Being Busy Doesn’t Mean You’re Being Productive
Too many entrepreneurs confuse motion with momentum and results. We all know someone who repeatedly tells us how “busy” they are, when it’s hard to see what they get done. Momentum is moving things forward (mass x velocity). Founders or employees in constant motion, but with no momentum, will kill any startup.
It is true that motion in any direction is often better than no motion at all. But motion without momentum is even less productive than no motion at all. For a more thorough discussion of this phenomenon, see the book entitled Fake Work: Why People Are Working Harder than Ever but Accomplishing Less, by Brent Petersen and Gaylan Neilson.
So how do you fight this, and get real momentum going in your startup? Here are some key recommendations:
- Measure results, not work. Build your business plan and day-to-day operations around real results that are quantifiable and measurable. For example, a result is not forty hours of work, but a prototype complete, partner contract signed, or first customer sale.
- Focus and prioritize. There will always be more things to do than anyone has hours in a day. Focus means act instead of react, act on the important things. Don’t allow yourself to be interrupted by “urgent” issues of the moment, which may not be important.
- Live the 80/20 rule. Pick the 20% of your important tasks that will deliver 80% of the results. Judiciously apply the 20% of your energy where it will achieve 80% of the momentum you desire. Maintain that balance of work, family, sleep, and unwind.
- Communicate effectively. People can’t do the job you want unless you communicate effectively. So they scurry around trying to look busy, or work on random things that they hope might generate momentum. Tell people what results you expect, tell them how they measure up so far, and tell them how much you appreciate their efforts.
- Recognize the finish line. Don’t burn yourself and everyone out, by continuing a forced march after you pass the finish line, or even a major milestone. Gather your thoughts and savor the small successes along the way.
During the early start-up phase, most of the momentum in a new company derives from the entrepreneur’s own commitment and self-sacrifice. You do almost everything by yourself, and your focus is on building enough cashflow so you can start bringing in people to help you. Watch yourself for wasted motion during this stage.
Cashflow is the element of momentum that allows you to hand over jobs to other people and do more of your core passion jobs, like creating content or designing new products. This creates more value in your business and increasing cashflow – more momentum.
What you then want is for the momentum to compound, with each new employee or outsourcer you hire to help, to give you get more time to create value and ultimately, increase profits. At this point especially is where you need to watch out for fake work, which thrives in less dedicated hires, outdated cultures, and old work processes.
Recent research indicates that across all business organizations, as much as 50% the work that people do in that stage is just motion not related to their company’s strategies. Think of the drag this can put on your momentum.
Starting a new business is a little like taking off for the first time as the pilot of a new airplane. You need to push that throttle all the way to the dashboard until your knuckles are white, but never forget the relationship between motion and momentum. Are you pushing the right throttles?