ACHIEVING SCALE

January Resolutions Are Useless--Here's What You Can Do Instead

Still need a worthy resolution? Take a counterintuitive hint from these entrepreneurs.
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Lose weight. Exercise. Quit smoking. They're all popular New Year's resolutions. And they're likely to have predictable results. But sometimes doing the opposite of what you think you should has the most impact.

I asked scores of entrepreneurs for their best resolutions, and their answers were surprising and even courageous. Here's what they told me.

Put More Things Off

"My resolution for 2014 is to procrastinate more," said Stephen Bruner, a partner at Corkcicle, which makes a line of combination wine stoppers and chillers. "People are at their best when they're up against a deadline ... Having too much time on your hands or doing things at a leisurely pace can be a mistake. We often run better when we are focused, on deadline, and with our heads down."

Be Less Accessible

Four years ago, David Morken, CEO of Bandwidth, a telecom company, laid down a new policy as part of his resolution: When employees take vacations, neither they nor the company can contact each other-- no matter what happens. "If the policy is ignored, disciplinary action is taken," Morken said. Besides letting people enjoy their time away, the idea is that managers will lead more effectively. "If you aren't confident that your staff can handle a crisis in your absence," he said, "then you likely haven't hired the right people or developed them enough to succeed."

Don't Plan (Too Far) Ahead

Last year, Sanjeev Agrawal, CEO and co-founder of Collegefeed, a job matching site for students, resolved to adopt "shorter planning horizons" and not invest time or resources unless they were critical to the health of the business. That meant not hiring full-time employees until it was absolutely necessary and experimenting with "small chunks of resources and dollars."

For example, when they hired bloggers to generate buzz, they cut the effort off quickly when they realized it wasn't working. "As a result, we were very capital efficient in 2013," Agrawal said. "We spent wisely--not penny-wise but definitely not pound foolish." Heartened by the company's effforts, investors helped close a $1.8 million seed round of funding from Accel Partners last August.

Be an Employee

People are often drawn to entrepreneurship because they crave the freedom of going into business for themselves. But Traci Bild's most successful resolution was to treat herself like an employee. For the founder and chairman of consulting firm, Bild & Co., that meant having a salary instead of taking money when things were going well and scrimping when times got tight. "This one resolution, that I have now stuck to for 15 years, has been one of the best things I ever did," she said. "I learned discipline, restraint and never found myself short on cash."

Think Smaller

Want to change the world? Of course you do, but several entrepreneurs like Rob May, CEO of Backupify, said his 2014 resolution is to think less about the big picture. This means avoiding the optimistic tendency to believe that one big event--a new hire, new product, or partnership--will solve all the company's problems. "The Buddhists have a saying that 'little by little, one walks far,' so my resolution for 2014 is to give up magic bullet thinking and focus on lots of small steps of progress," May said.

Skip Easy Sales

Amy Baxter, a physician and CEO of MMJ Labs, maker of the Buzzy pain-blocking device, stopped selling to some wholesalers when they found they were reselling her company's products on Amazon, undercutting her direct retail efforts. "Seeing 600 go out the door was so much more satisfying than seeing a few a day," she said over email, "but competition doesn't help in the new marketplace online."

Be Cheap

This one could be easy to take too far, but after a year of feeling taken advantage of by several contractors, Shereen Faltas said her main resolution was to pay close attention to costs. "I am completely unwilling to overpay for anything at this point," said Faltas, who works as a corporate consultant. "I literally go on Odesk.com and test out contractors who charge $5 an hour against the ones I am currently using to see if I can pay a fraction for the same service."

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Last updated: Jan 3, 2014

BILL MURPHY JR. | Columnist

Bill Murphy Jr. is a journalist, ghostwriter, and entrepreneur. He is the author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship (with Jon Burgstone) and is a former reporter for The Washington Post.

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



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