The Next Leap

Entrepreneurs fool themselves about productivity

Last month, in “My experience with product reviews,” I mentioned that I had sent a nude selfie to Blenders Eyewear and was disappointed by its lack of response.

I then tweeted the column out to Blenders. The staff gave an immediate and enthusiastic response on Twitter, in the comments for the column, in my email, and on my voicemail.

That’s some customer engagement.

The takeaway is that Blenders seeks nude selfies. The staff claims it will place them on the office refrigerator. So please buy Blenders sunglasses, take nude selfies, and send them to Blenders.

Now on to this month’s column.

There is no shortage of advice on how entrepreneurs can be more productive and more effective. Over the years, I have become better at both. But I sometimes believe that I’m being productive when, in fact, I’m wasting time. Here are three ways that entrepreneurs often fool themselves about productivity.

3 productivity traps

Focusing on the urgent while ignoring the important. I sometimes focus on the wrong quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix (also called the Covey grid), which helps prioritize items based on their importance and urgency. Quadrant 1 is both important and urgent. Quadrant 2 is important but not urgent. Quadrant 3 is urgent but not important. And quadrant 4 is neither important nor urgent.

Often I can be fooled into focusing on quadrant 3 — items that are urgent but not important. These can include, for example, answering emails and having low-value conversations.

The real trap for me, however, is quadrant 1 — items that are both important and urgent. The dangerous part of quadrant 1 is that I feel wildly productive when I complete those items.

But important and urgent items (quadrant 1) steal your time from those that are important but not urgent (quadrant 2). And it’s the important but not urgent items (quadrant 2) that I really need to do. Sometimes I’ve known for years that I needed to do them, but I still put them off.

For example, working on the relationship with your spouse or partner is almost always an important thing to do. But it’s very often not urgent — until it’s too late. That’s not a business example, but it is emotional and personal for many, including me.

A business example of quadrant 2 two is planning. Many entrepreneurs don’t want to plan because they aren’t “doing something.” But as one of my friends told me recently, every 1 minute of planning saves 10 minutes in execution.

Needless networking. Another entrepreneurial time waster is networking. I’m a fan of growing a large network. But the worst way of networking is meeting in person, such as having a coffee.

Tim Ferriss’s idea of just-in-time networking works for me. Ferriss asserts that you don’t build random connections that might eventually be mutually useful. Instead, look for people that you need immediately and network with them.

A major critique of this approach is that networks are often valuable when you build connections over time. But randomly going to network events or meeting someone for coffee is not a great way to build a deep connection. You have to spend more time with someone to build deep ties.

Too much planning. Another way that entrepreneurs waste time is researching too much and acting too little. Examples could be watching the newest marketing videos on YouTube, reading blogs about marketing, and similar efforts.

We are all creators and consumers. As entrepreneurs, we strive to consume high-quality content — whether it’s from text or video or at conferences. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to learn too much before taking action.

Entrepreneurs need to be creating. That’s getting into the arena and making things happen that can drive you and your company forward.

So what do you think? How do you procrastinate without realizing you are procrastinating? Have you ever sent a nude selfie to an appreciative brand? Let me know in the comments below.

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