June 13, 2022

Are you busy or productive?

No – the most important word in a founder’s dictionary. 

Founders are always slammed, always. I can’t recall a founder ever telling me – “my afternoon is wide open.” Every minute of every day is scheduled. And if there is a rare, unscheduled block of time, it’s quickly filled with responding to texts, slack, email, or an ad hoc call or meeting. A provocative question for founders if the above sounds like you – are you busy or productive? 

They are not the same. Busy feels productive, but it’s not. It’s actually counterproductive. Every hour of your day is insanely valuable – and it’s so easy to fill those hours by saying yes to things you should say no to. It’s important to say no – so you can ensure at the end of every day, you were productive, not busy. And by productive I mean, investing your time in things that move the needle for your business by an order of magnitude. Here’s a framework for how to think about whether you are spending your time (busy days) or investing your time (productive days) as a founder/CEO. 

1. You’re told you’re wrong. 

If there are meetings you have with certain investors, colleagues, advisors, coaches, friends, or employees that leave you thinking about problems in a new or different way, you are investing your time. These are meetings to keep on your calendar, to perhaps even increase in frequency. Try to get more time with this person, or group of people, to talk/brainstorm/vent, what have you. Reduce time/frequency of meetings that do not inspire new ways of thinking. As the CEO and founder, you are unlikely to be told no, or you’re wrong by your team very often. So it’s important to lean into those relationships that prompt you to think differently about how to approach a problem. 

↑ meetings with people that inspire you
↓ meetings with that don’t move the needle intellectually 

2. You feel energized/focused/excited. 

Be mindful of what activities bring you energy, focus, and excitement. This can feel counterintuitive – a long walk, however, is more productive, than sitting in a meeting that drains your energy. Skip meetings that deplete you. It is busyness masked as productivity. And replace that time with activities that leave you with clarity of thought. If that means your calendar every morning is protected and unbookable – so be it. 

↑ activities that provide you with clarity of thought
↓ meetings that deplete you; outsource these (or remove them entirely)  if possible

3. Your CEO/founder title matters. 

There are some things only a CEO/founder can do – one of which is fundraising. Sure you may involve your COO or other team members, but if you’re serious about fundraising, you are having the initial meetings with investors, and pounding the pavement with your narrative. You can’t outsource this task. If you don’t run point on the fundraise, who will? Hiring is another example. Courting top talent and key execs is a team effort, but it’s driven by you. If you want to snag an exec at Amazon, you have to drive it. Strategic hiring is so important, and those best hires expect to be courted by the CEO/founder. Lastly, looking around corners. Nobody else in the company is looking around corners the way a founder and CEO does. Keeping a pulse on your competition, setting and communicating  ambitious OKRs/targets for the team, or thinking about strategic areas of investment/partnership is your job. You can’t count on others at your company to drive this – even if you’ve hired the best and brightest. If you are so slammed in meetings every week that you have no energy or time left to wear your CEO/founder hat and look around corners, you’re busy, not productive. 

↑ increase your awareness of tasks only you can do, prioritize this work
↓ time spent on activities that others can and should do

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