As the founder and CEO of a civic tech company, despite the innumerable benefits and positive changes I’ve experienced along the way, I’ve also found it more and more difficult to manage the demands made on my time.
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone – that there this is this moment in the journey of every entrepreneur – when you either make the conscious decision to continue the whirlwind pace of long hours, an intense schedule, poor diet and nonexistent exercise until the consequences hit in the form of total burnout, depression, or health issues – or you have an epiphany that your habits are not sustainable. You realize you’ve been sprinting in what you’ve discovered is a marathon.
I, for one, have hit upon this very epiphany and have no interest in sprinting – sometimes from one distraction to the next – in this marathon of entrepreneurship that I’ve come to love. After spending the last few weeks observing what was eating at my focus and my time, I’ve found three habits which are killing my productivity and sapping my energy.
Maybe this isn’t your experience, but in the attempt to stay on top of things, I became a slave to the little red dot on my email app. But, seriously, think back. Since you created your first email account, has there been a single email which was so urgently in need of a reply that it couldn’t wait until you finished working out, getting groceries, or spending a quiet dinner with your family? It’s so very easy to blur the line between an obligation to be responsive and the tendency to become a slave to the instant demands of others, that our email habits are often to blame for our constant distractions from the tasks which really do require our full attention.
For me, the days of being excited when I receive a text message are long gone. I dread when I see one pop up on my smart phone – almost as much as I used to dread the incessant poke on my hip accompanied by a litany of “Mom. Mom. Mom.” This slow change in culture has resulted in texting becoming an acceptable mode of communication between almost any connection and even between complete strangers hoping to set up a meeting or connect. I counted one day, and I received 70 text messages in the span of time it took to sit through a banquet. Only two of those qualified as urgent and in need of immediate attention. One was from my son telling me – at 10:30 at night – that he had forgotten his key to the house. The second was from my daughter telling me she could drive all the way across town to let her brother in so that I didn’t have to leave the event. It takes a lot of courage, but consider muting phone numbers on your smart phone that are from people who assume your are instantly accessible but who should really be sending you an email instead. Think of it this way: you actually have a responsibility to protect the integrity of your focus during working hours, even if it means being less instantly accessible to connections who want that kind of access. You’re never going to find time to focus – or to mentally rest – if you are constantly responding to texts coming in on your phone.
When I was first launching my business, I believed every coffee, luncheon, or meeting just might be that next big break, so I said yes to every invitation to meet. Funny enough, in the midst of all those coffee meetings, I actually ignored the first two phone calls from the person who actually ended up giving our company that big break. Looking back, there were some wonderful relationships which came out of those meetings, but there was also an awful lot of time spent in chit chat that did neither parties any good – not me and not the person I’d agreed to meet. I had nothing of value to offer them, and they were not the right connections for what I needed to grow my company. Don’t be afraid to say no. It doesn’t make you antisocial, a snob or too special or anything else you might fear. It means you value that person’s time whether they see it that way or not. I do still say yes from time to time, but it is only when the reason to meet and the expected value for both of us is apparent.
In our attempt to be better at our jobs, to be more accessible and more open to new opportunities which could be your next big break, you may actually be engaging in habits that are hindering you. It’s worth considering – and worth making changes to your habits if you want to cross the finish long in whatever marathon you’ve chosen to pursue.