Activity ≠ Progress


by Tim Metzner

John Wooden, one of the greatest basketball coaches men to ever live once said, “Never mistake activity for achievement.”

With as much time as I spend around startups and entrepreneurs, this really resonates with me. For whatever reason, being busy seems to have become a badge of honor in our culture and this is especially true of entrepreneurs. If you’re not constantly “slammed,” you’re either not working hard enough or things must not be going well. But, as Wooden reminds us, being busy (or having lots of activity) will not, alone, yield success.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as guilty as anyone of perpetually feeling like I don’t have enough time in my day to; knock stuff off the to-do list, be working on the business (not just in the business), be a good husband & father and find time for friends & family. But, like most people, I’m also a far cry from being as efficient and focused as I could be.

Though I’m certainly no expert here, there are a few things I’ve found to be incredibly helpful:

  1. Stop multitasking and focus. When you’re working, shut down email, social media and put your phone on silent. When you’re with your friends or family, leave your computer/phone in another room to avoid temptation. Pro Tip: turn off notifications on your phone and stop letting FOMO own you.

  2. Prioritize your to-do list by most important. It’s tempting to tackle those “quick wins” first, but we all know as soon as you’ve crossed something off the list you head over to email, social media etc. to check in. Before you know it, it’s lunch or you’ve been pulled into that meeting. First thing in the morning, when you’re most refreshed and creative, dive head first into the highest impact item on your list.

  3. Have someone holding you accountable. At Differential, the business development team meets on Monday and sets/shares their top objectives for the week. On Friday afternoon, we get back together and share progress–you better believe knowing I have to check back in and share how I’ve done keeps me checking that priority list of things I’ve promised. This is also a really valuable activity because it forces me to prioritize my top 3-5 to-dos for the week and get buy-in or feedback from my co-workers about.

  4. Take (active) breaks and schedule fun. We can only stay focused for so long for me. I’ve found that even something like a quick walk around the block throughout the day can help me feel refreshed and ready to jump back into the next task. I’ve also found that having regular fun/recreation on my schedule (usually something fun with the family) is valuable for keeping my energy and mood up. It’s OK (and good) to not be 100% booked with meetings, work, errands and general busyness.

  5. Take pride in actual results/progress not being busy. Some of my best, most productive weeks include days where I left the office early, took a half day or had a date night with my wife (and didn’t open my laptop at night after the kids are down). Despite this, I still often times catch myself feeling guilty if I’ve had a lighter week (in terms of hours), even if it has been productive. This makes no sense!

  6. Think about regular rhythms. It’s not perfect, but at the Metzner house we have regular blocks on our calendar each week that we try to honor. Those blocks include scheduled time for; long work days, exercise, personal time and family time. Just by way of example, here are some of our rhythms (note that my wife works Mon, Tue and Thurs and stays home Wed and Fri):

Mon: Morning workout time for my wife (I take the kids to babysitter), long work day for me followed by late night basketball (wife puts the kids to bed)
Wed: Family dinner night (we all eat together) and Kristy PM workout time (while I get kids to bed)
Thur: Early morning I get together with a small group of friends and Kristy has a small group in the PM
Fri: Early morning Kristy gets together with a small group, I stay with the kids till she gets home and go in late.

Above all, regularly remind yourself that “being busy is NOT the goal” and you’ll be better off. Huge thanks to Coach Wooden for the infinite wisdom!

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