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To grow a business, work less (but better)

I recently read a book that made a great impression on me. The book is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown. In this post, I’ll offer an approach for not only being more productive, but also having more fun.

Like many entrepreneurs, I have done many tasks over the years that are not the perfect use of my time. I’ve painted the walls, shipped out orders, located a plumber, and so forth. To some degree, it’s this willingness to do whatever it takes that allows a business to overcome the difficulties faced in the early years. However, it’s this same attitude that on many occasions prevents a business from growing.

Long hours for what purpose?

I first realized this during the holiday season of 2009. I had to spend roughly six weeks with our order fulfillment team, working close to twelve hours per day, six days per week to make sure our orders were shipped.

While I gained a lot from the experience, I neglected what mattered most: growing the company. I told a friend how hard I was working and demonstrating my commitment to growth. There was pride in my voice, but he simply looked at me and asked, “So is this the activity that will drive the growth you want for your company?”

I had to admit that, no, it was not.

Entrepreneurs often work on activities that are not the most important for their business. You may be working long hours for no real reason.

This post is not about working three hours a week and increasing your income. It is about focusing on your highest point of impact. It’s about doing things that you love to do and are also excellent at doing. Dan Sullivan from The Strategic Coach, a consulting firm, calls this your “unique ability.”

Finding your unique ability

Start by identifying the tasks you should focus on. What is your unique ability? Or what are the tasks that drive your company forward? Maybe it’s improving your website’s dollar per visitor, or its close ratio. Maybe it’s marketing. Maybe your company has problem with fulfillment or customer service. Find those areas that need the greatest degree of focus from you. In many ways, this is the same as looking for the constraints in your business. What is the constraint that is slowing down your company’s growth?

Once you know what to concentrate on, build time in your schedule to focus on these key activities. Devote a certain amount per week or per day for your most important (not urgent) activities. This could be, for example, four hours at the beginning of your day. Or two days per week.

This time of focus should be active and intense. This may be something you like to do, but it is also extremely productive. Don’t leave it for the last 25 minutes of the day. You should take into account both your time and your energy when scheduling time for these focused activities.

One way to accomplish this is to set a challenge with a friend and connect every day. Let him know if you’ve done it or not. Provide the same service to him.

Another approach is to devote certain days of the week for certain type of activities, such as one day for people development, another for marketing, and yet another for operational solutions or strategic planning. This approach works well for me.

At times we all get stressed. It could be from pressures at home or from the business. Perhaps there are some major decisions that you are not fully comfortable making now. When this occurs, take a deep breath, get up from your desk, and walk around. Get away from your email, computer, and phone and make a list of everything you need to accomplish right now. Then rank them in order of importance.

Finding the time

To these suggestions, many entrepreneurs likely would say, “I would love to concentrate only the most essential tasks. I would love to spend all my time doing things I love, which I’m also great at doing. But who will do all the other work? How will I find the time for this work?”

Here are ideas for finding the time.

  • Plan your week. Start every week with a plan. During the planning phase, decide what to focus on each day. Also, every morning review your weekly plan and decide how and when you’ll focus on your key tasks.
  • Learn how to delegate. Many entrepreneurs are not good at delegating and need some work learning how to do it better. I’m one of them.
  • Do not own everyone’s problems. People come to you many times with problems they are facing. Don’t own their problems for them. You can and should help, but keep the problems on their plates and help them come up with the solution.
  • Have clear areas of responsibility. This helps others in the company know that they can and should take care of certain situations without impacting your time.
  • Take time to plan projects. Planning is a lost art. Take time to plan your projects and assign responsibilities to others in your organization.
  • Understand that this is a process. You will not eliminate all the tasks you don’t like right away. Look at this as journey and improve every day or every week.

One way to know you have been successful in this is the size of your to-do list. Entrepreneurs often try to tackle many activities and manage many priorities. By focusing on doing less, you get to make a major impact in one key area for the company.

Hard work does not necessarily equal better results. Leverage your time to grow your ecommerce company to whatever size you want. If time is your most scarce resource, how you invest it must be your top priority.

Do you have thoughts on achieving focus? Please share them, below.

David Sasson
David Sasson
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