Guest blogger Sam Hodges is the co-founder of Endurance Lending Network, a web-based lending platform that connects small businesses looking for $50-500K of debt capital with non-traditional lending sources. Follow Sam on Twitter @HodgesSam.
An irony of this blog entry is that I’m writing it a week later than I’d hoped — it’s been a busy week as we accelerate into the New Year at Endurance (a lender to small businesses in the U.S.). Endurance is the second company I’ve co-founded; my experience here (and in a variety of other managerial and investment-oriented roles over the past decade), has helped me define a set of productivity rules I try, not always faithfully, to live by:
1. Triage, triage, triage
Some people call this the “80:20” principle — my experience is that ratio is misleading (and a bit trite), so I prefer to think of this as “triage” (what an admissions team at an ER does with incoming patients: they focus first on the ones where time is of the essence). For example, at Endurance our team sorts tasks by two factors: “importance” and “urgency.” One can only get a pretty small number of tasks done in any day; especially in the context of a start-up, where it pays to be nimble. Constantly re-evaluating what is important and what is urgent (not the same thing) keeps your team focused on stuff that’s mission critical. If you find your To-Do list cluttered with a bunch of medium-importance, low-urgency items it probably means you’ve let your eye off the ball in other areas. A lot of success is in consistently hitting medium-importance, high-urgency goals.
2. Make fewer decisions – focus on those
This may be in response to my own cognitive limitations, but I can only make a few good decisions every day. I find that the more I standardize certain things (how I dress for work, what I have for breakfast, what my workout is in the morning, etc.) the more capacity I have to deeply weigh the important stuff. It’s easy to get hung up on the litany of decisions required just to get through life — the less time I spend on those, the less time I waste on “friction-full” low value things which I can free up to be productive where it matters.
3. Outsource as much as you can
I’m just not very good at many things; moreover, time is of the essence. For a company or in your personal life, determine the areas that actually create value — for a company it may be operational excellence; for an individual it may be cooking dinner for your family every night — and focus on those. There are myriad services, TaskRabbit being a great example, that allow you to handle many non-core needs.
4. Have more than one option
Getting to a good decision usually requires some sort of preparatory process: it could be in research, prototype development, candidate development, etc. Generally, I’ve found that rather than focusing this prep process on “the answer,” it’s more productive to focus on developing a few options. That way, if for whatever reason your first choice doesn’t work you’ve already done the thinking necessary to go onto option two and you don’t have to duplicate your initial effort. To bastardize an old adage: plans are nothing, contingency planning is everything.
5. Close your email and leave devices out of meetings; keep meetings short
Some people are good at multi-tasking, but the most brilliant and effective multi-taskers I know are even better when they focus. Sometimes distraction and chaos are unavoidable. Two tactical suggestions for limiting this effect? 1. Limit meeting time. I personally think there should be no meetings longer than thirty minutes (though sometimes brainstorming or planning sessions do need more time than that); and 2. Tell people to close their email (if they must use their laptops in a meeting) and leave their other devices at their desks. Doing so will have the added boon that people will want the meeting to end quickly — a good thing!
6. Close your email and browser
A corollary to #5: if you’re working on something that requires extended focus (e.g. coding, financial modeling, document preparation), turn off your email and close your browser! Facebook and detail work do not mix.
Hope these ideas are helpful, and that you’re more successful living them than I am at times!