Why you should spend more time working ‘on’ rather than ‘in’ your business

All too often we get wrapped up in taking care of “urgent” tasks at the expense of working on those areas that are even more important. Most businesspeople have been exposed to these four quadrants of urgency/importance:

  1. Urgent and important: crises, deadlines, meetings, repairs
  2. Important but not urgent: planning, prioritizing, organizing, relationship-building
  3. Urgent but not important: personal calls, interruptions, email, voice mail
  4. Neither important nor urgent: junk mail, busywork, Internet surfing, games

When we ask leaders and salespeople to track their daily activities through time logs, they find that the vast majority of their time is spent toggling between quadrants 1 and 3. Little time is spent in quadrant 2, and quadrant 4 tends to be a waste of time. Former DuPont CEO Crawford Greenewalt once said, “One hour of good planning should easily save three to four hours of execution.” And planning is right at the heart of quadrant 2.

I’m not suggesting that you start spending all your time in quadrant 2. Unless you’re a prime mover in a big think tank, that would not be practical. What I am strongly encouraging is that you perhaps double your time in quadrant 2 and start working “on” your business instead of “in” your business. What does that mean? Let’s look at three areas:

Routine (‘in’ your business)

Routine activities are those that we do every day to keep the business going. Skills in these areas are often what get people promoted. The activities in quadrant 1 are the bulk of what takes place in this area.

Problem-solving (‘on’ and ‘in’ your business)

Problem-solving activities generally focus on discovering what is wrong with processes or systems that create bottlenecks or challenges, and finding a solution to these. These problems could include not meeting internal or external expectations, continually missing deadlines, making the same errors over and over again, and getting caught up in “insanity” (doing what you have always done and expecting different results).



Developmental (‘on’ your business)

Developmental activities focus on developing strategies to improve your business. Areas for improvement include doing things that need to be done that have not been done before or should be done. Examples are marketing a new product or service, installing and using a new CRM system to better manage customer information, organizing and planning proactively, and engaging in professional development.

The challenge is to carve out additional time from the “routine” and have the discipline (yes, it does take discipline!) to spend more time in the other two areas. Many people say that this cannot be done. They are the ones who don’t have the discipline to do it. They also have a habit of repeating, almost every day, a yesterday that was not that good.

Albert E.N. Gray once said, “Successful people have formed a habit of doing things that failures do not like to do. Successful people focus on pleasing results. Failures focus on pleasing methods.”

So what we are really talking about is being proactive in looking to the future versus living in a reactive world that never seems to go the way we want it to. If you have the necessary discipline to do it, start working on your business today for a better quality of work and life.

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