The Not-To-Do List: Ten Habits All Entrepreneurs Should Break

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Peter Shallard
CEO | Commit Action |

Blah blah blah introduction nobody reads…

1. Stop telling yourself that spending 8 hours at your desk means you had a productive day

There are no prizes in business for being busy but ineffective. Are you measuring your effectiveness by total time spent in a hamster wheel, or by actual results?

Bill Gates didn’t get to where he is today because he worked 100,000 times more hours than you did.

Become the kind of high leverage entrepreneur who does more in 3 or 4 hours than most people do all week. Optimize for output, not hours.

2. Stop allowing other people to put meetings (of any kind) on your schedule willy-nilly

Only amateurs and cubicle dwellers give people unrestricted access to their calendar. Smart entrepreneurs decide the optimal meeting-availability times in their daily routine. Then they stick to it.

Your time is valuable and deserves to be respected. The first person who needs to believe that is you.

Commit to specific, select and restricted windows you’ll make available for meetings. Start taking it seriously. That’s the only way anyone else will respect and value your time, too.

3. Stop using “being busy” as self-deception to hide your fear

Everyone entrepreneur goes through busy phases. Be careful that you don’t become eternally busy, forever ignoring that bold new project or ideas you have.

You know the one. It’s the big ambitious idea you’re afraid to actually work on, for fear it won’t succeed.

Busyness is the number one form of self sabotage for slightly-successful people. It keeps you stuck where you are. Stuck on a plateau. It prevents your business growing.

Next time you feel busy, ask yourself if there’s something more audacious and important that you’re afraid of or avoiding.

4. Stop attempting to optimize every minute of the day

Do you listen to business podcasts while you work out or commute? Do you never read anything besides self improving non-fiction? Is every minute of your day optimized for maximum utility and personal growth?

We get it. You’re trying to become the best version of yourself.

You need to know that Play is super important, too. The latest science has actually proven that Playing – like a child – is a revolutionary brain hack that stimulates your neurological growth((Dr Stuart Brown has devoted his career to a meta-analysis of “Play” research in humans and animals, by sociologists, biologists, psychologists and neurologists. He found (among other things) that Play – in both kids and adults – directly correlates with increased brain neuron density and executive function. Play literally makes you smarter.)). It also unleashes powerful focus and motivation.

It’s actually “optimal” to not always be optimized.

Allow yourself some time each day for un-structured, non-improving, joyful activity. The kind of thing that’s innately interesting, where you lose track of time AND lose your sense of self. The kind of thing that your seven year old self would’ve loved to do.

5. Stop switching from “creating” to “consuming” (content) at random throughout the day

As an entrepreneur, you’re a creator. But… you also have to upgrade yourself through learning. Learning requires consuming information.

The key is to do this with intention and mindfulness. Learn on your own terms.

Decide what part of the day you’re dedicating to your education and self-improvement. We recommend at least an hour. That’s when you read, catch up on articles, watch those videos you’ve bookmarked… whatever.

The rest of the time?Be a creator. Don’t consume other people’s content. Don’t consume other people’s anything.Except food.

If you stumble upon a useful resource, save it for later. Multiply your focus and time spent as a creator: Train yourself to have a dedicated – and intentionally limited – education window in your schedule. Think carefully about the ratio you want for yourself, between creating and consuming. Stick to it.

6. Stop allowing your creative, important projects to take a backseat to urgency

Ever find you spend day after day responding to urgent emails, putting out fires… while the biggest plans on your to-do list just gather dust?

Enough of that. Cut it out.

The most important work you can do – the creative stuff that drives growth and makes huge results happen – is never urgent. It can always be procrastinated and no one will care or even know… except you.

That’s why this is the most important habit you can build: Carve out time every day to move the ball forward on your most courageous, creative and highest-leverage stuff.

Do it first, before even opening your email… checking your messages… or going anywhere near “urgency”. No one ever built an empire by fighting fires.

7. Stop using busywork – or even “hard-work” – as a substitute for courage

Human beings have a natural aversion to saying “no” to others. We’re social animals((It’s widely understood by biologists and psychologists that a huge amount of human behavior is governed by “mammalian brain” evolutionary conditioning, that basically understands that in order to thrive and survive we NEED to form supportive, trusting relationships with other members of our tribe. This is a strong evolutionary argument for why we spend so much of our lives worrying about our social status and what other people think of us.)) and we don’t want to let people down, or disappoint.

Couple this with the entrepreneurial belief that you can hustle your way through anything… and you get a tendency to solve problems by working harder, instead of being courageous enough to drop projects or commitments.

Sound familiar?

That person wants to meet for coffee tomorrow but you’re super busy? No problem, just work harder.

Hiring-for and delegating-out an important project would stretch your leadership abilities? No problem, just do it yourself. Work harder.

See what’s happening? Recognize that you’re probably using “hard work” as a substitute for courage. It’s scary to do what’s best sometimes: Say no. Delegate completely. Shut the project down.

Quit the habit of using hard work – your precious energy and time – as a substitute for courageously doing what’s truly needed.

8. Stop looking at your smartphone as the first and/or last thing you do each day

This one’s simple. You already know it. You need the reminder anyway.

These things didn’t exist a decade ago, and yet we can barely remember life without them. That should tell you that something isn’t right about how addicted you are.

Charge your phone far away from your bedroom. Do a couple of things at night and in the morning before you even switch it on. Reading and connecting with loved ones are a great start.

The quality of your sleep, home life and general sense of ease will skyrocket.

9. Stop being distracted by the bright-shiny-object syndrome caused by optimism bias

All new ideas or projects in business feel excitingly promising. That’s optimism bias.

The more you execute on something – getting to know the ins and outs of a project or idea – the more you learn how hard it really is. You realize the truth: If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

If you keep finding yourself drawn toward and tempted by sexy new projects, ideas or tactics… recognize that this is a bug in your brain’s software. The newer an idea is – the less experience you have – the easier and more promising it seems.

Resist. Concrete business success comes from pushing your optimistic ideas through the(inevitable) state of informed pessimism to the results on the other side. Keep at it. Don’t get distracted.

10. Stop working in an accountability vacuum of isolation

How many people on earth know if you crushed it yesterday… or just screwed around and wasted time?

If you’re like most entrepreneurs, even your spouse – your most trusted confidante of all – doesn’t really have insight into your day to day effectiveness.

Entrepreneurs operate without accountability. It’s a side effect of the incredible freedom you enjoy: Building a business – alone on your laptop – is fundamentally isolating.

The human brain doesn’t naturally perform in isolation. Lack of accountability correlates directly with lack of focus and lack of effectiveness.

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