PRODUCTIVITY

An Entrepreneur's "Stop Doing" List

As Jim Collins says, what you stop doing is as important as what's on your to-do list. Here's what you need to stop doing, immediately.
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It’s common for founders to feel overwhelmed, and with good reason. When I started my first company, I spent way too much time doing things that didn’t have a big payoff. But as Jim Collins says, your “stop-doing” list is just as important as your to-do list.

If you’re doing any of these things, or thinking about it, stop, pause for a moment, and think again.

Over-Designing Everything

Deep down we’re all perfectionists. Everything must be in right place with the right color palette, the right font and the right everything, right?

Wrong. This cannot be your focus, whether we’re talking about a Powerpoint presentation, your website, your Facebook page or marketing collateral. The content is what’s important: the numbers, the plain facts, the winning factors. Beautification and fine-tuning can come later, when you have the time and resources for something flashy. Just get the important stuff done, and leave the glitz for later.

Trapped in Busy Work

Spending hours going through bank statements or letting days pass while you relentlessly drive towards zero new messages in your inbox? This will get you in trouble.

It is important to set aside time to take care of administrative tasks. But, it’s more important to allocate time, every day, for tasks that will drive your business forward. That’s what it takes to generate a big boost in productivity.

Andy Maguire, founder of Internmatch.com, can’t stress this enough. “Stop focusing on small wins that give you the easy gratification. It’s most likely not going to get you any closer to your real goal,” he says. “Start each day thinking about one strategic priority that you can make progress on, and do not end that day until you've worked on that item.”

Trying to Do it All

Early on, the entrepreneur wears tons of hats. But this can keep your business from growing. Pia Celestino, founder of branding firm Crea7ive.com, says, “When we were starting Crea7ive.com, I was in charge of marketing, selling, accounting and delivering on the work. My team was offshore, so when something came up, there usually wasn't anybody available, or it just took too much time to get a simple thing done. It wasn’t until years later when I realized I needed to take a risk and begin recruiting local people with exceptional talent. Those people cost more, but enabled the business to finally start growing and accelerating. If I could go back, I would definitely have hired faster and delegated better!” 

It can be tempting to try to do everything yourself in order to save money. But if you’re working 16- hour days and the business isn’t growing, you need to take a risk and find somebody to whom you can delegate. Then you can focus on growth rather than just keeping the business afloat.

Tweaking Your 5-Year Financial Projections

When you’re out trying to raise money, it can be very tempting to revise your pro forma financials every time you solidify a detail that will impact your bottom line.  While it’s important to have “accurate” pro formas to show investors, don’t waste a lot of time on them. Instead, focus on your cash plan.

Al Charbonneau, an early stage investor, says, that accurate cash plans are what investors will want to see. For the other financials, he recommends laying out a conservative case, a best case, and lastly a most probable scenario. Three years is the maximum timeline that makes any sense.

Investors know your profit projections are going to be wrong, so don’t worry about fine-tuning them. But you do need to know how much cash you need to get off the ground. Keeping your weekly cash plan as up-to-date and accurate as possible is a much better use of time.

Although it can be very tempting to get things “just right,” too much fixation on details is probably just self-soothing, rather than creating any real benefit. Those lost hours could have gone toward other, more important activities, like selling and driving growth. If you catch yourself nitpicking over small details, stop, take a breath, and realize that you’ve got more important things to do.

IMAGE: ladybeames/Flickr
Last updated: Feb 27, 2013

BENJAMIN WALD | Columnist

Benjamin Wald is a successful technology entrepreneur and investor. Ben?s passion for social impact, software and education support his ambition to change the world through technology. He is now the Managing Partner of Spartan Systems.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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