I’ve met and gotten to know some incredible people over the last few years. One of the things I most respect about these seemingly superhuman people is that, almost without exception, they are consistent and diligent. They don’t accomplish amazing things through pure intellect or magic. They just choose to do as much as they can, as often as they can, in the most important contexts of their life. It’s hard work and they do it over and over each day.
They tend to be very good at the small unseen things. They dig deep and do Something (with a capital S) to trigger productivity when they least want to do do anything at all. It’s an incredibly impressive trait that I’ve been actively working on in 2014. Given that we’re in that personal reflection time of year, I figured I’d share what’s worked for me.
Trying to do Something as often as possible has helped me see that some Somethings are better than other Somethings. For example, here are some Somethings that tend to work well for me.
- Write something – Anything really. An email to customers, prospect or relationship, brainstorming on some important topic I’m working on, or even a blog post like this.
- Sell/Pitch Something – This isn’t just actual sales calls, but often I try to find someone I’ve been meaning to call or email to pitch, and actually do it. It forces me out of my comfort zone, reminds me how much I like what we’re doing at Healthfundr, and tends to get me back on track.
- Clean my desk, bag, or something else – I am not the most naturally organized person on earth. This helps a lot to clear my head.
- Do some customer discovery – Sending an email or calling someone that is in the target market for Healthfundr is almost always productive and good at getting me refocused.
- Knock off a simple nagging task – Things like sending introductions I’ve had on my list for weeks can be super useful.
- Do some testing – At Healthfundr, I’m over our product. We’re a small team, so this makes me the primary tester. I’m sure it annoys the crap out of our dev team sometimes, but finding a bug, changing how we do something, or identifying something I want to improve can be very motivating.
- Go harass another entrepreneur – I’m super lucky to work at a great entrepreneurial co-working space (complete with the requisite exposed brick and beams), so sometimes I’ll just walk around until I find someone I won’t be interrupting. I then ask them questions about how they do something at their company, like analytics, cold sales emails, or prioritizing development. The key is to not interrupt people that are in the flow. Often I’ll get great ideas from this.
- Screen a company – We get hundreds of companies coming to us at Healthfundr, which means I’m constantly screening companies to find the most promising ones.
- Clean up/review my contacts – It’s a constant battle to keep on top of relationships. Spending 20 minutes reviewing them will often be just enough boost to get me going.
I’ve recognized some common threads among the Somethings that work best to trigger productivity. The best Somethings tend to have 3 traits.
- Simple to Start – They require little effort to get going. If I have very little willpower at a given moment, I need to reduce the friction preventing me from getting going. Sometimes this means the most baby of baby steps.
- Discrete – They require a specific amount of effort and have a defined outcome or goal. I want things that are simple to start, don’t take a lot of time, and that I can mark off a to do list when I’m done. Open-ended Somethings are black holes.
- At Least Nominally Productive -This depends on what I consider productive in a given contact, but I try to keep in mind whether the Something is moving me towards some outcome I want.
This isn’t just for work related things either. The best Somethings in any context have these 3 traits. I do similar Somethings at home with my boys when I just am not in the mood to play or interact. I’ll go sit down next to them, or just pick them up and start tickling them. I’m nowhere perfect at doing this in any area of life, but I’ve improved a lot in the last year by actively focusing on choosing the best Somethings.
I’ve also recognized some Somethings to avoid. These are pure time sucks and rarely trigger productivity.
- Browse the internet – I think everyone understands this one. The big point is that reading industry news or other things nominally related to my company or sector feels productive, but generally isn’t and isn’t likely to trigger productivity
- Research things I need to learn – There is always some skill I don’t have as a startup founder, which means lots of reading and research. Right now I’m learning to do highly-targeted lead generation. General research on this often just turns into an unfocused, wild-goose chase that doesn’t result in tangible progress.
- Chat with team members – This is especially dangerous with my cofounder. We’re very good friends and always have lots to talk about, but doing this means I am now distracting him too. Same goes for other team members. Obviously I like chatting with my team, but it’s not a good way to trigger productivity. This is an area I need to improve on as it can feel very productive, even though it’s not.
The common thread of these things is that they’re the opposite of the second 3 traits of the best Somethings. They aren’t discrete, can often lead to unending rabbit holes, and generally aren’t productive when I do them without focusing on some specific outcome or answer I want. The tricky part is that they as simple to start and appear/feel productive, but they any aren’t good at triggering productivity.
I’m becoming a big believer that consistently choosing the best Somethings is one of the most effective ways I can control my own personal growth and what I accomplish in all the important areas of my life.