Entrepreneurs constantly feel like they’re not doing enough.
And when they have a super-productive day, they still feel as though there’s hundreds more tasks and projects remaining. That they’ll never be done.
Then there’s the worry that you’re prioritizing the “right” things!
All of this suggests that to live the entrepreneur life is to live with a constant baseline of productivity anxiety.
It doesn’t have to be this way though. There’s a simple ritual I’ve cobbled together over the years – and rigorously road-tested – that clears the head, eliminates worry and sets up the week for clarity and focus.
Most importantly this ritual unlocks confidence. It allows you to dive into your work week without second guessing yourself.
It stimulates a level of extraordinary focus, effectiveness and flow that’s totally free from the anxiety that you are somehow not doing or being enough.
1. Evaluate the last seven days
The best predictor of your future behavior is your past behavior.
Your optimistic goal to make the next week a journey of revolutionary self-growth… are great. But in reality, your focus and effectiveness will only improve incrementally at best. Usually it’s an imperceptible change week-to-week.
Staying organized and reducing anxiety demands realistic expectations. It’s worth considering that a measly 2% improvement in “productivity” (however you measure it) week on week means that you’re doubling your personal effectiveness each year.
That’s why the best way to get a clear sense of the week ahead – what to expect, how much to push yourself etc – is to make an honest appraisal of the immediate past.
Scrutinize the following:
- The total number of hours you spent doing the important-not-urgent creative labor of working “on” your business (not “in” it)
- What you accomplished, as a ratio against what you set out to accomplish
- The quality of your life in general: Did you also fit in the alone time, family time, sleep and play (un-constructive, sense-of-self-losing joy) time that you desire?
Grounding yourself with deep and honest self-awareness of how you’re spending your time is the key first step to planning and beginning a highly focused and effective week with confidence.
2. Perform the magic of non-scheduling
Obsessive, hyper-anal scheduling and color-coding of tasks is a dangerous game of self-deception where personal organization itself becomes a form of procrastination.
Keep your calendar minimalist by only scheduling events where you’re socially accountable to show up. That means your schedule is exclusively phone calls or in-person meetings.
This should leave you with a series of blank spaces on your schedule. (If it doesn’t, you’re being a manager not an entrepreneur. Fix that.)
It’s in these lusciously vacant non-scheduled windows that entrepreneurs do their best work. These are the times you can sit down and perform the creative, meaningful work as an architect overseeing your business. This is when the courageous projects that create exponential growth happen.
Think of this blank space as a time to set appointments with yourself. It’s the time to work on the things that no one is making you do, but which will change the game entirely if you make yourself do them.
I work one to one with some of the most extraordinarily successful startup-founders and entrepreneurs in the world. I can tell you that most of these high performers are only averaging between two and four hours of this type of work per day.
Meetings, urgency and reactive firefighting are all realities of business. The more you succeed, the more you’ll be challenged by them. In some ways entrepreneurs always rise to the level of their own incompetence: They succeed and their business keeps growing… right up to the point where they’re no longer able to delegate the busywork.
The minute you start clocking full days of reactive labor, you’re no longer an entrepreneur – you’re just doing a job in a business you also happen to own.
Consequently, the key to never letting busyness – a.k.a. success itself – defeat you is in always finding time to move the needle on the important stuff.
Creating windows of non-scheduled free time for your entrepreneurial mind to create within… really is a form of magic. It has to become a sacred ritual. Successful entrepreneurs treat this time in their schedule with a reverence bordering on the religious.
You should too.
3. Decide the priorities
The final piece of the puzzle is to ask yourself what you’ll focus on, now that you have time ahead of you and the self-awareness to make it count.
At Commit Action – where we provide a facilitated accountability service that does these three things for you – we intentionally limit our clients to three committed tasks each week. These are the prioritized projects you’ll work on in the windows of time you’ve carved out.
We demand that these commitments meet the following four criteria:
- Important and NOT urgent – The best business growth comes from actioning those big “some day” ideas sooner, rather than later.
- Working on the business, not IN it – The definition of entrepreneurship lies in creating businesses bigger than oneself. Everything else is just freelancing.
- Growth Driving Activity – The work must have a direct or proximal effect on driving bottom line (profit) results. Top line is often better.
- Courageous – Simply put, the best ideas are often the scariest ones. Businesses rocket forward because of founders with vision.
The secret to getting into powerful flow-states is not deciding moment to moment – or even day to day – what it is that you’ll be working on.
That’s why the most important ritual you can perform once a week is that of pre-decision. Setting up in advance your priority project plan frees you from the cognitively draining task of figuring out what to work on.
When you sit down on any random day with (ideally) a three hour stretch of time to create… you can spend it creating, not exhausting yourself mentally by deciding-what-to-create. This distinction only appears subtle to the people who haven’t experienced the clarity that pre-decided priorities creates.
… Stems from our tendency to step out of the act of passionate creating itself and into a state of meta-analysis. It’s thinking-about-working instead of working.
We stop what we’re doing to think about if we’re doing it right – or doing the right things – and the magic is lost.
The confidence of realistic expectations – informed by honest self-awareness – allows you to stay soothingly on track. No more mini-panic attacks when the clock hits 5pm, prompting you to wonder where all the time went.
Reverently creating the space you need to do meaningful creative work – and pre-deciding what it is specifically you’ll do with that space – then cements your flow state.
This whole three-part process is a single once-per-week meta-analysis ritual. It’s the “single” part that matters.
You should only do this once a week.
Instead of oscillating anxiously (and frequently) between working and thinking-about-working, this ritual creates an ideal time and place for that (necessary) thinking. It doesn’t matter when you do this: Monday morning or Wednesday lunch time will both work. So long as you’ve committed to a dedicated, one time weekly ritual.
When you have this in place, the ritual draws a clear (and absolutely necessary) line in the sand that reminds you that execution is everything: That the analysis and thinking-about-working part, important though it is, must only be allowed a small fraction of your work week.
6 Comments+ Add Comment
I am a CA member with Alex as my go to guy to steer me in the above direction. You put it very well. Succinct and wise. Thanks for the clear reminder.
Nice Bob! Glad to have you here validating what I’m saying.
Nice work keep it up
Thank you for this! I’m a startup founder of a digital agency, and man did this help me clarify my biggest problem right now. I’m starting to get clients FAST, and I noticed my constant questioning (“meta-analysis”) is hurting my performance.
Very interesting article. I’m one who works hard, focused, but my work life balance is extremely poor.