“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?
Many times when we are working in the grind we get so busy that we can’t see the forest from the trees. You may be working hard, but your hard work may be on things that don’t contribute to the bigger priorities.
If you are growing a business, you can’t afford to be unclear. It becomes costly quickly.
And if you have had much experience in business, you realize that there are not any shortcuts. The reality is that two things matter: strategy and hard work.
Knowing what to do and doing it consistently moves the needle. There’s no gimmick, magic or back door that hands you success on a platter.
You have to work just as hard at clarity as you do the actual work. And clarity is not free. It comes with thinking through the competing priorities, opportunities and constraints that are part of your mix.
Has the work you have been putting forth the last month mattered?
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.
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?
“The main thing Is to keep the main thing the main thing.” ~ Stephen Covey
Keeping on the rails is so hard when our brain loves to pull us to distractions. It’s not only the distractions, but we are barraged by other people’s demands and priorities continually.
The main thing to do can easily get buried or rationalized away.
I keep checklists to stay focused. Those things will get done. The timing and energy are part of what makes the main thing the main thing. If I’m low on mental bandwidth, I take care of physical actions to move around. If I feel energized, I will tackle that big hard task which requires long mental focus.
Part of the challenge is to pay attention and decide on what the right thing is to do at any given time in context.
What is your highest contribution?
How can you get things off your plate that get in the way of contributing?
What are things you can do to make executing easier?
Sometimes knowing what matters most comes from getting away and seeing things from afar. Other times, you have to work a bit and get in the details to appreciate what you are not seeing.
It’s wasteful to be working on the wrong things. A bunch of busyness with no impact, result or contribution kills opportunity. You can’t get those hours back.
We have this luxury of choice that starts with the right thought, translated into the right action, at the right time. Make your work count.
Principles prevail in a world of chaos. Much of life is indeed chaos. I think the importance of collecting and testing your mental models – how you problem solve and approach the world – is critical to drive success.
The 80/20 rule can help you focus on what has the best payoffs.
Eliminating drain people can help you be free from drama and the downside of dysfunctional relationships.
These are tested tools that create results when practiced intensely and regularly.
Have a place to collect your mental models. Test them in the course of doing business. When they work, that positive reinforcement along with learning the nuances of each principle, can embed themselves as habits in your psyche and routines.
I like to write down thought processes and mental models I learn from books and people. I like to write blog articles of my learnings. I like to share what works to help others. These practices get me results.
Everyone operates from mental models. May are not intentional and miss out on magnifying the effects of focused outcome thinking. Some mental models have downside. Total hedonism, for example, has plenty of upside, but can also ruin ambition.
Perhaps your results are elusive because some of the things you know are not regularly practiced. Or if you are scattered and not getting the outcomes you want, a few focused practices could be the game changer.
Keep a notebook or use Keep to start tracking the mental models you learn and apply. It’s a simple practice that can quickly yield desirable outcomes.
“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” – Darren Hardy
Our habits define us. I like to tweak how I approach days and I experiment with my habits continually. These days, I have a few things that get me mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually engaged with the bigger goals I am pursuing:
I didn’t get there abruptly with my daily routines. I started with just one thing first and focused on keeping consistent. I’ve also weeded out things that don’t give me high return on my energy or revenue.
This is largely my unseen life and what goes on when I am alone. And it has been foundational to helping me grow personally and help others grow as well.
If you are stuck, perhaps it’s time to add to your daily routines or subtract time and energy wasters.
The SaaS company WorkBoard announced it closed a Series B round for $23M to total out its fundraising to $36M to date. At this point with their revenues tripling year over year, they have market validation. With more complexity and faster growth, keeping the main thing the main thing is a core business challenge for many of today’s businesses. They are providing extreme value.
Even if you outline the steps and processes for your team, you don’t necessarily have alignment right away. That challenge of alignment is part of the continuous hard work of leadership. Having tools that align work with goals with strategic priorities is a giant help.
Business intelligence, Salesforce.com Dashboards, analytics and SOP’s are helpful tools to creating clarity on what needs to get done for team alignment. I think most managers have the responsibility to create clarity and then get alignment from their team members. It can be a grind. What’s in one person’s head as important may not necessarily be true for others on the team. That can create breakdowns or mediocre outputs.
Also, team members can be working on things that simply don’t matter or have much lower priorities.
Everyone I know that is growing their business has the problem of alignment and clarity. The problem is amplified by the speed of change and volume of information that clouds our thinking.
If you can be in the alignment business, which is largely the work today, it’s big money and opportunity. Knowing what to do, doing it well and doing it consistently with a team is often elusive.
We have plenty of knowledge, tools and connection. We need the leadership to make what we often know are important items work like a machine based on what we value as important.