One of the great misconceptions I hear from entrepreneurs is that success is some kind of end-state that you eventually reach and then kick back in sweet satisfaction as you sit in your counting-house, counting out your money.
But that's a risky, foolhardy way to live, especially when you don't know how long is left before you shuffle off this mortal coil. Success is not a result, it is the here and now. Look at success as the journey, not the destination, and strive to feel that sense of happy, satisfied fulfilment now, rather than later.
Part of the problem is the here and now can trouble us. We aren't achieving what we hoped we'd achieve today, or this week. That brilliant lead has gone cold, the investor you had pinned your hopes on has gone silent, you can't concentrate on the big, important stuff because the small jobs are piling up. So, we focus on the bright future instead.
The truth is, most of us just aren't truly productive most of the time. We might be busy, but we reach the end of the week wondering where all those hours went and what exactly we have to show for it.
We are only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes out of the working day (Source: VoucherCloud)
The good news is the many things that stop us from reaching peak productivity can usually be avoided or removed, and a huge amount of time and energy can be saved by cultivating a different mindset towards our work – one that leaves us time to enjoy life and reflect on our successes in between stints of productive work.
Here are seven of the most common reasons you're not achieving more in your working week, and why you feel further away from success than you might like:
- Worries about the future are dominating your mind
- You're not setting (achievable) goals
- You don't respect the importance of rest
- You have an unhealthy relationship with your phone
- You're struggling with low confidence
- You're bogged down with menial, repetitive tasks
- Too many people rely on you
You may not recognize yourself in all of these, but it is highly likely that you are suffering from at least a few. Let's break down why each can be such an issue for entrepreneurs and look at the possible solutions.
1. Worries about the future are dominating your mind
"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."
Entrepreneurs tend to be future gazers. To be successful we must anticipate trends so they can adjust accordingly. However, we need to make sure that the future – and what may happen – doesn't develop into needless fretting over the things we cannot control.
45% of entrepreneurs report being stressed compared to 42% of "other workers". Entrepreneurs also report being more likely to have "worried a lot" — 34% vs. 30%. (Source: Gallup)
There's a big difference between being smart and taking preventative action and in losing sleep over imagined scenarios. In times of turmoil, it can be difficult not to ruminate on worst-case scenarios, but it is manageable.
The solution: Look at mindfulness, which is the practice of staying grounded in the present moment. Harder than it sounds. But finding calm can be as simple as taking five deep breaths, acknowledging your thoughts and concerns out loud, or on paper, and choosing to leave them behind.
Don't let stress sabotage your long-term success and realize that it's impossible to retain absolute control. Every so often, entrepreneurs will be tested on their ability to react and steer their company through trouble times. So, don't waste your energy avoiding the inevitable and, instead, prepare yourself mentally for the unknown challenges ahead.
2. You're not setting (achievable) goals
"Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success."
Goals are fascinatingly powerful things. The simple act of saying something out loud, or committing it paper, can change everything.
But there's a right way and a wrong way to set goals so they have the desired effect. Firstly, it's easy to make them lofty and unrealistic, which ends up having the adverse effect of being unreachable and therefore demotivating.
Secondly, you must keep revisiting your goals. Without regular reminders, you risk being sidetracked by whatever tasks crop up throughout the week instead of those that directly contribute to your success.
You become 42% more likely to achieve your goals and dreams, simply by writing them down on a regular basis.
The solution: Write down two goals: a BIG goal and a NOW goal.
Your big goal is your vision; your long-term ambition. It is specific, like growing to $1M annual revenue or winning 5,000 customers. This big goal can help you to justify important, strategic decisions like investments in new software or hiring.
What the big goal doesn't do, however, is show you how you’re going to get there. This is perfectly fine. If we all knew how to hit $1M revenue... well... then we’d all be millionaires.
That's where the NOW goal fits in. This is a goal that's attainable within the next few months e.g. to unroll an ambitious new marketing strategy, to double the sales team, or to secure 10 new clients. And, you've guessed it, this NOW goal must directly contribute to you achieving your BIG goal. It may not work. It may be that you need to test one NOW goal, and then another, and another but, with each attempt, you’re eliminating the options and getting closer to the BIG goal.
Write those goals down and keep them visible. Read them every morning. It'll keep you driven, re-align your thoughts and actions, and save you time and energy.
3. You don't respect the importance of rest
"Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for."
One of the saddest misconceptions in our working philosophies is the dedication to the grind: that, somehow, it is admirable to keep pushing well past the point of what is reasonable.
Not only does it make you increasingly less useful to your business (because your productive hours reduce as you edge towards burnout), you also may be harming your business and yourself.
The World Health Organization describes burnout as an "occupational phenomenon" resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy, says WHO.
Entrepreneurs aren't doing menial tasks that can be done on autopilot, they are making important decisions that affect the bottom line, the knock-on effect of which is people's livelihoods. Looking at the description above, it's not hard to see why burnout plus decision making could be a recipe for disaster.
The solution: The antidote to burnout is (for the most part) rest. To be efficient and healthy means committing to breaks as seriously as you commit to work.
Taking a lunch break in the middle of the day has an important long-term impact on vigor in the workplace, boosts energy levels and provides needed time for internal recovery.
Try using a scheduling or calendar app rather than a to-do list, and plan regular breaks as well as your stints of work. If you commit to doing an activity – running, swimming, cycling – particularly with another person, then you’ll reduce the risk of working through your breaks. Then watch your productivity soar.
4. You have an unhealthy relationship with your phone
"If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work."
C. S. Lewis
In 2017, ex-Facebook president Sean Parker made a then-startling announcement when he said the social media site was built to exploit "a vulnerability in human psychology" using a “social-validation feedback loop”.
Parker admitted that Facebook "probably interferes with your productivity in weird ways" and said the team who launched the social media platform was trying to figure out from the start how to “consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible".
Since then, we've come to realize it's not only Facebook, it's just about every app on our phone as well as the device itself that’s clamouring for our attention.
Many of us don't realize we have a problem, but billions have been invested in making sure our phones are the perfect distraction devices. So, if you constantly check the news, habitually scroll through social media or reach for your phone when you've got a huge list of tasks to do, you’re not alone.
The solution: Become more aware of distractions and don't legitimize them. We might tell ourselves that checking the news or answering emails is useful for work, but neither is urgent or important at that particular moment in time when we're sitting down to begin a task.
It takes an average of about 25 minutes to refocus and return to your original task after an interruption.
Every time you catch yourself reaching for your phone, even if just to browse your inbox, ask yourself: "How will this help me reach my goals?".
If your phone can't answer that question satisfyingly, then it can wait until later. Even if it means responding to that message a little later, it simply isn't worth breaking your focus.
If necessary, leave your phone in another room until your next break.
5. You're struggling with low confidence
"Just believe in yourself. Even if you don’t, pretend that you do and, at some point, you will."
In his final book before he died, philosopher Friederich Nietzsche attempted to reflect on his career. Not widely appreciated or known at the time, he named the chapters of his book: Why I Am So Wise, Why I Am So Clever and Why I Write Such Good Books.
Clearly not a man lacking in confidence, he emphatically declared that: "There is no drearier or sorrier creature in nature than the man who has evaded his own genius."
These statements would strike many as brash, arrogant and pretty far outside of social conventions – such is our wont to focus on our flaws and point out our failures. But was he on to something?
There's not doubt that low confidence can be a barrier to success. Around 70% of us suffer from so-called 'imposter syndrome' at some point in our careers – the feeling of being a fraud and succeeding due to luck rather than talent.
The solution: 'Fake it til you make it' is a confidence technique taught by coaches and mentors. If we tap our acting skills and behave confidently, we end up feeling confident.
It can also help to simply be more curious and have faith in our ability to learn: I don't know much about that but I am confident that if I spend a few hours researching it, learning about it and asking some good questions, I can figure out the answer because I'm a reasonably intelligent person. Knowledge doesn’t only give us power, but confidence too.
6. You're bogged down with menial, repetitive tasks
"The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize."
Far too many entrepreneurs lack control when it comes to spending. And I'm not talking about money, but time.
In the UK, CEOs waste almost two hours per day (111 minutes) on routine tasks that could be done by technology, according to a survey by ABBYY. This amounts to 54 wasted working days a year for the most expensive and time-poor person in your business (you).
Investment in good automation software shouldn't be overlooked. But there’s another issue: understanding what you, as a CEO, should and should not be working on.
There is a famous technique for this, credited to former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Eisenhower Matrix involves taking each item on your to-do list and plotting it on a four-square grid. The process of categorising your tasks will help you grasp what needs to be done first, what needs delegating and what you shouldn’t waste any time on.
Divide tasks into these categories:
Urgent and important: Do it yourself, and do it right now
Important, not urgent: Do it yourself, but schedule it for later
Urgent, not important: Delegate or outsource to someone else
Not urgent and not important: Eliminate it
An entrepreneur's tasks are the important ones only. To help you determine which tasks are important, ask yourself if they directly contribute to the NOW goals we looked at above. If they don't, delegate them.
7. Too many people rely on you
"Family, religion, friendship. These are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business."
Mr Burns, The Simpsons
As a business owner you're many things to many people: an answerer of questions, a giver of praise, definitely a leader and probably a breadwinner, a parent, a partner and a daughter or son. As an individual needed by so many family, colleagues and friends you may find you're spread rather thin.
There's little you can do about that, but plenty you can do to make things rather easier for your coworkers.
The solution: Manage expectations. Schedule an 'open door' hour each day, when your colleagues can walk in or book a time to speak to you. Tell your team and let them know why you're doing it. The rest of the time you’ll be focusing on pressing tasks and, without constant distractions, that'll be much easier.