I have a coffee mug that reads, “Are you productive or just being busy?” I’ve adopted this as my work philosophy, and it should be the mantra of all self-employed people.
When you work for yourself – especially at the beginning – it can be tough to gauge how successful a day, a week, or even a couple week stretch is. You’re basically accountable only to yourself, and since your days aren’t spent grinding out a clock that forces you to be there no matter how productive you are, the question of productive vs busy becomes that much more vital.
Since I’ve had a long head start on Jon, who is new to working for himself, it’s funny to listen to him try and figure out how productive a day he has had. The other day he recounted how he had taken two meetings with prospective clients, advanced a proposal on another, set up a meeting to gain resolution on a different outstanding proposal, set up the billing for Google apps, posted a blog entry, edited a podcast episode, and set up the PIN for the company debit card. This was in addition to emptying the dishwasher at home, feeding our daughter twice, and paying the health care premium.
It was only after listing off that day’s accomplishments that he realized just how much he’d achieved. I asked him, “If you’d gotten that much done in your old corporate gig, would that have been a productive day?” He said, “If I had gotten that much done in corporate, that would have been like a ticker tape parade day.”
That’s why I like having my mug with the reminder on it. It can be easy to get bogged down in the rote tasks that seem to hijack our day right from the get go. Whenever it feels like this might be happening, I look down at my coffee mug and try to re-focus. Having worked a handful of corporate jobs myself, I remember when my days seemed to be very busy, but not terribly productive. I expended a ton of effort, but what did I have to show for it?
When you’re on your own, it’s all the more important to make sure you’ve got something to show for your time spent. This mindset also informs our approach with every one of our clients. We don’t want to be the consultant you spend a lot of time with in meetings, which, if you’re billing by the hour, can be very lucrative for a consultant. We want to be the ones enhancing your bottom line, not detracting from it. We want to deliver products to you, not eat up your time.
In short, we want to be productive for you, not just busy.
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