Stage 2 Productivity

It seems that every few months, I hit a kind of productivity crisis and quietly freak out. Don’t get me wrong, in generally I have been feeling pretty positive. The Printable CEO did a good job of getting me focused enough a few months ago so I feel I’ve been making good progress, and therefore haven’t been using it so much. This is the first time since then that I’ve realized a different kind of unease has built up regarding the other bad habits I have.

My Biggest Problems, In No Particular Order

  • Distraction by New Ideas
  • Doing Bills in a Timely Manner
  • Doing Household Chores
  • Daily, Regular Routine
  • Juggling Multiple Projects
  • Exercise & Health
  • Moving Forward in Targeted Fashion
  • Developing Business Procedures

Looking at this list, the main themese are chores, distractions, and pursuing specific goals. I can break them down as follows:

Chores: doing bills, household, regular routine, exercise & health.

Distractions: new ideas.

Pursuit of specific goals: Moving forward in targeted fashion, developing business procedures.

In hindsight, my very first Printable CEO form emphasized what I think is Stage 1 for the development of my personal productivity: how to recognize what tasks are most fruitful. Having practiced that for six months, I’ve gained momentum and energy! So now I have a new problem, which is about focus and strategy. Maybe not surprisingly, there is some correlation with the development of small business (as I’ve experience it, anyway).

Problems that Used To Bug Me But Don’t Anymore

Before I go into what I’m thinking about “focus and stage 2”, I feel the need to look at what’s going OK. Keep in mind that I am not saying that “The PCEO healed me! Hallelujah!” It’s just a piece of paper. I think, however, that the sense of accomplishment may have allowed me to see these possibilities more clearly; feeling positive has a way of doing that, because you’re looking outward rather than in.

Anyway, here’s what no longer bothers me:

  • What I Should Do With My Life — I’m liking the combination of blogging and being personally invested in making things for people to use. If I were to distill that into a mission, it would be Empower people first, and good things will follow! I really believe that.

  • Wondering What I Was Good At — I used to worry about this because I thought this was the “key to happiness” or “key to success”. But when I realized it was people first, things fell into place. I’m good at a lot of things, and I can use those skills in service of the mission.

  • Networking with People — When you know the answers to the first two questions, this one just falls into place.

  • Business Growth, excepting Financial Controls and Strategy — Now that I’m comfortatable with the first three, I’m finding making contacts much much easier. More contacts lead to more business. I’ve been having a ball talking to people! It’s an amazing change.

  • Wondering How Long Things Should Take — This used to bother me because it was a question of whether I was being too slow and therefore incompetent. This mattered when “what skill am I good at” was foremost on my mind. Since that’s no longer the case, I just concentrate on doing the job well and telegraphing my moves as much as I can.

Now this is all well and good, but I’m at that peculiar state in the life of a new business where you know something good is happening, but you also know that it’s time to make a choice:

  • Do I float around doing things the way I am now (which is very organic, aka ad-hoc and impulsively)
or
  • Do I start building something bigger? And how much slop am I willing to stand in the process? How much money am I leaving on the table if I don’t start shaping up in the process and numbers department?
There are two ways I can talk about this: from the personal perspective (quality of life) and from the business perspective.
  • Personally, I’m feeling pretty good! So, maybe I should be doing something with all this positive energy, like getting my household in order and running more smoothly. I know theoretically that this is good for me.

  • From the business perspective, more efficient and timely processes means I’ll be able to be more productive with less time, which goes right to the bottom line. It’s a no-brainer to institute some kind of plan to bring this around.

I have to ask myself: do I have to change? A lot of people assume that “growth” is the fundamental reason for a company to exist, and assume that any kind of growth equates to success. I’m a little more conservative and consider self-sustainability to be a better metric; I’m not interested in flipping a company for a quick buck. I want to learn how to make something that can take a beating and keep on producing value. I want multiple sources of income and the ability to scale up and down without waste. For people who are impressed by size, the idea of sustainability over growth sounds dumb, but I’d rather start with a stronger base that I could build higher. That’s because of my own limits in understanding; if I had the MBA and understood money, I could make more money by using a company as a financial vehicle; it almost doesn’t matter if the company is exceptional or not. It just needs to be good enough to create what people want, most of the time, with sufficient cash volume. The financial controllers will ensure that sustainable growth happens, and that 20% return will return fat rewards over time. There’s an interesting sidebar item in the March 2006 issue of Computer Gaming World that lists some really odd game ideas pitched in the offices of NCsoft (a computer game publisher). Two business guys, “true suits”, had left a major game publisher to do their own thing, and enthusiastically pitched for 1.5 hours about the incredible model of funding the game they had come up with…something truly obscure and complex. At the end of all this, the product development VP at NCSoft asked, “well, what’s the game?” The business guys just said, “Well it’s a science fiction thing. Do we have a deal?” My first reaction was, “yeah, these suits don’t get it, and are going destroy our industry.” But now I’m wondering, would those suits have made money? There’s something to be said about having that ability…next time I meet a real money person I’ll have to ask them about this, but I digress.

Stage 2 Realization

There is a time when a successful startup makes the transition to mature business entity. The Founder-CEO, someone who had the leadership ability to attract talent and solve technical problems, is overwhelmed with company management and board politics. It’s at this point that a “professional CEO” steps in. The nature of the company has changed, so a different skillset is required. The founder-CEO often leaves, it’s what this Harvard Business Review article calls “The Paradox of Entrepreneurial Success”. I’m not anywhere near that point…I’m just a guy. However, I am recognizing the desire to start to formalize some processes so I can make the transition more easily in the future. And I want to avoid crunch time. Anyone who’s worked in a startup or “maturing” industry knows what I’m talking about; it’s when there’s a new crisis every hour and the entire team works around the clock to slay every one with “whatever it takes”. It’s the hero mentality, and it is kind of cool until you think about the cost it has on your social life and your family. If you want one, then it’s not a great line of work to get into. My current version of crunch time is pretty mild compared to the old days: it’s running out of clean clothing, being less-than-dilligent about licking stamps and putting them on bills, and staying up all night to get a project out the door. I’m staying up late right now writing this post, because I need to get one out and it’s on my mind. Is there a way I could have worked more regularly and methodically to have avoided this? I know I want it, but how do I achieve it? I can solve the problems: I know how to wash clothes and clean my kitchen. However, I’m busy being distracted by things that I think are more interesting and important; maintaining the blog, making new contacts, and doing project work. I have a dozen interesting projects on the backburner that could pay off big, but I need an additional level of discipline and focus to make that happen. I think this is a pretty common for any business or any individual: how do you manage this? I don’t have a solution at the moment, but I do see a need for a different type of personal CEO. It could just be a minor tweak of the existing PCEO; a new list of tasks, for example. Or a tool to manage multiple PCEO facets that correspond to whatever “stage” you happen to be in.

Conclusion

So in summary:
  • I’ve got energy and momentum I didn’t have before. Feeling good about that!

  • I’ve still got a lot of the same old bad habits. Damn.

  • I feel that I should shape-up and get those bad habits under control, because I’m not being as efficient in growing or achieving my goals.

  • That is, if I had any specific goals to build toward.

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p>My Printable CEO Concrete Goals Tracker is high level, and the Task Progress Tracker is low level. They’re both emphasizing tangibility, which is good. What’s missing is a way to represent actual strategy at the project-granularity level. I’ll be thinking about this over the next couple of weeks.