You”ll be more effective the less you do

5 Ways to be More Productive While Doing Less

I was 33 and CEO of a venture-backed startup.  I thought I had it all figured out.   10 years of consulting experience, I knew what to do and how to do it and I was incredibly productive.  In fact, I was ON FIRE.  Then came the reality.  The reality of so much work to do with people I had just recruited and no process, no culture, and very little experience dealing with the complexities of a new technology in a new market.

So, I did what anyone else would do.  I wrote lists.  A LOT OF LISTS.  I assigned tasks, created systems for assigning tasks, followed up, and made sure we hit our deadlines.  Only one problem:

I thought I controlled it all and I was dead wrong.

In one moment of mentoring our chairman and board member, a crotchety older executive from Texas Instruments just looked at me and shook his head.  He said

You know, you’ll be more effective the less you do.

I thought, what?  NO WAY.    Well, he was right.  And now later in my career, his words ring true almost every week.

As such, I’ve developed a number of processes and methods based on trial and error from many different sources and philosophies.   Covey’s 7 Habits, Rockefeller Habits, Tony Robbins, Getting Things Done, Tim Ferris and many others.  They all work, but you MUST implement them in a concise and consistent way.

Here’s What I have Learned

(1) Make a weekly MAP

This is straight out of Tony Robbins philosophy.  A MAP is a “Massive Action Plan”.   List out, on a single sheet of paper three things.  WHAT you want, WHY you want it and your MASSIVE ACTION PLAN to get there.   I do this weekly as a habit now.   Even Covey recommended a similar weekly approach as far back as the early 90s so we know this works and works well.   For me, getting the most effective things on a list that will have THE MOST IMPACT on what you are doing NOW is the best use of your time today, not in a month, not next week.  Today.

(2) Prioritize your List

This sounds obvious, but without this discipline, I almost always default to the fun things on the list or the things that will give me more pleasure than pain.  I still use Covey’s Urgent/Important matrix to do this.  It’s simple and easy to use.  The idea is really simple, don’t do the stuff that’s not important.

(3) Scratch Off the Bottom 20%

In life the Pareto principle rules.  As a general principle, I find that 80% of my results come from 20% of my efforts and 80% of my pain from 20% of the same sources.  The goal is to simply exit the 20% causing you the most pain and amplify the 20% creating the most results.    It’s a really simple idea.   I got this idea originally from the Four Hour Work-Week by Tim Ferris, who makes an excellent case for redefining your relationship with work.   Elimination of work-for-work sake sounds easy, but if your mindset is one that YOU need to be doing the “thing”, it’s very hard to overcome.

This is also really simple.  Scratch off the bottom 20% completely.  If it’s unimportant, don’t do it.   Simple as that.

(4) Delegate or Automate the Middle 60%

Of the middle tasks, delegate or automate.  If you don’t have someone to delegate to, get one.   I use Virtual Assistants all the time to tidy up lists, follow up on sales, do billings, write letters, organize my contacts, etc.    Many of these tasks are able to be automated as well, so many weeks, I’ll spend some of my top 20% time simply automating more of the middle 60%.  A good example of this was keeping my contacts up to date.  I now use full contact, which automates much of the social mining, and email scraping required to keep my list up to date.   The time before was at least 2 hours per week of my VA, now, 0 hours per week.

For delegation, it is essential that you use some form of delegation tool and/or follow up scheme.  I use for all our projects, which helps us stay up to date, assign tasks, track follow-ups and keep deadlines visible.   So that’s actually where I manage my delegations.  May use and like others, like Trello or even SharePoint.  It doesn’t matter, so long as you are consistent.

Some examples are below:

(5) Spend ALL your time on the remaining 20%

The remaining 20% is where your awesome is.  For me, this is about innovating, training new team members, building automation, nurturing key customer relationships and taking care of your health and your family is here.   The model is quite simple, actually.  Do less, and be more productive.


Obviously, you can tailor these tools and techniques to your taste and need.   But remembering the wise words “You’ll be more productive the less you do” will help you stay focused and on target.

Monday Mornings – Do you dread or ATTACK them?

We all want to be able to attack our work week, but when Monday morning rolls around how do you show up?

For most people, the tendency is to start thinking about their week when the week starts – that’s a sure fire way to start the week off feeling dread. If you are catching yourself saying things like – “I have so much to do this week.  I don’t even know where to start.” or “I can’t even think about working on my business this week because I’m already behind the gun.” – it’s time to retool your Monday morning strategy.

One of the best tricks to be able to attack your Monday is to go in with a plan already in place.  

As a business owner, the bulk of your time should be spent on optimizing your business – not working in your business.  If you don’t schedule time to work on your business all the little fires and “urgent” issue are going to consume you and your time. Feeling like you are not taking care of growing the business of top of spending most of your time putting out fires can feel like total dread. Follow these five tips to be able to attack your Monday mornings.

5 Tips to Attack Your Monday Morning

Tip 1 – Plan PLAN.  Before close of business on Friday, schedule a planning session for the next week.

Tip 2 – Plan SMART. When planning for the following week, make sure you check in with your 6 months growth goals and schedule specific, actionable and measurable tasks for the following week.

Tip 3 – BLOCK your time. Actually go into your calendar and schedule time to work on your business growth goals for the following week.  Those scheduled blocks become the foundation of you making progress on growing your business.

Tip 4 – CLOSE your week with Gratitude and Lessons Learned. At the end of your Friday planning session, write down all the things you learned from the past week. Write down what worked, what didn’t work, how you would do things differently next time. Shoot and email to key players who really stepped up the past week and acknowledge them for their efforts and contributions. And finally write in your gratitude journal about the top 5-10 things you are grateful for.

Tip 5 – Start your Mondays POWERFULLY. First thing Monday morning, schedule brief meetings with your key teams to highlight the BIG outcomes/goals for the week. Use that meeting to make sure everyone is prepared and pumped up to go after those goals. (DO THIS instead of getting sucked into the Monday morning email quicksand – it’s far more productive and getting your team fired up with help to get you fired up.)

Follow these tips and pretty soon I bet your will start feeling like your are ready to ATTACK your Monday mornings!

Empower Your Managers so They Will Empower Your People

The Most Harmful “Manager” Mistakes – And How to Turn Your Managers Around to be RESPONSIVE & EMPOWERING!

In today’s rapid-change business world, old manager tactics do not work. The companies that are thriving are RESPONSIVE. Responsive companies do just that. They respond to the economy, the industry, their customers and their people in a timely and effective manner. Responsive companies must have responsive managers and leaders. In order to be responsive, all of your people (including your customers) must be empowered!

The only way to empower your customers is to empower your people

Empower them to problem-solve and make decisions. Empower them to be an active part of the solution in your business. Empower them to collaborate with other team members. Empower them to challenge and truly engage with their customers and clients.

Managers who keep insisting on withholding insight or information to “protect” their teams are doing a grave disservice and they are creating their own self-importance. Managers who are involved with every step of the process (micro-managers), are not empowering their people and therefore are not empowering their customers.

Follow these 5 Crucial Keys for Responsive and Empowering Management

Share and openly communicate often the Company Vision & Mission, Strategic Targets and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) with the Team.

Every single member of your team needs to know the WHY behind what they do and how it impacts the bigger picture. They need to feel as though they are part of the problem that the company is solving, more than they need to know that they are part of the shipping or accounting dept.

Involve the people on the front-line of your business to engage in strategic meetings because they really know (not just in theory) what your customer’s needs, challenges, wants and desires are.

Collaborating problem-solving from the bottom up will open your eyes to new solutions and ensure buy in at all levels.

Measure, track and openly monitor all KPIs.

Every aspect within a business must be consistently measured in order to improve it. This must be the culture of the entire business. Share KPIs from other depts and celebrate wins.

Create a culture of open accountability and proactive collaboration.

Implementing a system that enables all members of your team report their KPIs on a daily and/or weekly basis – a way that everyone can see is paramount to transparency and accountability. This can sound scary at first, but what happens over a short period of time is huge. Increased time is spent doing more important work, less focus on busy work. Team members become proactive in encouraging each other. Team members proactively reach out for help if their KPIs are falling off. Managers are able to easily identify where a team’s or team member’s weaknesses are and offer training and support sooner.

Become a solutions facilitator instead of a come-to-the-rescue-hero.

Instead of solving your people’s problems like a difficult sale, etc – insist they come to you with their solutions in mind. Spend the most time with your people on managing their state and psychology versus micromanaging their processes. Help your people identify the most important aspects of their job and help become better at managing their time and schedules around those aspects first. Institute a one-a-week 45 minute “challenges” meeting, in which you are present — where they bring up challenges in their job and then you facilitate them in brainstorming ideas on how to solve it. Your job is then to bring those your management/other depts and see that they get implemented. Challenge your people – get them reading, listening to programs that will shift their mindset, empowering them to be more effective at their job and will help them really engage with their customers.

Follow these steps and your team will start to feel EMPOWERED and VALUED. They will feel valued and in turn become truly valuable to you, your team, your customers and your company.

“The 5 Non-Negotiable Disciplines of Top Performers”

“The 5 Non-Negotiable Disciplines of Top Performers” is a GREAT article from Success Magazine about the absolute priorities for top-performers.

How are you doing in helping your top performers develop discipline of:

  • Belief & Psychology
  • Eliminating Interruptions
  • Time Management
  • Health – Fitness, Nutrition, Hydration, Rest
  • Necessary Ignorance – Knowing what to focus on & Leveraging

If you are weak in any of these areas, coaching can help you get on track and up your performance game. There is too much on the line and you work too hard to do anything but optimize your company’s performance and your top performers. And the stakes are exponentially higher if you are a C-level Executive, Entrepreneur or Business Owner

Exceptional Time Management – Tip #1 Identifying the “Big Rocks” of Your Business

Identifying the “Big Rocks” of Your Business

By Emily Donaldson De Voto PhD

Exceptional Time Management = Excellent use of one’s time with consistent action being taken towards long‐term vision and short‐term goals.Riding the “I’m too busy putting out fires bus.”

Most business owners are crazy busy and are so often overloaded with the daily running of the business they don’t really have time to be making progress towards their long‐term goals or the vision of their business. They feel like the business is running them and not the other way around. The biggest problem with this model is that the company can act up like a toddler, throwing tantrums and taking the up a lot of time from a lot of key people. When this happens who is actively looking out for the business and steering the ship towards the future? No one.

Too many times I’ve heard from heads of businesses that they are “too busy putting out fires” to be spending time working on long-term projects or direction for the company. Well, I can’t give them any more time and neither can anyone else. The only way to turn things around is by using their time more wisely and developing exceptional time management habits.

Exploring the fundamentals of “Big Rocks”

One of the key fundamentals for exceptional time management is the theory of “Big Rocks.” Bare with me through this metaphor… Imagine in front of you there is a beautiful crystal vase. There is also a pile of sand, a pile of gravel and a pile of rocks. Most people run their week by filling up their vases with sand. That makes sense – because sand is used for putting out fires. The problem with this strategy is that now there is only a little room for gravel in the vase and absolutely no room for big rocks.

Let’s talk about sand, gravel and rocks. Sand is what we put on fires – a “fire” comes up, we put sand on it. Sand is reactive in nature. It’s very easy for anyone’s entire week to be filled up with sand. For example, responding to emails and texts as soon as you get them or jumping to work on something that needs urgent attention. Gravel represents weekly appointments and regular responsibilities. For example: signing checks on Thursday, conducting an admin meeting on Tuesday at 2, sales meeting Wed at 10:00, going on new customer appointments, attending a trade show in Newark, etc. Gravel is rarely urgent and just what must get done. Big Rocks are the core focus points in your business that you must consistently pay attention to and make progress on in order for your business grow. Big Rocks are never urgent, hence operating in the world of big rocks is proactive by nature. The big rocks are usually things that most people don’t focus on consistently – but you must in order to grow. Future planning (mission, vision and goals) will help you determine you big rocks for the next 6‐12‐18 months.

Scheduling Your Big Rocks Into Your Already Busy Calendar

The goal is that each week you (and your team) put your big rocks in your vase (calendar) first. This requires scheduling time to work on these non‐urgent action items that will move you closer meeting your benchmarks and achieving your goals. After you put the big rocks in, add the gravel and notice how there is plenty of room for both the big rocks and gravel. Finally, you can add some sand. Right away you will notice that you have less room for sand. It’s okay — because you will need much less sand over time because the time you are scheduling first each week is proactive versus reactive.

More proactive time spent = less reactive time needed.

If you are up for making great strides towards smart growth, spending time doing the things that count the most is key.  You will benefit form scheduling time with your core team and figuring out the following:

  • Determine your current sand/gravel/big rocks ratio.
  • Dump your metaphoric vase out.
  • Sit down with your core team and reconnect to your mission.
  • Create your vision for the next 7 years, 5 years, 3 years and then 18 months.
  • What has to happen in relation to reach or exceed the benchmarks in your vision(s)?
  • Create your 6 month  and 12 month goals based on your 18‐month vision – THESE ARE YOUR BIG ROCKS.
  • Determine who owns (manages completion not necessarily all the tasks) which part of each of the goals.
  • Create and use a daily/weekly real‐time update systems so the entire team understand what is happening in relationship to the goals and the benchmarks (google‐docs works great if you need to go low‐budget and simple.)
  • Weekly update meeting with core team (live or virtual) to prioritize and determine the next weeks MUST points towards goals.
  • Each person commits and schedules those action items in their calendar for the next week.

True Story

I worked with a CEO of a company that loved his business and had poured a lot of his heart and soul into it. He desperately wanted to triple the size of the business over the next 5 years and was in a good position to do so. He had the edge in the industry and was a trusted vendor for many people. But, this was no small feat, especially since he spent most of his time dealing with escalated issues due to an unmotivated sales force. When we started this Big Rock conversation, he said he didn’t possibly have the time to focus on anything that didn’t require his immediate attention. After considerable discussion, and convincing on my part, he realized he had to change his strategy of how he fundamentally managed his time in order to reach his goals. After going through the above process with his team, they became totally jazzed. They began taking on much more than they had before. Sales doubled within 3 months, primarily due to an online accountability program we put in place with sales team. They were measuring their efforts daily and working more effectively on what mattered most. The CEO also purchase ongoing coaching for the team (shameless plug) but it made the team feel greatly appreciated and helped keep their performance high over the next 6 months as they were developing the new habits they needed to maintain their growth track.

Are you the COG in your company’s wheel?

When business owners need to back off in order to grow

By Emily De Voto, PhD

I was working with a company in the northeast that was a little profit machine. The business had grown steadily for the past 5 years and was recognized as an industry leader. Growth was beginning to slow down mostly because the business couldn’t handle it. The owner of the company, let’s call him Jim, had thrown his life into the business and was facing pretty extreme burnout. His burnout was manifesting as a serious case of the “fuck its.”


In case you aren’t familiar with the “fuck its,” they are totally disempowering and destructive to the growth of your business in a multitude of ways. They usually start when a business owner/leader begins to resent the time and effort they have been putting into the company. This usually appears after years of growth, when the head of the company has been entrenched in all aspects of the business. Balance with the rest of their life has been out of whack for some time, which was sustainable when the business growth had been exciting. Once growth has leveled off, they are frustrated, pissed off, entitled and done.

The “fuck its” are preventable, but for Jim it was too late. He was already in up to his waist. He was hot and cold with the business. He took himself offline for days at a time, returning for a crisis (that he usually created.) His team was totally disempowered. They didn’t know how he would show up each day or if he even would show up. Their escalated customer issues went unanswered and their systems were falling apart. And their boss was angry and rogue.

Jim thought the solution to his problems would be to hire a right-hand man, let’s call him Bill. Bill was a sharp attorney and a natural leader. Jim had the right idea in hiring Bill but fell down on the most important key issue. Jim was in no way ready to hand over the management of the company. He wanted to continue to be involved in everything (including filing systems) – which is what caused his burnout to begin with.

Jim, our engines are failing

This is when I came in to the picture. I worked with Bill and the office team to create systems and structures that supported their responsibilities. We created new systems with an eye on growth. They felt empowered and ready for growth. They were committed.

Jim was on board…until he wasn’t. If one mistake was made or something wasn’t done to his liking, he began micro-managing everything again. And his micro-managing style wasn’t remotely nice.

Most of my work “on this company” was actually with the head, Jim. His emotional state was killing his business. It took time for him to build and nurture a trusting relationship with Bill. At the same time, Bill was working directly with the office team and developing his relationship as their leader. Jim and Bill worked together to develop flash reports that would allow Jim to be out of the office doing client visits (the thing he still loved to do,) while being kept totally abreast of everything a the office. Together Jim and Bill were able to grow the business. Jim was able to spend time forging new strategic relationships for growth and Bill lead the home team to keep up with the growth.

GROWTH INSIGHT: As a business owner, you must understand that while your leadership, involvement and oversight got you to where you are today, it may not be what your company needs to grow in the future. As your business grows it’s important to ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I really good at?
  • What do I love doing?
  • What part of the business do I hate or burns me out?
  • How attached am I to be involved in every little decision?
  • Where is my time and energy best spent in terms of helping the company grow?
  • Are the systems and structures that we originally created still what we need?
  • Who do we have on the team – or do we need to hire – to take on key aspects of growth?
  • What systems/reporting can I put in place that will tell me what I need to know from an owner perspective and will free up more of me and my team’s time?


This, of course, is just a start, but hopefully, it will give you some insight into growth!

The road for startups to sand hill road isn't what you think

The Over/Under – One Entrepreneurs Story with Two Tech Startups – Part 1: The OVER

In 1998 I quit my job to do a “startup”.   We were one of the first companies in Dallas funded by a new incubator called “Startech”, which was focused on helping companies in the North Dallas suburb of Richardson (the “Telecom Corridor”) get started.  Startech operated a seed fund which provided “quit your job” capital to young entrepreneurs with startups that had promise to be funded by a VC firm.  In fact, at the time, most of the Venture Capital in Texas had backed Startech.  Everyone from Sevin Rosen, Interwest, Austin Ventures, Centerpoint Ventures, Star Ventures and others had contributed to the seed fund.

I had put together a powerpoint and connected with the right guys and “boom”, we were accepted into this program and receiving a $250,000 “seed check” and we were on the cover of the Dallas Business Journal.

I had no idea what I was doing.

Six months later, I had toured the famous Sand Hill road, and again armed with nothing but a power point and a pretty good skill at pitching ideas, landed a 4.2M commitment from the top venture firms in Texas and the valley.  I thought my shit didn’t stink.  I was 33 and the CEO of a Venture-Backed startup.

We developed a first product for less than $500,000 of our $4.2M bucket of money and sold our product to two leading enterprise customers.  In fact, both were global leaders with huge influence over the market.   Thinking I was some sort of genius, we “amped it up” and went to raise another round, this time of approximately $16M, with one catch, we needed a “proven CEO”.   Again, with our investors we could recruit a quality guy to run the business.  Which we did.  Don’t forget, I was 34 by now and my inexperience was really starting to show.  I agreed.

That’s when it got interesting.  Through the access and “credibility” provided by our investors, we could attract the best staff, advisors, and press.   At one point, I was featured at a press event alongside the CIO of Visa like we had done something.  We hadn’t.  We had developed some software and sold it twice.  So what.

Our expenses were out of control, our business was creating revenue, but not enough to sustain our marketing and development costs.  Then 2002 happened, our customers dried up, our investors got cold feet and that was it.   We closed the business.   The details of this process is a much longer post than this, but let’s just say that laying off 85 people in one day that signed up to your leadership pretty much was a humbling experience.

Suddenly, I was the biggest moron in town.

The number of people willing to kick me at this point is long.  But there’s a precious few that didn’t, and that’s when you know who you friends are for sure.

This company was overfunded.

Why?  We grew too fast, focusing on “market penetration” rather than focused, disciplined financial growth.   Taking some money to develop the product is one thing and probably a good idea, but spending at the levels we did was foolish.    When the inevitable “scud” of 2002 came along, we were so dependent on our investors putting more money in we couldn’t survive.

While my experience may or may not be typical, I did learn some things about taking money, a few of which are here:

Venture Capitalists are Sharks But they are YOUR sharks
Remember that your customer in your customer Not your investors
Growing too fast can be dangerous And in our case, fatal
When you think you are smart Remember that there is always someone else smarter, faster and probably with more money to beat you to your end-game
Your investors have bosses too They don’t just have free money.  They are signed up to provide high risk, high returns to their “limited partners” and they can’t afford to get it wrong very often and still have a job.
Know who you are in the business Don’t get enamored with being the “CEO”.  That’s where ego gets out of whack.  Sometimes the entrepreneur is the right person for the job.  Mostly, it’s not.

Believe me, I share a load of the blame for that failure, but at the end of the day, when the company failed, I and my co-founders owned less than 10% of the company we had started.

Our board, our team, and our product, to this date, I believe were some of the best in my career.  But, at the end of the day, it was a job.  I worked for the company and despite my delusions otherwise, I really didn’t have any control, only influence.  My “bosses”, our board and CEO could let me go on a whim.  To me, this isn’t entrepreneurship.   This is a job.

In my next post, the “UNDER” I will talk about real entrepreneurship and what it takes to scratch a business out of nothing into profitability.    Those are the real heroes.