Great conversation Friday morning at Hobees in Palo Alto. We had a featured attendee “Hard Drive” who covered some of the lessons learned in “Hard Drive: Seven Practices I Used to Launch a Successful Startup.” Here are a couple of topics we covered.
Work to a Frequently Updated Action List
We had a featured attendee “Hard Drive” who covered some material from “Hard Drive: Seven Practices I Used to Launch a Successful Startup” in particular “Part F: The Unfolding Action List.” Some key take-aways
The purpose of the Unfolding Action List is to maintain a steady level of activity and performance with a sense of order for what should be done next or soon, and to allow reordering of urgency and importance without a time-consuming rewriting effort. The Unfolding Action List for your work includes all the actions known for the near term that are needed to take care of your concerns in that domain—you can have one for your employment and one for your startup. Personally, I manage the List on a 8 ½” X 11” piece of paper folded in half—it’s about the right size, looks different from other papers on my desk, and since a pen is always handy I’ve found it easier to make changes than using a Word file or app. If you don’t want to use the paper process I describe here, you might still find some useful ideas. If you find something useful in the processes I describe for creating and updating the list, then adapt it for your use; otherwise, invent your own methods to fill any gaps for sorting, reordering and prioritizing your planned actions.
Prioritization is different from importance—prioritization simply means performing some actions before others. The overall personal commitment you hold is to take care of all your concerns. Therefore, unless there is a change in your strategy for taking care of your concerns or there is a change in requirements from others, as customers of your performance, all the actions need to be completed—regardless of their ordered priority at any moment in time. You are a busy person, so only list important action items. If it is unimportant, don’t do it.
“Hard Drive” observed that you needed to not only consider your future but actively design it. You need both a blueprint of what you are trying to build or accomplish but also an action plan that lists major tasks, major risks, and the next steps you need to take to move to the near term horizon you can accurately predict.
Separate Your Day Job Responsibilities and Resources From Your Startup
If you are starting a business while you keep your day job you need to keep a clear separation of resources and time spent on both. California law allows you to own any inventions developed on your own time with your own materials but you need to take care not to use your employer’s assets or use time at work on your business. Separate phone and computer resources, use a clear lunch hour, nights, weekends, and vacation days. It is best to avoid situations where you are going to be competing with your current employer.
This was also covered in some detail in “Part D: Separation of Resources and Roles to Avoid Conflicts” in “Hard Drive: Seven Practices I Used to Launch a Successful Startup”
Separation of Resources: For legal, ethical and practical reasons you will want to separate materials, devices and equipment for your startup versus your regular work. Making this a standard practice will facilitate peace of mind and sense of integrity as you perform your parallel actions.
Employer provided materials, devices and equipment are to be used to facilitate your job performance and not your startup. For example, mobile phones, computers, copiers, stationary, Internet access and so forth provided by those that pay you for your work should be used only for their intended purpose. Therefore, don’t use Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, etc. for non-employment purposes at your day job. Think of the saying “Never dip your pen in the company’s inkwell.” Instead, purchase or find the resources you need elsewhere. At one time I carried a Blackberry provided by my employer for work email and an iPhone for my personal and startup email, kept a notepad and briefcase in my car exclusively for my startup, which allowed me to catch-up on startup emails at lunch and during other personal time.
If you are efficient, effective and productive in your regular work, then you can be at ease for turning-out results for your own business.
Separation of Roles: The workday belongs to your employer, or if you are a contract employee then to the employment agency and the company for which you are generating results. That the workday belongs to your employer is true in a factual, legal sense and needs to be the assessment of those that engage your services for the sake of your livelihood. Your employer’s assessment is based on the results you bring and their perception of your work habits and other behavior. So, your first order of business is to look like you are working effectively, and to actually produce outcomes that satisfy your employer, your boss and your coworkers. Then, as a second order problem to solve, you can devise legal, ethical and practical ways to produce results for your startup.
Tips for Delegation
When delegating a set of tasks it’s better to ask the other person to keep you updated on a regular basis or schedule regular meetings or calls to resynchronize. If you only need one thing or two things from them and you don’t foresee an ongoing business relationship it’s probably better that you follow up periodically–but do so in a way that does not preclude a long term business relationship.
One attendee offered some translations he had learned from imprecise requests he had made: “ASAP” is either a very long time from now or never; provide a real date instead; a couple is two, a few is three, and many is 6–if you need a specific number ask for it and explain why.
Also talked about tools for managing tasks and keeping a small group in sync:
- SmartSheet very useful when you have a target end date and want earlier milestones to be calculated backward from the launch date or event date.
- Trello a simple tool that a team can use as a virtual cork board with stick notes or 3×5 cards pinned into row and columns
- LeanKit and easy to use tool for teams that want to use a pull or Kanban method for task management.
Managing Procrastination and Aiming For “Good Enough” in Most Things
“We procrastinate when we lose our sense of purpose.”
Take a satisficing approach: most talks “good enough” or adequate. Many tasks will require iteration and refinement, key is to take care to build relationships and not treat prospects or potential partners poorly but a rough draft is often enough to start a conversation. Consider “what’s the worst that can happen”
One key to maintaining productivity and forward motion is to say no to most things that are off strategy. Three rules of thumb:
- Clarity of purpose leads to economy of effort.
- Take your next step in the context of a larger goal.
- Take a larger goal and break it down into smaller steps
It’s good to have a plan for your business working at scale (e.g. how will I expand to multiple states) but in the beginning it’s better to focus on basic transactions and early stumbling blocks. If all possible risks and problems have to be overcome–especially for the business at scale–you may never make any progress.
One technique for maintaining forward momentum when you are working solo is to recruit a workout buddy. Two are even better: a trio is like a three legged stool, even if one cannot make it you still get a cadence of accountability if two of you show up for a call or meeting.
Related Blog Posts
- A Review of You Need to Be a Little Crazy
- Dan Shipper: Every Sustainable Business Follows From Solid Fundamentals
- Ryan Waggoner: Maybe Startups Are So Hard Because We’re Doing Them Wrong
- Paul Lippe on an Entrepreneur’s Accountability
- Francis Adanza on the Entrepreneurial Roller Coaster