If you consider yourself an entrepreneur, you probably consider yourself highly productive as well.
We business owners do have that reputation, of working long hours and getting more done than most. We may drop into bed with a big sigh at the end of another day of dealing with employees, markets, sales forecasts, strategic plans, bankers, customers and more – not taking into account the various crises that may emerge any given day. We see ourselves as producers and hear from those around us, “How do you ever get it all done?”
Then there are those nights when we play a mental video of the day and think we accomplished nothing. We feel that all we did is race from task to task, meeting to meeting, never completing anything except getting ourselves tired out.
Inc. magazine recently published the results of interviews with 15 successful entrepreneurs. The interviews focused on productivity, and the CEOs featured were highly efficient. I think they offered some interesting insights on various ways that entrepreneurs tackle their work and boost their own productivity.
One entrepreneur, who has developed a variety of Internet start-ups, spends a great deal of his work time finding the right people. His name is Kevin P. Ryan and he says there is one thing he won’t delegate: hiring people to whom he can delegate. He believes that 80 percent of business comes down to having the right people, and acts on that belief by interviewing potential employees every day. The magazine quotes him as saying, “I never want to think, OK, we have our team. Instead, I think if we have 10 engineers or 10 directors, one of those is No. 10. Is there someone out in the market who is much better than our 10th person? The answer is generally yes.”
Ryan has many methods within his organization that bolster his ongoing search. And as intense as that sounds, he feels the results are well worth it. He can delegate confidently and takes six or seven weeks vacation a year because he trusts he’s got the best people running things back at the office.
Another business owner feels his high productivity was tied to flexibility. He always leaves blocks of time in his day open so he’s ready to meet opportunities that arise out of nowhere. If a key customer calls or comes to the office, he usually has a window of time to meet as he likes to be no more than 50 percent scheduled. If he ends up with free time, he uses it to catch up on reading industry reports and the like. This approach sounds like a good antidote to feeling frazzled—and we know productivity rarely emerges from that frazzled feeling.
Barbara Corcoran, who built a hugely successful real estate company, has an interesting ABC letter system to organize her daily tasks. A is for time-sensitive items that push her business ahead and that only she can do. She has a sub-A category for other time sensitive items that wouldn’t create a crisis if she didn’t get to them that day. B items are important but without specific deadlines and Cs are items that really don’t make a difference in the grand scheme of things.
Another entrepreneur featured in these interviews runs what I call an advertising empire. Jordan Zimmerman keeps himself in top physical condition, bikes about 25 miles a day and is at the gym every morning at 3:30 a.m.! He’s on top of 20 major accounts and meets with teams from most of those accounts each day—meetings of about 15 minutes each. He communicates with employees and clients primarily by cell phone so he wastes no time chasing after people. When working on his computer, he keeps focused by having a second computer right next to him. If an unrelated idea pops into his mind (don’t they always?) he turns to the second computer to park that idea and then returns to task. He usually has dinner with the family then works after the kids are in bed. He does all this on about four hours of sleep per night! When speaking at a university he might ask students why they sleep in on weekends. “Why would you sleep when that’s your time to live?”
Catarina Fake, co-founder of Flickr, provided a refreshing contrast to the other entrepreneurs’ hits on being productive. She thinks it is a “sickness” to keep trying to do more in less time. She likes to spend more time and likes to work on what feels like the right thing for her energy at that moment.
In her organizations there are few meetings and pretty constant sharing of ideas. Sounds like fun to me in an inspirational environment.
One of the best hints quoted in this Inc. article came from Julie Ruvolu, co-founder of Solvate, a provider of offsite office assistants. “If you’re having trouble getting started on something, you’re going to have trouble finishing it. Delegate it sooner rather than later.”
That really makes sense to me and had I heard it years ago, I’d have saved a lot of wasted energy.