The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


February 2014
How to Work on your Business, Not Just in your Business

By Dr. Greg Story

The harried mouse running up the treadmill seeking the cheese seems like the right metaphor for modern life. Technology, supposedly freeing us up, has made 24/7 the new black.

We are busy running but we often feel we are getting nowhere. We are all looking at the clock but are not looking at the more important compass.

Do you have a daily to-do list? A to-be list? An ideas list? Or none of the above? Do you have control of your job or is your job controlling you?

We can’t do everything. Whew, that is a relief. However, we can do the most important thing every day.

Constantly ask yourself: “Is what I’m doing right now the most effective use of my time?”

There is a big difference between working in your business and working on your business. Changes in markets, technology, regulations, and currencies can redirect us away from our higher order compass-related priorities.

For those employed by an organization, upper echelon company politics can change lives in a nanosecond. Loyal, diligent, productive, great colleagues still get pushed out.

They worked long hours, sacrificed time with family and friends for nothing, because now they are gone!

We all know people like this or know we could become these people.

For those who are self-employed, we can become too busy belting crocodiles with the oar to prepare sufficiently for the future.

In classic time-management terms, we have all been hypnotized by quadrant one: urgent and important. We don’t have time to plan, think, or prepare. Unless we carve out the time, we can never break free to quadrant two: not urgent but important.

Start again with some zero-based thinking. Analyze your day. You have controlled time; meetings, phone calls you must make; follow-up emails; appointments; and motivating staff. This is why you’re getting paid but it’s a poor form of job security.

Your uncontrolled time is where the compass needs to come into play. To really embrace higher effectiveness, keep reciting this mantra: “Is what I am doing right now the most effective use of my time?” If it isn’t, stop doing it and start delegating!

This opportunity is your quadrant two potential time, so don’t squander it. This is where we do such things as problem solving, creating, thinking, and innovating.

Successful CEOs of large corporations spend less time doing routine work and more performing problem solving and developmental tasks. Are they the CEO because they always had that “compass-not-the-clock” discipline, or do they do this simply because they became the CEO? What do you think?

Your daily to-do list is for routine-work objectives. Make a to-be list to focus on priorities around problem solving or developmental compass-oriented work. This is critical: you must block out the needed time.

Set regular times with yourself to work on your to-be list items.

Recall all that good financial planning advice you have read: “pay yourself first and don’t just invest what is left over at the end of the month”? The same with your time—“pay yourself first” by investing in quadrant-two activities.

Don’t let anyone interrupt you during this time.

List all the problem-solving or developmental items and then prioritize within these. Start working on the highest priority item and don’t be distracted from it.

Write down your answers to these questions: Why is this item important for your results? What is your vision of how the process should work? Where is there any rework or duplication involved? Which part of the existing process accounts for most of the problems?

Identify the internal and external customers or users of the process and what they expect and need from the process to ensure their success.

List the customers of this process that should be involved in the solution, as well as their expectations. Analyze which of these expectations are not being met by the existing process.

Brainstorm the steps needed to solve problems or develop this area. Decide which of these has the higher priority.

Don’t forget to delegate steps to others! Determine who will be responsible, for doing what, to what, by how much, and by when.

This process will create clarity to ensure that 80 percent of your time is focused like a laser beam on the 20 percent of activities that will generate 80 percent of your career success.

Buy it and try it!


DividerDr. Greg Story is president of Dale Carnegie Training Japan.