“What should I be working on?”

“What is the most important thing I can be doing right now?” is a powerful question.  For me there’s a direct relationship between how often I ask myself that question and how good I feel about my work that day.

Checking in and realizing you need to change directions can be a great feeling.  You can tackle the right project with glee, knowing that in some parallel universe you’re still plodding down the wrong path.  (That’s another key to entrepreneurial success.  Always do business in the right universe.)

Two recent experiences:

1.  We’re moving from four servers to nine, so I called our host (ev1.net) to see if we can get a better deal than the posted price.  The sales guy offered to reduce our price by 5%, and though their prices are already quite reasonable it didn’t seem like much of a deal.

We talked for awhile, and eventually he said there was nothing else he could do.  I kept saying we had to find a way to reduce our costs, and so we kept talking.

Eventually he mentioned that on that older hardware they match any lower posted prices if you send the right people an email.  Lo and behold, we knocked off $200/month off our server costs.  It’s a great policy, but no-one had ever told us about it.

I spent about an hour on the phone and faxing contracts, and between the discount and the new hardware prices we’ll save $3,000/year. 

2.  The other night I spent two hours trying to install software that would save one measly click when trying to post something online.  In the end I couldn’t get it to work, and now I’ll never get that time back.

Also, some guy in a parallel universe is laughing at me.


14 Comments on ““What should I be working on?”

  1. Good post– I think you touch on two salient points. The first is that EVERYTHING is negotiable, it is simply a matter of if it is worth the time, energy and expense to negotiate it. But the finer point is that people offer discounts for almost everything that is for sale if you just ask. As an American, it is not in our culture to haggle over the price of things that we consider fixed price, but there is almost always a discount there just waiting to be had.

    The second is the harder one that every entrepreneur should ask themselves and hope their employees and co-workers are also asking themselves: “Is what I am doing now generating the most value for the company, and if not how do I change what I am doing to do something of higher value creation”

  2. Hey Seth, thanks for the comment.

    I’ve tried a few things to try to make sure I’m on track as much as possible. The best one so far is to mentally associate the act of refreshing a page (email, web counter, something like that) with a feeling of “Hey snap out of it! What should I be doing right now!”

    That probably sounds pretty silly but so far it’s working so who am I to argue? Any tips for how you stay on-track?

  3. A good old ‘to do’ list has always worked for me… somehow crossing that item out on the paper list gives me some satisfaction!

  4. Hey Jonathan!

    It’s true, there’s something magical about crossing things off. Sometimes when it’s hard to get started I’ve found knocking off small/trivial todos helps to build a sense of momentum.

  5. Aloha Aaron,

    Great post! In my organizational communication class I teach Peter Drucker’s book The Effective Executive. For him, effectiveness is getting the right things done. You illustrate this wonderfully in this post. Not sure what island you are on but I would like to have coffee with you (I am on Oahu, lecturer/student at UH Manoa). The freedback app could be used in academic/research settings in a very powerful way and I would like to explore this idea.

    Jeff McNeill

  6. Hey Jeff,

    Nice to meet you. Getting together sounds great, and probably won’t be too hard since we’re just a couple miles from UH. Maybe next week?

    PS: I checked out your blog – looks great but the RSS feed returned an error when I tried to subscribe.

  7. I’m all about the reward system when it comes to getting things done, and it translates across my life.

    If I have a brass ring to reach for, it adds a personal level of value to what I am working on, makes the process more exciting, and takes the time to acknowledge a win.

    For example: I have 3 projects on the go right now – one is a detailed analysis (and making me go cross-eyed in Excel), one is writing documentation on a process for our global team, and one is developing a policy and its associated communication. When one is complete I am buying new shoes. When the second is complete I am taking Stephen and myself out for a fancy dinner.

    When they are all done I am taking a Monday off and suntanning.

    Those sorts of little things.

  8. Jason,

    Yeah, rewards are great as long as you don’t get ’em confused. A simple limerick will usually keep you on track; “shoes on for dinner with Stephen, off for suntanning”. (may not be a limerick)

  9. Hahaha… all true.

    13 more lines and we’d have a sonnet, at least… or, 4 more syllables and we have a haiku…

  10. So this all begs the question… are these posts the most important thing we could be doing for our businesses?


    Then again, I could be arguing in my spare time.

  11. As in, should we be blogging for our businesses?

    I’d say it depends on how open you want to be with customers, how much time it takes you and what your goals are.

    For me it’s a resounding “yes”, but I do spend a lot of time on it. Probably three half-written posts languish for everyone that goes out. It’s semi-recreational though; I’m often writing in the evening when everyone’s asleep.

  12. I think the blogging is defensible. One of the excuses I use is that many of the articles I write are actually of some use to share ideas with colleagues in my own company. The article on how to run effective meetings is an example of that.

    My comment about “arguing in our spare time” was of course a reference to the Monty Python sketch, but also reflects the fact that I enjoy putting ideas in writing. At the very least it makes me feel good, and it may even help me organize my thoughts and understand things better. So it’s somewhere between recreation and work.

    The real question, though, is whether there’s value in responding to other people’s posts on their blogs. Obviously it could just be a “spare time” activity. Then there’s of course the question of “networking” – that maybe some business relationships will result. And I guess that when we’re discussing business, we might come up with some brilliant ideas. But most of the discussions tend more along the line of, “good point.”

    Maybe the biggest value is just that when you’re running your own business, there’s a certain element of loneliness. No matter how much camaraderie you develop with the employees, you’re still the boss. Having the chance to develop friendships and even brief moments of “yeah, I’ve been there!” with other entrepreneurs can be valuable for our morale :)

  13. I could bring forth ever interpreted why being has dealt so qualifierly with this consequence. Now afford up to me full locomote. Genuinely interesting your thesis. Although my West Germanic is not so proficient, your text I can realise. Hold back up the Light.

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