I have lots of friends who are entrepreneurs. Some have day jobs as well, others are making a full-time living in their businesses. Some think they “aren’t really entrepreneurs” because they run schools or nonprofits.
Some are successful and some are struggling, but we’ve all got one thing in common. We’ve maxed out our personal resources. Not our checkbooks or credit cards (although sometimes those too), but our creativity, our time, and our productive energy.
Ever work with a big, high-volume copy machine? High maintenance doesn’t begin to cover it. There’s always something wrong with the damned things–they start having hourly paper jams, or they get into the habit of sprinkling cheerful ink confetti on your documents. And of course they have pricy ink and toner that need frequent replacement.
The only way to keep these things running is to get ahead of the problem–to have the fix-it-up-chappie come out on a regular schedule to keep everything aligned and in good shape.
If you’re “too busy” or “too broke” to make that happen, the karmic law of disasters guarantees that the machine will break down spectacularly at the exact moment the FedEx guy is waiting for you to print out the biggest RFP of your career.
Scheduled maintenance is critical for any complex piece of equipment that’s working at or close to its maximum productivity. And the fix-it-up chappie will tell you that delicate equipment is a lot easier and cheaper to maintain than it is to repair.
How to get anything done
There’s a lot of verbiage out there about productivity, but most of it boils down to one central habit. If it must get done, you must carve out dedicated time for it. Twitter, gossip and television can all be fit into the spaces left over from real work. Returning client calls, hard thinking about business strategy and any kind of writing all need to be on your calendar. And in there for real, not just an Outlook appointment that you snooze every 15 minutes until you dismiss it, undone, at the end of the day.
You, my friend, are a high-maintenance machine.
You’re the complicated invention that can’t be replaced. Your work relies on your energy, your creativity, and your enthusiasm. And you can only fake those things on a very limited basis. Starbucks is a crappy substitute for creativity and life force.
By now, I suspect you’ve gotten my main point. You have to schedule maintenance on yourself. And you probably need to do that daily. (Sorry, workaholics. I don’t make the rules, I just write them down.)
You are too busy for a psychic breakdown. You are too broke to be forced into taking a week or a month off to repair your damaged nervous system. So start taking care of your machine every day.
The maintenance program
Figure out one or two times a day when you have a decent level of mental energy. Mornings are good for lots of people, but they might not be right for you. Don’t use “junk” time for maintenance–it’s too important. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your absolute peak performance time, but don’t use time slots when you have the creative capacity of a flatworm, either.
If you have a fabulous life, take an uninterrupted hour every day for maintenance. If you have a life like the rest of us, take 20 minutes in the morning and, when you can, another 20 before bed.
Use this time to do something just because you like it. It should be pointless and highly satisfying. Stupid is optional but not bad.
Read trashy books. Color with crayons. Take a hot bath, preferably with puppets or bath crayons. Make pornographic origami or models of Star Wars spaceships.
The one unbreakable rule: there must be no practical application whatsoever to maintenance work. Writing blog posts doesn’t count. Reading business books doesn’t count. Painting your toenails is iffy. Baking cookies is fair game, but only if you eat them all yourself.
Unless you are already magnificently sane and productive, and the words “homicidal rage” are quaintly foreign to you, nothing you regularly do now counts. Working out is great, meditation is great, but if you already do them and the machine is still making that funny grinding sound, you still need some stupid fun time.
The more uncomfortable this post makes you, the worse you need it.
If you’re mentally shrieking that this is pointless advice that only an irresponsible bonbon-eating slacker could give, you are in crisis. Your machine is just about to break, leaving you with a smoking pile of springs and burned gears and no way to get your work done.
Keep going the way you are and your work is going to start to get worse. The machine starts to disintegrate from the inside, corroding the parts that are very, very hard to see. You won’t notice it right away, but once the rust takes hold, it’s hard as hell to get rid of.
A broken machine means no work, or lousy work that quits getting results. It means crappy money, crappy success, crappy momentum. It means significant pain for the people who rely on you, whether they’re your clients or your kids. A broken machine is frustrating, massively inconvenient and painful as hell.
Step away from your to-do list. Buy a watercolor paintbox and some glitter before it’s too late.
Photo from icanhascheezeburger.com