6 Ways the False Hustle is Holding Your Startup Back

6 Ways the False Hustle is Holding Your Startup Back

Are you the person who wakes up eager to get to your desk to whittle that email back to inbox zero and feel a sense of accomplishment? Or check your social notifications to make sure you aren’t missing out on anything important? If you said yes, you aren’t alone. Self-interruptions account for 40% of all interruptions at work, and it’s getting worse. The iconic ‘water cooler’ chat is now taking place in the form of Facebook check ins, retweets, Instagram likes and persistent email refreshing -- leaving many with the idea that because they’re ‘busy,’ they’re productive.

It’s a lie!

And it has a name. It’s been highlighted as the “false hustle,” and it’s plaguing entrepreneurs, startups, and professionals at every level, everywhere.

The most productive (and successful) people are those that limit daily distractions to focus on their one thing. They ask themselves: ‘what's the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?’

The problem is that most people fail to understand what it is that they should be focusing their time on and end up doing everything, and everything poorly. Hear me out -- here are six ways the false hustle could be holding you back, fellow entrepreneur -- and, more importantly, what to do to stop it.

1. You Let Being ‘Busy’ Take Over Being Productive

Persistent email checking is one of the main distractions in business today. It falls on the shoulders of poor context switching; going from having a deep focus on one task to jumping into another without giving yourself the necessary time to decompress from the previous. It’s a productivity killer. And so are your frequent team check ins, web browsing, aimless conversations with co-workers, and checking the weather to see if your tee time is justified. In the end, you can’t control the weather, but you can control your focus.

Don’t fall victim to the busyness disease. Plan your day the night before. Prioritize the one thing you need to accomplish tomorrow, today by eliminating all activities that take you away from completing it. Delegate unnecessary tasks, cancel disruptive meetings, turn off all notifications, and hone in on your main goal.

“Be weary of the ‘easy’ things, as they usually end up becoming the hard things in the end.”

2. You Try To Be Everything To Everyone

The lead developer as co-founder, the overextended mompreneur, the CEO and janitor, the President as the shoulder-to-cry-on -- most of us wear many hats, and need to in the early days of running a business. But the reality is that 70% (or more) of the things that keep us occupied are either unnecessary, or should be delegated to someone else. Think of it this way: if you typically bill out $180/hour, then the things you should be working on need to have at least that value. The 'quick trip' to get office supplies now seems like an expensive task, doesn't it?

Here’s the reality: you can’t be everything to everyone. Feature-rich startups end up running circles around themselves trying to keep up to the demand of fixing bugs and losing focus. Clients that feel the need to offload everything to you because they ‘pay you a lot of money and need to justify their spend’ (also called SOW creep), end up keeping you busy for the sake of, well, keeping you busy. In the end, you produce crap work because you are trying to please everyone.

“Do great work, no matter what. That’s it, that’s all.”

3. Your Goals Are Misaligned

Are you saying one thing, but then doing something else? If so, you’re a perpetrator to executive misalignment. It occurs when employees don’t understand the company’s overall goals and is worsened when founders make decisions that conflict with them. Many new or lower level employees often only have a vague idea of how their role is tied to the goals of the company and therefore become isolated from the team. If not corrected, “isolated groups – especially in big companies – will continually create their own justifications for their actions that may be totally removed from the purpose of the business,” explains Joel Trammell for Forbes.

A clear direction will help you and your team stay on track. Internally, your team needs to understand your business goals and mission. (If you care to share your revenue projections, then by all means, let your team know.) Externally, your customers need to know your purpose/why and what they can expect working with you. Post the goals in the company wiki, on a physical bulletin board, heck -- at the water cooler -- and discuss them daily. When you and your team know what you are working towards, it makes you hustle with more swagger.

“Share your goals with your team and customers. Even if you have to use a paper and pen to sketch out your vision, anything works. Just share.”

4. You’re Poisoning Yourself With Low-Hanging Fruit

Steve Jobs said “I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” This means saying no to anything that is not in line with your goals even if it means saying no to a high-paying client. Quick wins, fast sprints, and revenue-generating ideas that steer you off course will sink your ship.

Many service-based businesses know this all too well. Here’s a common scenario: cash flow is tight this month, but a low paying prospect wants to work with you. You’re lured by the cash, but not energized by the work. You say yes, to find out that they take up more time than expected and the only time you have to properly position yourself to take on bigger clients. It’s a catch 22. But by saying no, you would have opened up to the possibility of attracting the right client, because you would have had the focused time to do so.

“Make sure that the things you say YES to are absolutely 'F*ck yeah' decisions.”

5. You Fail at Context Switching

Jumping from task to task without a little break to rest your thoughts is a killer. Justine Musk once said ‘reading is the inhale, writing is the exhale.’ Many great writers never pair research and writing in the same productivity interval. They need time to think about how all the new information will best be articulated. The same goes for pretty much any task. Successful people often schedule their days in two chunks: 1) a highly focused thinking chunk, and 2) an everything else chunk. A typical day to me is a morning of high brain power work (like writing this blog post) and an afternoon of sales calls. This allows me to switch contexts from thinking hat to sales hat without having to flip flop on a moment’s notice.

“It’s best to pair up similar tasks at the same times during the day in order to avoid failure at context switching.”

6. You Hire Too Fast

Growth is great. It’s amazing. If it’s at the right pace. Hiring too soon means you can kill your cashflow. Hiring too late means you end up doing all the work yourself and likely a crappy job at it. You may be proud of the apparent hustle you have in doing all the work, but it will crush you.

Hiring is one of those often overlooked and never streamlined processes many business owners face. I know this all too well. In the last three years, we have seen eight people come and go from one position. We failed at a couple things (sharing the vision of the company, training, and support) and hired too fast for a role we didn’t need.

Some companies want to scale up so quickly they end up putting the cart before the horse, hiring too many employees while not having the revenues to support the plan. Hoping that additional manpower will contribute to increased sales is poor practice and will lead to an untimely business death. Hire not only when you can afford it, but when you need it. Just because you have the cash flow to justify adding to the team, doesn’t mean it’s the best decision. In many cases, outsourcing work to contractors will be more beneficial.

“In the end, every team member must know, understand and believe in the business goals of the company, but more importantly, everybody must add value to the organization.”

Ditch the False Hustle and Get Real

If you’re a hustler with swagger and closing deals every day, then you got game my friend. But if you feel like you’re getting sucked into the vortex that is the false hustle, then it’s time to recognize it. Stop pretending to be someone (or a company) that has real hustle. Real hustle takes courage, tenacity and commitment, even if it means having to give the shirt off your back during a Boston snowstorm. Know your limits, but also know when you need to go past the tipping point. Real hustlers don’t claim to be ‘busy’ -- real hustlers plan, analyze and do better at making every move a move toward their goals. Every moment, every day.

Have you ever been a victim of the false hustle? If so, tell me about that time in the comments section below -- and how you overcame it.

[Photo credit: Oscar Rethwill]

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