Stage 2 Productivity

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)
  • 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.


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.


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.


  1. Katy 14 years ago

    I think that everyone has specific goals if they think about it hard enough. They don’t have to be big, and can be about anything. In fact, you mention a goal for yourself

    “I feel that I should shape-up and get those bad habits under control”

    See – you do have a specific goal!

    Break it down into manageable chunks – or to use a David Allen-esque phrase “Next Actions”. When you see the little “baby steps” required – whether it be for personal or business goals, things look a lot easier and more manageable and there is a clear end in sight. Just leaving it as “I feel that I should shape-up and get those bad habits under control” seems like a hugely overwhelming task… so chop it up!


  2. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    Hey Katy! Yep, that’s pretty much what I’m working up to…thanks! I don’t think my problem the deconstruction of larger goals; it’s creating the strategy and tools for consistent followup. One of the background triggers for the original PCEO was that I’m living alone, and working freelance, so externalizing some of the oversight was a trick that worked for me.

    This could very well be one of David Allen’s systems, but going through this exercise pays off big in terms of personal insight. For example, I’m completely immune to “baby steps”. I have a pretty easy time of seeing what the end looks like, and no problem at all planning all the tiny steps from here to there. It’s great when I’m managing OTHER people, but when it comes to myself…argh. It’s all me by myself. One of my overall strategic goals is to get to the point where I can afford to HIRE other people to manage in production for some of my backburner projects. Getting there, though, is a little more speculative in terms of planning; I know that developing better habits will allow me to be more efficient, but this is not a specific waypoint that leads to anywhere.

    As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that the strategic breakdown and planning is what I need to do, but again this is a heavyweight process. I want the light, agile one.

  3. stephanie 14 years ago

    Hi, my geeky boyfriend Damien tanner( reffered me to your site a while back, and although some of what you post about is not relevent to me i find a lot of the time management stuff really usefull, especially since i’m an art student so not very up with planning my time. I also love to hear about your little trips to the beauty salon :) and after reading this post i have come to the conclusion that you really should write a book about all the time planning and management and other usefull info you know :) let me know if you do!

  4. Pavel 14 years ago

    I’ve been thinking about regular frog-eating, i.e. getting rid of simple but umpleasant tasks. I googled to exact quote and bumped into this

  5. Michelle 14 years ago

    Hey there! I just stumbled across your blog as I was searching for blogs to help me (or sympathize with me) on my search for better time management, energy, and less procrastination. I also run my own business (freelance tech writing) and sometimes find the organization aspects difficult, let along dealing with cleaning the house, cooking a real dinner, or doing laundry. Still working on all that.
    I have no desire to ever be a big company. Just to be self-sustaining, to be able to take care of myself whilst working for myself, is my overall goal. A lot of people don’t get that – they think that if I’m a company, I should strive to be huge. My goal in starting my own company was to do something that made me happy and allowed me to report to Me. Sadly, I am not a very good boss for myself, but I’m working on that. :-)
    Good luck with your journey!

  6. Meryn 14 years ago

    “That is, if I had any specific goals to build toward.”
    Well, I don’t really know about your goals, but let I share an insight of mine: In your mind, you have an absolute minimum want you want to achieve. If you have a habit of procrastination, you will in fact take all the time you have to achieve that minimum. If you ever fail twice at something (in the same manner) then you should wonder if you really wanted it in the first place.

    Goals should be measurable. If you want to change your habits, make up a new, measurable goal: Monthly revenue, number of blog posts, losing 10 pounds (things with a number in it, or something which easily evaluates to true/false). Your habits will follow. You will adapt to reach your new minimum.

    I don’t think procrastination is a cause of problems. Instead, too low goals cause procrastination, and all other kinds of inefficient behavior. You’ll use up all the space you give yourself. Make that space smaller, and you will adapt. It’s like learning to live with a handicap.

    You say you still have bad habits. If this takes up 1 or 2 hours of your day, add 1 or 2 hour activities to your day. Almost anything you can think of will be better then those bad habits, at least if you don’t deliberately try to think up some bad activity.

    I don’t know how many hours you sleep in a day. Maybe even sleep will be more ‘productive’ then your bad habits. Go sleep an hour longer in the day, you WILL keep up with your goals. After a little crisis, your bad habits simply have to go. There’s no space for them.