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learning to say no: how to remain efficient as an entrepreneur

Don’t Waste Your Time: 4 Tips That Can Help Entrepreneurs Remain Efficient

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In this article

Making a success of yourself as an entrepreneur is a commitment that will take all of your energy, focus, attention, and – in many cases – the work of a lifetime to achieve.

There are many different traits of successful entrepreneurs that can be observed in the personalities, behaviours, and lifestyles of people like Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs and others.

For one thing, they are frequently very action-oriented, and spend a lot of time trying different things out, engaging with their projects in a hands-on way, and reducing the temptation to spend a huge amount of time in a state of indecision and planning.

For another thing, they tend to be creative, and to be comfortable with generating new and strange ideas that other people find disruptive and don’t initially know how to interpret.

One core feature that every entrepreneurial success story has to contain, sooner or later, however, is the ability to be – and remain – efficient, and to reduce wasted time and resources as much as possible.

There are a lot of industry specific approaches and guidelines that people will use here, such as assorted tips for restaurants to lower labor costs. But there are also a bunch of general principles that any business would do well to internalise and take to heart, which can really change the game in this regard.

Here are some tips that can help entrepreneurs to remain efficient and reduce wasted time.

  1. Say “no” to almost everything

A famous quote attributed to Warren Buffett, has him saying that “the difference between really successful people and everyone else is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

There’s a deep nugget of wisdom here which very often goes unappreciated among entrepreneurs in particular: your time is limited, just like your other resources, and it’s not possible for you to “do it all.” In order to make sure that you actually have the greatest possible impact, you have to therefore focus your time and resources as carefully as possible, while shutting down just about everything else.

Many new entrepreneurs take the opposite approach. They reason that, in order to make their businesses successful, they should hustle around the clock while trying to work on dozens of different projects and initiatives, in order to make the business as sophisticated and effective as possible, in the shortest possible span of time.

But what all too often ends up happening to people who take this approach, is that time flies by, they end up making a little bit of progress in a dozen different areas but no major progress in any one area, and their business expends all of its resources without ever becoming much more than mediocre. As for the entrepreneurs themselves, they will frequently be so totally burned out that they are no longer capable of doing much of anything worthwhile until they’ve had a reset.

In order to boost efficiency and reduce wasted time, take Warren Buffett’s advice of “saying no to almost everything.” Spend as much of your time and energy as possible working on the core features that will help your business to thrive – and where your particular skillset can best be utilised. And for all the other stuff, do what you can to reduce or ignore it.

Another way of thinking about this is by remembering the famous “80/20 rule,” popularised by people like Tim Ferriss:

80% of your results will come from 20% of your actions. The remaining 80% of your actions will be largely unproductive time-draining activities.

Focus to identify and work on that core 20% of actions as much as possible.

  1. Maintain a very clear idea, at all times, of what your single greatest priority for the day is

There have been several popular books in recent years that emphasise the importance of focus, and identifying your top priority, whenever you are working on achieving anything in a professional setting.

Cal Newport’s book “Deep Work,” for example, argues that people are best able to utilise their creative powers and to make a real powerful and difficult-to-replicate impact in their professional lives, when they are able to zone in on a key topic in depth, without distraction.

The book, “The One Thing” also emphasises the idea that one of the best things you can do in order to boost your chances of enjoying professional success, is to identify one core goal that you will aim towards, in order to reduce confusion and distraction, and to ensure that your resources can be most effectively spent.

Not only should you focus on a specific and limited number of goals in your business overall, however, but you should also maintain a very clear idea, at all times, of what your single greatest priority is for each given day.

A major part of efficiency is being able to flow seamlessly from one task or project to another, with as little time needing to be spent in the middle figuring things out, planning, and deciding what to work on next.

If you always have a very clear and specific idea of what your top priority is at any given moment, you will be able to keep things in motion in a far more effective, efficient, and managed way.

  1. Embrace delegation and outsourcing

In today’s hyper-digital and technologically advanced world, there are more options on offer than ever before in history for things like effective outsourcing, the utilisation of advanced tools and systems, and the delegation of various projects.

A lot of entrepreneurs become so possessive of their businesses that they want to essentially micromanage everything, and feel the need to either do everything solo, or to be intimately involved in every process that goes on.

While it is important to keep a good degree of oversight where it counts, however, it is also true that one of the easiest ways of reducing efficiency in any business is to increase the amount of micromanaging going on, and to make sure that the members of your team don’t feel comfortable making any decisions without your direct input.

Embracing delegation and outsourcing is one of the best ways of boosting efficiency, as long as you make sure that the different teams and individuals involved maintain proper lines of communication, are being held accountable, and are not stepping on each other’s toes.

Your goal as the leader of the company is, more or less, to maintain a good overall bird’s eye perspective on things, and to make the big picture decisions. You can’t also simultaneously be the lead graphic designer, the head of marketing, the customer outreach specialist, and everything else.

  1. Subscribe to an ethos of small, daily, incremental improvements

The Japanese concept of “kaizen” has become very popular recently. It’s based on an ethos of small, repeated, incremental improvements to a business.

This is often presented as the idea of “1% of daily improvement,” and one of the great strengths of this approach is that it allows you to continue optimising your business in a manageable way, day by day, without having to come up with a hugely ambitious and comprehensive transformation strategy.

The concept of kaizen also happens to be a great model for how you might be able to systematically make your business more efficient over time, in a sustainable way, without getting too bogged down in the details.

Every business has to be generally action-oriented, and it’s impossible to get everything perfectly right on the first try. This naturally leads to some inefficiency. But a process of routine iterative improvements helps to rectify that.

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