We’ve talked about the importance of entrepreneurs seeking advice from others. Founders are guilty of those brain-engulfing narcissistic thoughts that “I alone” know everything about my company and the best plans, policies, and products to keep it on a positive trajectory.
That’s just not smart business. We need to rely on “rabbis” to give advice and keep us in check. To show another point of view; or another way of doing things.
That’s what Greg McKeown did for me.
I’ve never met McKeown. He’s the exception to my “rabbis are my inner circle” ethos. But, his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less basically changed my life and outlook as a founder. Read it. Trust me.
It’s exactly what you think it is: Learning how to focus on the most essential things. This book helped me learn to prioritize what really matters so you can have a life and a family. The Essentialist does less, but better, which allows him to make the highest possible contribution.
The Essentialist gets out of the weeds (sound familiar?).
The book is about reevaluating priorities, which is one of the hardest lessons to learn as an entrepreneur, when everything seems like the most important thing in the world.
Here’s what else this book taught me:
Focus on getting five things done in a day.
Our culture has brainwashed us into thinking that we have to be as busy as humanly possible. That crossing 20 things off a list is better than if we just accomplish 15. Especially if those five extra things are mediocre at best. By trying to do it all, we’re underperforming across the board.
You wind up doing a lot of things, badly.
The Essentialist focuses instead on getting only the right things done. It doesn’t matter if you only accomplish five things in one day, as long as they are the right things, in the right way, and at the right time. Heck, completing one task, and doing it well, is far better than completing seven and half-assing them.
I’m asking “Why” a lot lately before I start a new task. “Why am I doing this? Why should anyone be doing this?” That answer helps you decide what are the things that should be on your list. The best founders pull themselves out of the weeds. Things like reviewing board deck always make the cut. If you recruit top talent then tasks like, proofreading a company newsletter or hopping on sales call, will quickly disappear.
Don’t let distractions change your priorities.
Email is in the palm of our hands and the phone is at our side at every moment–we’ve given others too much access, and therefore too much control.
Inbox zero is not a strategy to set priorities.
Nor is instructing your team to text you if something is urgent. Fielding incoming requests just puts you off track.
I’ve learned this the hard way when I prided myself on responding to every small email and fire drill. Founders need to pull themselves out of the weeds. You need to let the other 50 people CCd on the email handle it. They’re more than capable. I’ve learned to play offense, not defense. If it’s that urgent, and I’m the only person who can answer, it will get to me.
Learn how to say no.
I’m a firm believer in advocating for others, but sometimes you really do need to draw the line. Accepting every coffee date or walking away from a conference with 75 business cards–what does that really achieve. Is it really success?
For someone running a networking business, this is particularly hard. Every requested lunch date, meeting, coffee is potentially good for the business. I’ve had to learn to say no quite often (which is uncomfortable) and yes to what is important. I have to decide if this meeting is going to push the company goals forward because creating one authentic connection is more important than having ten surface relationships that are going nowhere.
Remember, not everything can be a priority. It’s just not possible. McKoewn even says that there no such thing as “priorities” as a priority really cannot be more than one thing!
It’s something that I have to remind myself to practice daily–like meditation or working out, you have to train yourself.
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