What are the 2–3 most effective daily habits for a successful entrepreneur that you have seen implemented or have implemented yourself — to maximize productivity? Can you describe the benefits you’ve seen from these habits?
After some sober deliberation, here was my response.
Daily habits are the most effective way to make progress towards big long term goals and achievements. To be successful as an entrepreneur requires persistent action. Practices are manifest persistence.
Long-term consistency always beats short-term intensity when in the service of big goals. Don’t rely on inspiration. Habits are more reliable.
Maximizing productivity does not mean frenzied activity. There is a Latin phrase, Festina Lente, that translates as “make haste slowly.” In the military Special Forces, they say, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” In laboratories where scientists work with toxic or biohazard agents, a spill can be fatal or have catastrophic consequences. They will not accept a colleague with “fast hands.”
Have you ever noticed that the faster you try to go, the more mistakes you make, and the more you have to go back and fix it? Whatever we do, it is best if we do it deliberately and mindfully. Do it with focus. Multi-tasking is a delusion.
There are lots of actions that, when consistently practiced, will move you along the path you have set. Which ones will work for a particular person comes down to addressing the quirks of personality and personal preferences. That means taking the time to know one’s self honestly.
Try a bunch on and see which ones fit. Develop a toolbox of habits and apply the ones you have found useful depending on the situation.
Here are a few that I have found helpful:
First, it’s good to have an overall strategic plan, so you know where you intend to go. Then create a schedule from your planned strategy. Then derive levels of sub-goals that align with your main goal. These will look like a pyramid with levels feeding into the next level as you make progress.
Chunk down the sub-goals into feasible tasks with a measurable outcome.
Now we can apply some tactics.
Keep your eyes on the prize. It is easy to be seduced and distracted by the multitude of good ideas that come up as you pursue your goal. Don’t let them dilute your efforts. Warren Buffett gave some sage advice: pick 25 things you would like to achieve, then rate the top five. Then go back and eliminate the other 20 and never think about them again. That is the kind of ruthless focus that is required to get essential things done.
How do you know what’s essential? You must prioritize. Use the Eisenhower Box technique. Dwight Eisenhower said, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.” Learn to tell the difference. Focus on doing the important stuff and delegate the urgent.
Develop a bias toward action. Do something, measure the results, and course-correct as needed. Make decisions. Imperfect decisions beat indecision every time.
Focus, Prioritize, Act
Rinse and repeat.
Form good habits and drop bad ones. Always be developing yourself; it is your moral duty. Continuously increase your resources by reading, studying, and applying what you learn.
“Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life.”
― Mortimer J. Adler
Develop character. Character is the ability to influence one’s self. The scale by which you measure your life is one you make yourself.
Entrepreneurship is a method of exercising and experiencing vitality. It’s a way of knowing and expressing one’s self. It’s for people who realize that imitation is suicide.
The power that resides in each of us is uniquely new in the world. Only we know what we are capable of achieving, and we don’t know until we try.
Chasing achievement can be a slippery slope.
It is easy to get the goals of entrepreneurship backward. It’s seductive to think that making a splash with a startup will reward you with beaucoup cash and solve all your financial problems. The smart way to go about starting a venture is to have an investment portfolio that produces enough income to cover your necessary living expenses.
If you don’t have this financial backstop in place, you run the risk of being impatient and making sub-optimal decisions and negotiating less than optimal deals. You need to be patient and wait for your pitch. Everything is going to take longer than you think, and you must be able to endure, or it’s better not to start.
Entrepreneurship can be all-consuming. At some point, you will want to balance your life and enjoy things and experience contentment. If you conflate a vague notion of success and riches with the attainment of happiness, you will be disappointed and will never reach that goal in that manner.
Know what your personal goal is. What do you want to achieve and how will you know when you have reached it? Not being clear about personal goals leaves one vulnerable to continuing to do more of the same. There are many cautionary tales of monomaniacal people who chased money and ended up very unhealthy and unhappy.
If you are chasing money, so you can have status symbols like yachts and exotic cars so that people will respect you and you will be attractive to potential mates, and then find love, you are on the road to disaster.
If you don’t know where you are going, you will not arrive. Don’t rely on working hard and long enough in hopes of gaining the satisfaction of achievement. You will end up chasing an ever-receding horizon.
A clear goal I have found is to set a budget for living modestly that would meet your needs. Cicero said, “If you have a library and a garden, you have everything.”
Let’s perform a little quantitative analysis to come up with a number. Annualize that monthly budget and then divide it by a reasonable return you can expect on an investment portfolio. Pick 4 or 5%. 5% makes the math easier. Division by 5% is the same as multiplying by 20.
So if you decide you need $3000 a month to cover your bills comfortably, then that is 3000 x 12 = $36,000 per year. 36000 x 20 is $720,000. That is how much you will need to cover your expenses and never have to work. This number is the antidote to care and worry. It creates a platform of freedom from which to operate without worry about the next paycheck. It is the only way one can conceivably be counted on to do what is right regardless of circumstances. It forms the basis of trust upon which to earn leadership.
That magic number is the definition of fuck you money. Once you have that security and freedom, you will never need to work. You can pick and choose your projects without concerns for you and your immediate loved one’s welfare.
Financial freedom is the ideal platform from which to launch into entrepreneurship. You can get there faster if you can budget to live on less. You may be able to live on $1200 or $1500 per month. That reduces your investment portfolio number dramatically.
The key is to know what is enough. What is enough to be able to live and perform without financial worry? What I have outlined is a reasonable and measurable and rational definition of enough. Once you recognize you have enough, you are free. Those who know the contentment of contentment are always content.
Having this safety net will also help you make better, more deliberate decisions.
You want to operate from a place of strength and confidence. Being an entrepreneur means making many tough decisions every day. You are not in a position to make the right decisions if you are living contingently and relying on a paycheck to meet your monthly obligations.
Start building your financial independence now. Don’t think that your startup idea is going to be the home run that will solve all of your financial problems. Solve your economic issues first. Become self-reliant.
“Self-Reliance” is an 1841 essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is well worth the read. Emerson’s theme is the need for each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency and follow their instincts and ideas.
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