the whole world at your fingertips, and if you want, you can get people to help you get work done, build systems and grow your business. The challenge is to be clear and manage projects with the desired outcomes articulated and identified.
It can sound obvious, but there are plenty of stories of unmet expectations and missed delivery. It’s why you can’t just hand off. You have to lead the whole way when you want a project meeting expectations.
Here are strategies to help you get projects done without the heartache:
Define the requirements. Too many times, projects get started without true clarity. Spend the most energy being clear with the outcomes. Outline clearly what your software is supposed to do, how your machine is supposed to perform or your people are supposed to collaborate.
Get theHow. For those that are to deliver what you want, ask what their approach and strategy will be. Break down the work into a checklist of tasks that help you see the solution path. Set milestones for when you want updates. This way you have a feel for the progress.
Review often. Daily updates are helpful to ensure you don’t get off track with expectations. You don’t have to micromanage. You just want to understand if there are any obstacles that would miss expectations, deadlines or the anticipated solution.
Test the solution. When you have your project delivered, there are likely some nuances or gaps to how your solution will work in real life. Test quickly, give feedback and iterate.
If you work with employees or freelancers, they are executing based on the clarity and leadership you provide. I always assume that what’s in my head is not what’s in someone else’s head. So, the vigilance to keep communication flowing is critical. It keeps you from creating wasteful work.
The bigger the project, the more clarity has to be created and clarity is not free. It’s part of the hard work of getting things created in the real world.
How many caller id calls have you ignored? How many emails simply go unanswered?
We are all suffering from attention deficit and most people have to keep the noise out and focus just to survive and get what they think is important done.
If you are not a person of value in someone’s busy workday or life, then you are wasting their time and attention. And we have many ways to simply ignore what does not compel us to pay attention.
Deals get done with a lot of the important ingredients we know, but have to remain disciplined and focused on creating:
Attention. You have to matter.
Pain. What is it that your customer wants to improve or get rid of? What is it specifically?
Solutions. How do you make the pain go away or get resolved?
Conversations. Buying is largely done with human beings connecting and creating understanding and agreement. How many of these interactions are you having a day?
Value. You have to pay attention carefully and help people get what they want. Everyone’s different. Some people have kids. Others have health problems. Still others need a great networking connection.
Being a person of value means you are valuable. And you become valuable by continually growing personally. You know things that others can use. You apply your knowledge. You also know people that can help. You connect the dots and you proactively make connections.
When you start your days, say, “I will be a person of great value.”
How do you know most of your work matters? There are probably a few things that matter to produce the outcomes important to an organization. Most work is simply effort and cost and does not produce meaningful results. You can see this with the ridiculing of office politics and people doing busy work in cartoons and TV shows.
If you are a manager, getting results starts with a system that focuses on outcomes. You have to be clear about what the key metrics that matter are. Then build your system to output those results.
It’s not easy because getting people doing what you need takes pig-headed determination. Furthermore, creating clarity is hard without clear strategy and vision. This often takes dialogue to get clear on what really matters to your business. Your attention and day-to-day is pulled by a ton of distractions and things that don’t matter.
If you’re not moving the needle lately, then think about how all the work that you and your team do contributes to the outcomes you want.
Maybe you’re working on outdated priorities. Or you have not refreshed your near term and long-term goals based on what you know today.
Anyone can work and be busy. But, getting the right things done requires taking pause and managing to the right priorities.
What outcomes are important to you now? Is your work set up to support those outcomes?
I understand. It can be really comforting to do what is urgent and stay in the groove of knocking out tasks. In a given day of work, there’s always the tasks that have to get done to keep pipelines moving, make customers happy and ensure our teams are motivated and productive.
However, that nagging feeling, for those business owners and executives that need to move the needle, will be there. Being busy can keep you from giving attention and focus on what really can 10x your business. You feel busy. You are getting things done. The problem is that you may not be getting the right things done.
It’s out of reach because distractions and busy work give you that dopamine hit and attachment to the work that simply has to get done.
If months have gone by, then consider, like someone who realizes that a personal trainer helps them get fit, to get clear and get the important work done. Get above the noise of your business and see what matters and does not matter.
The reality is that most things do not matter and a very few things matter immensely to help you grow your business. And if you are working on the low-level, have-to-get-done items, at the expense of the most essential opportunities, you are not being effective. You are allowing urgent demands to numb you into feeling busy and productive at the cost of big growth.
You do have to be productive so you don’t bottleneck your commitments to your customers. That’s worth making an established, reliable habit in your work.
However, if that is all you do – get busy work done – then you will struggle to grow your business. You are only refining and making what already exists optimized and at some point, it’s a diminishing return.
Are you getting the right things done consistently?
It’s critical to take whatever idea you have and see if it stands up to the rigor and texture of people – customers, partners, critics, etc – in the real world. That’s honest design.
Credibility comes from proof that what you conceived can actually work repeatedly in the world.
I like to move to action and engagement quickly. And here’s what I find works:
Always be engaging the world and gathering ideas
Write those ideas down. I keep a list.
Think fast and hard about a next step – reaching out to a friend, posting a thought, starting a project
Watch the reaction. And if there’s positive results, build momentum with another action. If not, kill your darlings.
Clarity comes through engagement. It’s partly why I don’t think professional writers who are in these magazine content farms are necessarily helpful if they haven’t actually done things like build businesses, drive revenue or worked with teams. They are researching and writing.
Where’s the rejection? How do they know where the land mines are and tune for the chaos?
Look for the credibility with people that move to action and push until results happen. Otherwise, you can have a lot of misinformation from feel good content when what you really need are results.
This interview with a navy seal breaking down a part of human nature with a renowned clinical psychologist is fascinating. This podcast interview between Jocko Willink and Jordan Peterson takes a look at how civility occurs. We want dangerous people that are disciplined. It’s a temperament and a part of keeping the peace in society and the world.
Being undisciplined can wreak havoc.
We need good guys that apply discipline. And the discussion has humility with assertiveness from both gentlemen.
Some things I find helpful:
Your context, where you choose to play, will cast a value on your nature. Pick a valid game to be within.
Warriors with discipline can direct and apply their immense strength. It’s worth being disciplined to handle the evil and adversity in the world, if not for yourself, for others.
Don’t mess with Navy Seals:)
What would happen if you apply more discipline to your nature?
We are always working on yesterday’s commitments. And when we have committed, it’s so easy to make those decisions sacred. Such reverence for our past commitments builds up continual clutter, drag and mediocrity in our work and lives. Without knowing it, we are managing many subpar projects, possessions and relationships at the cost of what could be the best. We don’t have room to invite, entertain or adopt the best.
Pruning cuts out what is less than optimal so the main part of what matters can grow stronger. It’s a habit that has to be practiced daily in order to make room for the best.
If you find yourself in a slump, prune. You will gain energy from getting lighter.
If you need new creative direction, you don’t simply get inspired with more creativity. I don’t think there’s even a lack of creativity. In fact, creativity shows up when you make more time or free up resources.
Ruthlessly prune projects that simply don’t have a payoff anymore. Your brain wants to fill that time and space with new options. The brain can’t help it.
Nature hates a vacuum and when you prune, you create a vacuum to be filled.
In the process of pruning, you might also discover the things that really matter. Double up on those commitments, projects and relationships. The pruning revealed what is gold and truly matters. Frittering away your life, energy and resources on things that don’t matter or create high value simply spreads you thin at the cost of what is best.
It’s a hyper-competitive world with millions of people. You likely have a few things that you can go big on and add real value to carve out a place for yourself or stand out. How can you get there managing, struggling and emotionally attaching yourself to commitments that don’t have any potential of big payoffs?
What’s one thing that doesn’t matter right now you can ruthlessly prune?