Not everything is helpful. Not everything is useful.
I’ve launched 4 startups so far in my career. And at every other company that I worked for, I treated the role as if it was my own startup. In doing that I found that there are a ton of things that need to be done, but we rarely think about the things that need to NOT be done.
Consider this my gift to you. Most startup advice you read includes more things to add to your to-do list. This is your authorization to reduce and cut back.
1. Stop accepting all the meeting invites
Have you seriously looked at your calendar recently? Unless you’re one of the rare few who already abide by Jason’s calendar practice, then it most likely looks like a train wreck.
In some cases you must share calendars due to the company’s Exchange setup, etc., then at least block off some “work” times that are yours and abide by them!
Better, is if you follow Jason Fried’s advice from above and control your own destiny.
Either way, I recommend that at least once per quarter you go through and bulk decline all of the recurring meetings. If you are really needed, they will invite you again. If any meeting doesn’t include an agenda, only the absolute required attendees, and/or is set for more time than you think it should take: decline.
Put some tough love into practice here. Expect more from your team and colleagues and they will respond. Let them know what it takes to get a meeting “accept” from you. Then hold your ground. It’s freeing. But it also begins to convert your team into ‘doers’ instead of ‘meeters’.
2. Stop being busy
Busyness is a sign of poor time management, distraction, or lack of delegation. Don’t ever look at it as a good thing! Being needlessly busy means we’re responding to slack instantly, always checking email pings, in every meeting (see above), bouncing, hopping, flitting. But never really accomplishing.
When you get stuck in that sort of busy, you become unavailable to your team, you lose your grasp on the bigger, strategic picture, and you face almost certain burnout…you’re losing the war.
Successful people automate simple tasks. Think of your day, week, month, and year, and imagine that you’re a franchise. How would you document everything you do so that someone else could do it?
First, from that list, find which things could be done automatically. There are so many great and often free tools to “replicate you”, like IFTTT, Zapier, bots (within Slack, Messenger, Intercom, etc.), Chrome extensions, Gmail add-ons, calendar setups, Exchange rules, and the list goes on and on. Get creative and start automating your own life.
Second, from the remaining list, find which items you can and should be delegating to others. You may have to stretch yourself beyond what you’ve been comfortable with. If you don’t yet have those people on your team, and there are many items you can delegate, then start by adding people.
Last, review the remaining few things in the list. Are these really your crucial job responsibilities? If not, get harsh and keep cutting things out. And if you actually have room to take on more things with your time now, then focus on the *most* critical, strategic things that only you can do.
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3. Stop pitching if you don’t have traction
For startups, stop pitching for investment if at least one of these three isn’t massive:
- Team (ex: 1 founder recently exited at 10x+ for investors)
- Product (ex: at one of my companies we had to turn away investors, because we had literally invented the smartphone payment space. And sold to Apple retail.)
- Traction (ex: your site is getting over two million unique visitors per month)
For non-startup folks, stop trying to push some agenda forward without thinking about what the other stakeholders need to hear and feel first. Anticipate people’s questions, their negative reactions, or even just inertia. Why bother?
You need to craft a convincing story, with a strong story arc that involves your audience, and include potent data or reference points that people can get behind. (It’s not a risky leap if they can point to relevant data. If things go wrong, everyone can blame bad data or other shifts.)
After you’ve got some believers onboard, then get back in there and tell your story like you mean it.
4. Stop hiding
Ouch. Yes, I went there. I’ve already talked about busyness, which can be a form of hiding. But I’ve hidden in many different ways. Perhaps you recognize some of these in yourself, too…
- Let someone else take the lead
- Get [more senior person] to decide
- Keep refining the product before shipping
- Give your sales (or other) pitch, and leave out the ASK
- Blame…a peer, a subordinate, a boss, support, tech, sales, anyone
- Just show up, but don’t teach, mentor, share, or give
- Don’t ask the question for fear of sounding dumb
- Do it the same way we always have
- Wait for direction or permission
The list could go on for a while. Take a minute to think about the ways that you hide at work. Write them down. Share them with a trusted friend or mentor. Then start stepping up your game — out in the open.
5. Stop waiting
Maybe I should have waited on this one, since I just opened the hiding wound.
I typically think of waiting as something that is imposed upon me. I have to wait in line to checkout at the store, or I have to wait to see the Doctor. But waiting is also something that you and I can choose into. It usually comes from a place of fear.
I’ll wait to ship this software, because if I do and no one buys it then it’s a failure. But if I wait, it’s just “in development”. That’s safe… or is it?
If no one is buying my software, then how do I get user feedback? How do I test our hypothesis that this meets a market need? How will I know what to iterate and improve? How will I know what the right feature mix is? How do I bring in revenue to grow the company?
Every day not shipping, and securing new customers, is a day the company is losing money and careening toward extinction. We’ll either burn up the runway, or get caught by competitors and face the same doom in a different manner.
This holds true for waiting to follow up on sales leads. Waiting to run a marketing campaign. Waiting to get that investor meeting. Waiting to have that talk with my boss. Waiting — behind fear.
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6. Stop doing tasks
If you’ve read this far, then you’re not likely a task-level worker. You are part of the information economy, in which case you are part of this relatively newer class of worker who sets our own priorities, manages our own time, and chooses when and where to focus on what.
But it is SO much simpler to do tasks. Tasks come with a beginning and an end. And in many cases they are shorter and more direct to complete.
This goes beyond the being busy issue from above, because you can remove busyness and still only be completing tasks. When what you ought to be doing is making progress on the difficult, the strategic, the innovative, the valuable things.
What amazing value do only you bring to your company? What literally can’t get done if you don’t do it?
If you’re not starting because you don’t know how to manage larger or more nebulous projects, then learn project management skills! Try Seth Godin’s “Bingo Method” — it works. Try user story mapping, a great technique for taking a complex problem and distilling it down to manageable pieces that can be completed (and shipped).
You need to learn that skill or you will forever get stuck or hit painful and unnecessary misses during bigger projects.
Get out of your comfort zone, and tackle the hard stuff. It’s rewarding, it’s what matters, and it’s who you are supposed to be. Let your interns, or Task Rabbit, do tasks.
7. Stop ignoring your team
This sounds like an obvious one, but it’s not. I know it’s not, because I coach startup and corporate leaders all the time about this very thing.
Being in the office together is not the same as actively helping your team grow. Having a keg, or snacks, or dogs, or games, or a lunch area do not equal company culture. Each of these things add to your efforts, but people need you to lead.
If you’re not being proactive about your team / teams / company, then you are, in effect, ignoring them. People need mentorship, they need career advice, they want recognition and praise, they require constructive feedback, and they need to be pushed to greater success.
Leading the team is your first job.
A great, healthy team will do all the work. Your job is to get them there. Don’t you want to rest easy when you’re out sick or on vacation knowing that your people have it all covered? I do. And I know I’m happier at work when I am enabling others to be their best.
Amazing teams is one of the core reasons why investors put money in one startup over another. It’s how successful companies get through the hard times, the periods of crazy growth, and everything else that comes their way.
In my last company, someone asked me about my roadmap and whether I thought competitors might try and copy us. My answer: I could email our roadmap to our competitors today, and my team and I will out-deliver them all; any day of the week. And we did, by focusing on the team, resulting in a $1.65 billion acquisition.
Even if your role is product, as mine was, your job is people. Stop ignoring them and start focusing your best stuff there.
Speaking of people, we all need community and influence from others out there trying to accomplish lofty goals like us. So come join me and hundreds of others on Startup Ruckus. It’s one thing you can START doing. 😉
//Originally published on Startups.co